Are you a world-class worrier? I am. Occasionally. We all are at times. Especially in the middle of the night. That's when worries really come out to play - and torment us. The good news is that those worries can usually be put back in their box by taking action.
Let's face it, life is unpredictable. It never goes exactly as we might imagine. At any given moment, we're probably surrounded by existential threats. But, worrying doesn't solve anything. We've survived many more things than we might think - besides Disco. And, statistical data has shown, repeatedly, that the odds of specific bad stuff happening is pretty low. It's usually about putting it in perspective. If you repeatedly skate too close to the edge, your odds of getting hurt go up. If you wear a safety harness or a parachute, then they go down.
We're an aviation family. My husband flew professionally for more than 50 years. In all kinds of weather and under conditions that, sometimes, um, had a higher 'pucker factor'. I was in the seat beside him for some of that flying. It's about being clear-eyed about the risks of flying ... understand risk, and mitigate it. By being prepared. What will you do "if"?
I've carried that forward to my life in general. Working in Emergency Management and airborne Search and Rescue (SAR) gave me the opportunity to finely hone my personal risk mitigation skills. That included some really rigorous training by FEMA and the USAF-CAP. These are skills that you can carry right into your everyday life to protect your home and family against the unexpected. There's power in being prepared. Asking the tough questions in advance. Running through 'what if' scenarios. It may not be pleasant, but it's necessary, in order to get through the unexpected twists, turns and disasters life can throw at us. We can choose to be either a hapless victim being bashed along the rocks during the raging torrent, or grab a paddle and try and keep ourselves off those rocks.
It's a choice too few make before it's just too late - in protecting your dwelling, car, health, legal options, digital life and so much more. It's almost as if the act of buying 'insurance' relieves us of the need to mitigate our exposure to risk and we can simply sit back, shrug and "oh well, what happens happens. The insurance company will cover it". Except that insurance payouts - if they actually happen, or cover the actual costs of disaster - can't lessen the emotional and psychological impacts of disaster. I'm not sure that I'd ever get over seeing my house destroyed by fire, for example, even if the payout allowed me to build newer and better. I have two friends who lost their homes to fires, and although they rebuilt, I'm pretty sure they'd rather have not gone through it in the first place.
As trained Emergency Managers, we learned the four phases of emergency management:
Mitigation - taking action now to reduce later impact and negative consequences. It involves identifying and reducing risks, having tough conversations and investing in long-term well-being.
Preparedness - is a continuous cycle of planning, training, thinking, evaluating, monitoring and improving our capabilities as situations evolve.
Response - is the ability to effectively mobilize resources in response to events.
Recovery - after immediate needs are met, we think forward and assess how we might restore ourselves to a 'more normal' state, with an emphasis on 'building back better'.
These can be applied to nations, communities, or your own family. The thinking is the same, and as an individual, you can draw from decades of proven, professional experience and apply it to your own situation.
As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
What is an emergency? Well, of course, it can be many things: a wildfire, COVID-19, storms, a family medical emergency, a power outage, a car accident, job loss and more. Emergencies have always been a part of life. We can't avoid them, but we can 'grab a paddle', have some necessary conversations with our loved ones, have a plan, create some important documents, have a go-bag and more.
By their very nature, emergencies happen without warning. Regular medical checkups can be 'put off' until it's too late to take advantage of effective treatment. It's not fun to schedule a visit with an estate attorney, and draft a Living Will or Family Trust. We can all find other things we'd rather spend that money on. Taking the time to prepare and organize files and documents, or create what I call 'Continuity' binders to guide those suddenly left to pick up the pieces after the unthinkable ... well, there are so many things we'd rather be doing.
This last year was awful on so many levels, but none more so than unexpectedly losing four good, close friends, and a relative, in the last four months of 2020. The causes ranged from COVID-19 to cancer and a heart attack. It was sad and disheartening for us, but worse for the families. One family in particular ( they didn't have anything in place for 'after') suffered even more, and will into the foreseeable future.
What You Should Have, and Share
Contact lists should be the first thing you share with trusted family members, a friend or attorney. Families can be scattered all over the country these days, and a next-of-kin or legal representative in another state should know who to call locally - for a spare key to the house, if nothing else. We were able to step up, and act as a liaison - for the distant stepson for a dear friend who passed away suddenly, since the stepson couldn't fly due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Create an emergency contact list including family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, healthcare providers, teachers, employers, the local public health department, and other community resources - then make sure that your legal representative has that information.
Continuity Binder (sounds better than 'Crisis Notebook') - A continuity binder - common both in the military and business - is a reference document produced by an individual to share relevant information concerning a duty or position on which he/she has knowledge. This binder is a great place to store all manner of lists, including points of contact (attorney, doctors, pharmacies, schools, day care providers, veterinarian, etc.), responsibilities, information on how to accomplish common tasks around your home (like feeding/caring for pets), personal data. Keep it up to date and in a safe place.
If all of this preparedness stuff really appeals to you, then consider creating Contingency Plans. If you live in wildfire country, then prepare one for just that. Similarly for hurricanes and earthquakes. Death of a spouse or partner would also be a worthy plan to discuss. I'm not suggesting that you need to go down the 'doomsday prepper' road. There are plenty of potential real-world risks to plan for without planning for the 'end of the world as we know it'. Focus your time and energy where it will have the most impact.
Contingency plans are an essential part of risk management. They help to ensure that you've always got a backup option - Plan B - when things go wrong, or when the unexpected happens.
To develop a contingency plan, first conduct a risk assessment: identify your critical need areas ( health/medical, financial, children's care and well-being) , identify the threats to those areas, and analyze the potential impact of each threat.
