Thursday, February 19, 2009

If You Want to Know How to Survive a Disaster, Find Someone Who Already Has

Well the title just about sums up today's message but since this is a blog and not a list of headlines, I should probably expand on the topic a bit...

The simple fact is that no matter how much you research and how much you prepare, unless you have actually lived through a disaster, there are things you are going to miss. I go to a lot of disaster planning meetings and take part in a lot of drills and exercises; people can talk up a storm but the place to truly learn about what works and what doesn't work during a disaster is from disaster/drill/exercise after action reports and presentations from people who have actually been knee deep in the muck of a disaster.

Right after Hurricane Katrina, I was talking to some doctors and nurses who treated patients that were brought to the airport in New Orleans. Of all of the things they talked about, the one thing that has stuck with me to this day is the fact that the people who were left behind were mostly old and sick. Now I would have thought of many things that would have been useful in that situation...IVs, blankets, insulin, etc...but these medical professionals would have given anything for Depends. Can you picture wall to wall elderly people who couldn't walk themselves to the bathroom and had no Depends? Stuck in a hot airport for days on end? Quite the visual, huh? This is something that many people wouldn't have even thought of unless they had actually been in that situation.

At a meeting today a similar situation came up. A guy was talking about what happened when his business suffered a major event which drew national media attention. Since they had never experienced such a situation before, including the onslaught of the media, they quickly found that their disaster plans were not adequate for the fallout from the event. Now they could have bumbled through the situation but their Incident Command Team immediately contacted others in the field who had been through similar situations for some real life advice based on experience. They survived the event relatively intact and are now rewriting their disaster plan.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, there is probably someone who has come through something similar, for example:
  • If the current economic situation is scaring the bejesus out of you, find the oldest person you know (someone born in the early 1900's) and ask them how they survived the Great Depression.
  • If you are heading down the road to financial ruin and bankruptcy, find someone who has gone through the situation and come out the other side with plenty of good advice (don't pick the person who is heading for bankruptcy number two--you want people who have actually learned from the experience).
  • If you want to learn how to protect your home from fire, ask a fireman. They see plenty of fires and can give some pretty good advice about what to and what not to do.
  • If you have recently moved to an area where hurricanes are common, of course do your research online about preparing for such an event, but then ask all of the neighbors you can find about their tips for preparing for a hurricane--they will have the tried and true advice for surviving such a disaster.
  • If you are planning for urban combat due to an unspecified socio-economic disaster, talk to people who have actually been in urban combat situations (think Iraq, Bosnia, and other random locations that included both social and economic collapse along with the need for urban combat)--I bet there will be plenty of lessons learned and information that had never even crossed your mind.

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