Oh, you’re one of “those people”…

January 11, 2013

I ran across an interesting webpage not too long ago. The site examines life in areas rocked by tragedy the day before the terrible events. The website just happens to be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA and is called Ready.gov. The site provides a map of the U.S. with dates in each State. You can click on the State and it will give you a vignette of the day before disaster struck.

An example can be found for Texas – September 23, 2005. The text reads:

“Golfer Robert Gamez shot eight under par to lead the first round of the PGA Texas Open. Houston’s own Jeff Maggert trailed Gamez by a single stroke.”

The next day Hurricane Rita made landfall just east of the Houston area causing $12 billion in damage and 120 deaths.

The site is a way of making a point that disaster can come quickly and change life drastically. It is because of this that agencies such as FEMA and the CDC recommend that people take it upon themselves to do some emergency/disaster preparation.

The advice is simple: be informed, plan and prepare. However, emergency preparedness has had some mixed reception from the public. However, like all things, this can be viewed on a continuum. We can say we have one extreme where someone has made no preparations what so ever and the other end where someone has a fortified compound with enough food to feed the entire country of Luxembourg for 20 years. Yet there is a perception or rather a widespread opinion that those falling on the “super prepared” end of the spectrum are “crazy”. Labels such as “ultra-survivalists” have been tossed about. Media coverage of topics such as the silly “Mayan Apocalypse”, the zombie apocalypse “craze” and the reality show Doomsday Preppers has thrust preparedness and by proxy self-sufficiency/homesteading into a national if not international spotlight.

I must admit, I watch the NatGeo show. I find it entertaining and find myself echoing Jack Nicholson’s Joker character from the 1989 Batman movie when I sit and ask, “Where do they get those wonderful toys?”

Do I have dreams of having my own missile silo? As cool as that sounds at first, the reality neuron fires and I wonder what the electricity bill would be, how much time I’d be consumed by maintenance and even lawn care…so maybe a house in the country would be a better compromise.

By this point of reading, some of you may have wondered, “Is he one of ‘those people’?” Well, to answer the question - yes and no. Yes, life is never really just black and white, it’s many shades of gray although apparently some are only concerned with 50 of them for some reason…

I personally think emergency/disaster preparedness and self-sufficiency are great things to involve myself in. I think doing what I can to ensure the safety of my family and friends is practical. I also think that embracing some aspects of self-sufficiency is great as well. However, this leads us back to the continuum – at what point do I go from being the well-prepared guy to crazy survivalist dude? I have a feeling the answers will vary widely with who you ask.

Let’s start with what FEMA and the CDC recommend. At their Ready.gov site, FEMA recommends that folks have at least 72 hours worth of supplies including food and water. The reasoning is that relief workers may not be able to reach everyone immediately and services such as electricity, water, sewage, telephones may not work and the grocery stores may be closed or even picked clean.

The CDC extends their recommendations out a bit farther in respect for water. They recommend you should strive to have two weeks’ worth of water on hand. Not sure how much water you use in a day? The USGS has a water usage calculator as part of their “Water Science School”. You might be amazed at just how much water your family uses in a single day.

For many folks, this is already part of their lives. Those who live in hurricane prone areas often have most of the things listed at those agency sites on hand. Stuff like flashlights, multitools, sleeping bags, batteries, first aid kits, weather radios, N95 masks, matches, duct tape, bleach, et cetera. Most of the things on the list can be found in an average home if people look hard enough, it just may not be all organized together. Also, most homes on average have about a three day supply of food on hand BUT, much of it is probably refrigerated. This could be drastically cut if the power is out for a few days. Therefore, keeping a little extra in the pantry wouldn’t hurt.

Papa Got a Brand New Bag

So what if you and your family have to leave? We’ve seen mass chaos on the interstates and highways before. A poignant example (also becoming a textbook so to speak example of why preparedness is a good thing) is Hurricane Katrina. People were stuck on the road for not just hours but days at a time. Hotels were booked for months into the future so lodging was difficult to find even hundreds of miles from the site of projected landfall. This is a time when your mobile 72 hour preparedness kit comes in.

It has many names – GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) bag, Evac (evacuation) bag, BOB (bug out bag), 72 hour bag and so on. This is the same thing you’d have in your home – food, water and supplies to last 72 hours but in a portable form. Many are common backpacks, some are military style ALICE or MOLLE packs or commercial hiking packs. Whatever the container, they all have basic necessities for keeping you good for 3 days.

The exact content of the bag is completely dependent upon the individual and their specific needs. However, some common things that are addressed include: food, water, clothing, first aid, communication, travel and tools. For those folks who are avid campers or hikers, having such things on hand isn’t too much of a stretch.