Then, include the following points for each threat:
People to inform.
To create the most robust plan, consult within your family, as they should, ideally, be a part of this planning. Don't exclude children. Buy-in from all members of the family will make the process easier, more comprehensive and better all around.
Online Accounts and Passwords
You and your spouse probably have separate passwords for banking or investment accounts. Then, there are others that you probably share, like for Netflix. In our house, we have a 'protocol' for passwords - it's a formula that all of our passwords are fit. We both know that if we had to use the other person's password, just remember the 'protocol' or formula, then we'll know the password. Our daughter knows this as well, should she have to dive in on our behalf. Alternatively, there are password managers, like LastPass, where you can safely store passwords.
Every. Single. Online. Account. Should have Two-Factor Authentication wherever possible. That includes your social media accounts. 2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. You login as usual, with a User Name and Password. Then, you will be asked to provide another piece of information - something that only you would be able to provide (that can be a PIN, a randomly generated number, 'secret question' answer, hardware 'token', or bio-metrics such as a fingerprint). Securing your digital life is another way of mitigating risk - identity theft, for instance.
Social Media - Everyone who has social media accounts should have a 'Legacy Contact' in place for that account. Email and social media accounts vary by platform in regard to what happens when the owner dies. You can find out more about this here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_and_the_Internet
We have two 'go-bags' - one for each of us. They hang prominently, in the garage, right next to the car. We go through the contents annually, to replace items that need replacing and refresh our understanding of what's in the bag and 'why'. There are excellent online resources - such as Ready.gov to help you decide how to configure your own 'go-bag' or emergency kit.
We also have basic camping supplies stored in the garage that include a small Coleman stove with fuel bottles, and other things that could 'do in a pinch'. Water and some packaged dehydrated food (like that used by hikers) is also part of our supplies. But, don't get all carried away with the dehydrated food (it can be expensive) if you have a reasonable pantry filled with basics like canned beans, pasta, grains and similar items. At most, you'll need to plan on what's necessary for a 72-hour period at most. Not weeks. In my experience, 48-hours would be more typical time that local/state/federal resources can get in to help you in the very worst cases. The response time during the Katrina hurricane on the Gulf coast was just 24-hours.
Keep this planning in the realm of 'reason'. I only mention the 72-hour time frame as an example for things like getting prescription medicines refilled from a pharmacy should you be displaced to a shelter. It's extremely unlikely that you'll need to learn how to bake bread in a solar oven, in the rubble of your backyard, over weeks and months, while living in a tent. If that were the case, we'd all have much larger issues to deal with.
I'll cover medical supplies and issues in a future post and part of this series, but, obviously, a medical kit is an essential part of this preparedness landscape. You should start thinking about health/medical needs - particularly for the chronically ill, disabled and elderly.
BTW: Over the last several years, I've been scanning cherished photographs and uploading them to 'the cloud' as a defense to losing them in a fire or other catastrophe.
What is the 'cloud', you may ask? Short answer: It's the internet. You can store and backup all sorts of data, including documents, scanned photos and more there ... on redundant servers located around the globe.
So, why not start uploading your important stuff today? Make it regular Sunday afternoon 'task' ... spend about an hour a week, and you'll have it caught up in no time. The only other thing you need, besides a scanner, is a place to park it all in the Cloud. I use both DropBox (paid) and Google G Drive (free) and have folders in both places set up to receive my stuff. Google Drive requires that you have a Google account ... like a G Mail account/email address. Google Drive is free for most users. I can access my stuff from anyplace that I have internet access, from my phone, if necessary. When I travel abroad, I have all my travel documents, and passport, in G Drive for access 'just in case'.
UPDATE, July 6, 2021:
Prepare Now for Wildfires: Protect your property and health by taking these key measures from Consumer Reports (and take a look at their Air Purifier ratings!)
UPDATE, September 9, 2021:
UNR Cooperative Extension, Living With Wildfire page has a great list for a 'go-bag':
Water – One gallon/person/day (3 day supply for evacuation).
Food – non-perishable (3 day supply for evacuation).
Battery powered or hand crank radio tuned to a local news channel.
First aid kit.
Medications (7 day supply).
Sanitation and personal hygiene items (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.).
Copies of important documents in your to-go bag and stored away from the home (medication list, medical info, proof of address, deed/lease to the home, bank, IRS, trust, investments, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc.)
Computer back up files, posted on the cloud or saved on a thumb drive.
Inventory of home contents. Consider making a list, utilizing a home-inventory app, or videotaping prior to an emergency. Store them on the cloud or keep them in a safe place away from your home.
Photographs of the exterior of the house and landscape.
Cell phone and charger.
Family and emergency contact information.
Extra cash, Credit/ATM Debit cards.
Clothing for 3-5 days.
Family heirlooms, photo albums and videos.
Maps of the area.
Medical supplies (hearing aids, with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, cane, etc.)
Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, wipes, diapers, etc.)
Games and activities for children.
Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl, etc.)
Ensure you have a picture of your animal in case they are lost during a wildfire.
Extra sets of car keys and house keys.
Manual can opener.
Generator Safety Tips That Will Get You Through a Storm, and Maybe Save Your Life from Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is also featuring ratings of the best portable and home standby generators for 2021.
Visit www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/st04-019 to learn how to use electronic encryption to protect sensitive information.
If you have sensitive information stored in the 'cloud', then consider adding encryption to keep it safe: https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-encrypt-a-document-stored-on-google-drive
Ready.gov has many resources available for creating sound, actionable emergency plans.
The American Red Cross offers tips and resources on emergency planning.
You can download a PDF Continuity Plan List to fill out and keep in a binder or digital storage: