Active Preparedness Planning: Identifying and Mitigating Threats, by Paul C.

Thursday, Feb 15, 2007

Here is my approach to actively preparing for disasters:
1. Identify potential threats.
2. Gather quantitative and qualitative information on impact.
3. Identify which threats are the most likely.
4. Identify critical needs for survival.
5. Estimate outage time that can be tolerated.
6. Compile resource requirements.
7. Identify alternatives.

1. Identify potential threats.
Threats will come from two main areas: man-made or natural. Man-made threats include labor strikes, riots, fires, chemical spills, terrorism, and vandals. A labor strike might mean that garbage collection or that public transportation stops. Urban riots have hit cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, and Cleveland in recent years. Wildfires are the number one disaster threat in much of the south. Industrial areas have large amounts of chemicals hauled in and out by the trainload, these tracks run the length and width of the nation. Terrorism might have a direct or in-direct impact upon you. Finally vandals might come upon your second home and destroy it and its contents.
Natural threats are things like tornados, snow storm/blizzards, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. These tend to be even more destructive than man-made threats. Much of the center of the nation is covered in tornado alley. Tornados do massive amounts of damage where they strike and little can resist their forces. Snow storms and blizzards affect the northern states and can stop all but the most determined from traveling. Hurricanes are no stranger to those states on the Gulf of Mexico and along the southern Atlantic coast. These huge storms are able to do massive damage to wide areas and will often hit the public rescue and support infrastructure just as hard as the public. Flooding can happen nearly anywhere within the United States where homes are built within flood zones. California is famous for earthquakes but the central Mississippi valley is also a large earthquake zone. Earthquakes are like hurricanes in that their damage is widespread and can prevent public services from reaching the needy.

2. Gather quantitative and qualitative information on impact.
Quantitative information are those things that one can put a number on. For each identified threat what is the likelihood of that threat occurring and just how bad that the affect likely be. How often does that threat occur over time? Looking back over the history of your location can help as well as looking at other areas similar to yours. Aircraft crash all around the United States each year but if you live under the take-off path of a busy airport in an area prone to bad flying conditions that risk is greater than if you didn’t live there. An area might be prone to flooding and you can normally pull the 100-year flood plan to see if the particular plot of land that you’re living on falls within that flood plain.

3. Identify which threats are the most likely.
Using your quantitative and qualitative assessment rank which threats are most likely and which are least likely to occur in your area. Raw numbers can not always provide the answer. Sometimes there is a gut feeling or rough judgment that has to be made.
If you remember the Star Trek television program from the 1960s Kirk and Spock went about solving the monster attack of the week differently. Spock would use the facts, figures, and history available to him to make a quantitative judgment … “Captain, there’s an 87% chance that if I adjust the ships’ phasers …” where on the other hand Kirk would make judgment calls … “Spock just do it this way because it feels right”. Both characters work their way toward the answer from different sides of the logic/gut feeling equation.
Two people living side-by-side might be given the same data and come up with different solutions to the same threats. They both ought to have that threat on their list but their solutions aren’t right or wrong because they don’t match. This is Captain Kirk’s judgment call based on what feels right. Spock can’t analyze everything to come to a 100% logical conclusion so some rough judgment needs to be made if something is ever to get done toward a solution.

4. Identify critical needs for survival.
Again this seems simple enough but what is needed by some families might not be needed by another. We all can agree on the basics like food, water, shelter, and a method of defense but a family with an infant that is bottle feeding is going to have different requirements than one with adults, as an example. Look at you and your family and identify what is needed for their survival. Special requirements like medicines have to be kept in supply. Water might be available in your area but a massive chemical spill might render it contaminated, do you have the ability to purify it with a filter? Winter storms can be a killer in Minnesota and North Dakota or a nuisance in Phoenix or San Antonio. Your requirements are going to differ both based on the make up your family and your location.