However, I find that many people (at least that I’ve encountered) are often critical of those people who are attempting to put together such a kit. In discussing my ever-evolving kit I’ve been asked (more than a couple of times by different folks), “you’re not one of ‘those people’ are you?” To which I usually respond with, “what are ‘those people’?” The response is usually an uncomfortable or even snarky facial expression and laugh followed by something along the lines of, “you know, a survival-nut(job/case/weirdo).” Then I’m usually a bit conflicted as I don’t know how to answer really. At what point do you go from well-prepared to “survival nutjob”? I’m not sure there really is a consensus and the cutoff point is most likely relative. I’m sure to some just having a bag that I try to keep that can help out for 3 days if need be is “crazy” and to others it’s practical. I also do not understand the behavior that goes along with the perception of being a “survival nut”. It’s very reminiscent of middle or high school and suddenly being the “weird/nerdy/geeky” kid that others snicker at in the hall.

With all behavior you can have extremes however, whether or not the behavior is detrimental or not depends on the effects it produces. If being extremely preoccupied with preparedness isn’t hurting the person or their family in any way – financially, lifestyle, psychologically, et cetera, then I don’t think it’s really all that “crazy”.

Some people run “drills” where they get the family together and practice evacuating or “bugging out” from their home to a safer location. Is that too “extreme”? It’s recommended that families hold household fire drills – when is the last time you saw someone having a fire drill at their house? I know I’m guilty myself of neglecting that recommendation. The National Fire Protection Association recommends having a home fire drill at least twice a year and the CDC recommends every six months. Drills are effective ways to not only have everyone involved understand what to do and when but having that experience and knowledge can reduce anxiety and panic if an actual emergency does ever occur.

Would having an evacuation or fire drill make me one of “those people”? What if I decided I wanted a garden? Or maybe a green house…or maybe wanted to install solar panels on my roof. Would that make me one of “those people” or would that place me in the category of one of those “tree hugging hippie types” which I’ve heard in conversation while expressing my idea of using solar energy. I wasn’t aware that gardening or self sufficiency was a social “no-no”.

My great grandmother died in 2005. She died one day shy of her 100th birthday. She was a tough old Polish lady that raised a family during the Great Depression. She had skills many people pay to learn in classes now – gardening, sewing, cooking, herbal remedies. These skills were common in the early 20th century and not considered odd at all. Times have changed though. Now it may be seen as “weird” if you go over to someone’s house and they have a backyard garden, can their own food, hunt their own food, make their own remedies for ailments. Some folks would consider them “those kind of people”.

I don’t see it that way. I think the more I can provide for myself and family own my own, the less I’ll have to rely upon an intricate system that, as has been shown in the past, have problems in providing supplies. How many times have we seen the bare shelves of grocery stores on the nightly news and tales of water and food shortages in areas hit hard by disaster?

Waste, Want or Weird?

Is it weird to be involved in emergency preparedness or self sufficiency? Is it a need or a want? Is it a waste of time and resources? Those are all common questions and ones that I have thought myself.

Is it weird? Honestly, it’s crossed my mind. As I’ve stated here, at what point does one go from practical preparedness to “those people”? I’m not sure myself so I just keep doing what I’m doing and eventually I’ve had to let go of the fear I might be stigmatized or socially ostracized by others.

Is it a need or a want? It’s both really. I both need and want to provide and protect myself, family and friends. I think most people think the same thing, how we each go about accomplishing that is simply different.

Is it a waste of time and resources? This is another question I’ve often asked myself. What if I never need to use any of this stuff? What if it just sits there – I could have used that money for something else. That is true; I could have utilized that money for other things. I could have bought a new, bigger TV. I could have bought more clothes or that shiny Schecter Hellraiser Deluxe I played at Guitar Center. But I didn’t. I would be lying if I didn’t think about this aspect and have even harbored mild regret at times. However, those small instances when I have to break out my first aid kit or other supplies when the need arose make the regret fade. I tend to see it like car insurance. I pay money every month for the possibility that something may happen. There’s no guarantee I’ll ever need what I pay for each month but it’s the law and has been for a while now. I also have renter’s insurance as well. Many places now require you to have that insurance before they’ll rent you a place. There’s no guarantee anything will ever happen that you will need that insurance – but you have it anyway. To me, it’s a sort of emergency/disaster insurance – it’s an investment I’m making just in case that need ever arises.

So does this all make me one of “those people”? I suppose depending on who you ask, it does. However, as long as my family and friends are good with it and support my efforts then those opinions of me being one of those “nuts” really don’t matter all that much.