5. Estimate outage time that can be tolerated.
For each of your critical needs how long can you do without them? Some might call electrical power a critical need. If that electrical power is required for a medical device that loss could be tolerated a whole lot less than one who requires that same power for communication purposes. Living without heat in Miami is easy as is without an air conditioner in Duluth. If you have a clean running source of water close-by the loss of city water utility service will be easier. What is the likelihood of an outage of a given length of time occurring based on past experience and history? The likelihood of electrical power going out during a hurricane is high but based on experience does the power remain out for a day, a few days, a week, or several weeks? [JWR Adds: For those of you that live in a "four season climate", the acceptable length of outages will also vary greatly, depending on the season--e.g.: you'll probably have a lower tolerance for a power failure in mid-winter.]

6. Compile resource requirements.
Now based on your focused threat assessment and your now identified needs across the estimated outage time, make a list of items. Make sure that you look for interdependencies. If grandpa needs his medicine for a three week service outage you might need to refrigerate it meaning you’re going to need a power source like solar power or a backup generator. If you have a generator you’re going to need fuel, a fuel storage area, fuel conditioner, a maintenance plan for the generator and possibly more. Having a bunch of firearms without the ammo, skills, and training in tactics to use than is a half baked plan. Communications equipment requires power, training in operation, and often a license. Start to gather your items over time until you’ve completed your list. No one expects to run out one weekend and run their credit up to the limit prepping. A sustained effort over time will make better sense. Keep an eye out for alternatives to paying full price like finding an item at a yard sale, buying one used at an on-line auction, or pick one up during an off season sale.
Gathering your supplies together for rapid use or deployment (see alternatives below) helps keep things organized and accounted for. Location depending you may need to store things inside and out for best life span of the materials.
Once you’ve completed your list do a second analysis to see if you want to lay in some more of one item or another possibly even for barter or to help a needy neighbor. Often the material in your supplies will have an expiration life span so keep a list of expiration dates for future purchases. Routinely do a visual inspection of your gear and supplies to ensure that things are rusting away quietly or that rodents haven’t found your emergency food supplies.

7. Identify alternatives.
Sometimes staying put through a disaster doesn’t make sense or is impossible. You can’t hold back the flood waters and it makes sense to move to higher ground. Always have a plan “B” and I would recommend that plan “C” be not too far off either. There are people who don’t have the good sense to leave when it’s time to leave. These people are held in place by emotion. A plan “B” would give them an out and likely they’d come out better than doggedly sticking with plan “A” as it fails.
Leaving the home is never easy. Hopefully you make the decision to leave in time to save yourself but also before everyone else in the area does too or else you’ll find yourself stuck in traffic. Depending on your location and the distance to safety from the disaster area you may need anything from a good pair of boots and a backpack, to a well supplied 4x4 SUV, to a boat. Often you lessen the severity of a disaster with each step you take from it. You might not make it to complete safety but you can make it to survival. Bugging out to a work location or a public area might work where bugging out of state might not. Good enough sometimes works.
Having a plan “B” means that from time-to-time you’re going to need to practice it. In the military that’s called a training exercise and can involve anything from a sit down around a table and looking over plan “B” to a full-scale run through.[JWR Adds: One crucial thing to test is your loading plan. You won't know what will fit in your vehicle(s) until you actually try it. I predict that most of you will find that you grossly overestimated the available cargo volume versus the volume of your "to go" pile. Based on this "test load", you can much better evaluate the list of items that you need to pre-position at your intended retreat.]
Conclusion
It’s been said that if you don’t focus on the target you’ll miss it every time. This brief primer isn’t meant to cover all aspects of disaster survival but it is meant to get you to start thinking in a focused manner on your plans. Over time things change and both the primary and secondary plans to be reviewed to ensure that they are current. A key point becomes when to actually activate the plans and it’s often better to error your judgment to the safety side rather than the less safe side of a non-qualitative judgment. You can analyze yourself into danger and sometimes the gut feeling is the one that you have to listen to.- Paul C. in Southern California


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