This summer included heat waves and massive drought in my area, reminding many of us how insecure our lives can be. I started running into some information online about recommendations from the Red Cross and FEMA and other organizations about emergency preparedness, and through those into the world of preppers – those people who are preparing themselves or their families for apocalypse type situations.
FEMA recommends having emergency supplies for 72 hours, since this is how long it can sometimes take for help to reach people in an emergency. The 72 (3 days) rule is really a rough estimate though, since emergencies vary enormously in their level of destruction, and people living in rural areas will have different response times than small cities, which will be different than large cities.
Preppers are all over the map in terms of the level of preparation they aim for, what they think the risks are (hurricanes, pandemics, FEMA coming to put us all into concentration camps, rapture, and many other options), and how they approach preparing. Many store food for up to a year, and sometimes more. Some stock up on weapons and ammunition, and others stock up on EVERYTHING, ensuring that their family will have fresh new sneakers to wear for years after the rest of us have been eaten by a zombie horde*.
Preparedness is a difficult thing to look at from a completely skeptical perspective. While the chances of December 2012 actually bringing doomsday are tiny, real emergencies DO happen. Hurricane Sandy is a good example of the ways in which our lives can be significantly disrupted, and I think it’s safer to avoid becoming caught unprepared. How to prepare can be a really difficult calculation though, in part because humans are so bad at analyzing risk. Do I prepare for 3 days snowed in without electricity or heat, or for the end of the world as we know it, or something in between?
As Sandy headed towards the coast this weekend people headed for the stores to stock up on water, food, batteries, flashlights, and other things they would need in the emergency. I’m glad many people were able to get what they needed, but many places ran out of those kinds of things. I want to be one of the people who already had enough clean water and food for my family for a few days, who already had flashlights under the kitchen sink, and who knew where the extra batteries were.
With Sandy we got prior notice, time to prepare some last minute arrangements, or to evacuate if needed. Many emergencies do not give us this early warning, such as earthquakes. I want to know that if I don’t have warning I do have water. I live in blizzard country, and I want to know I can stay warm, fed, hydrated, and clean if a big one comes this winter and snows me in for a few days. Climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of blizzards in the midwest, and I want to know that I won’t be trying to get to the store in a white-out.
I am no hardcore prepper – I don’t own any guns, or have a hundred buckets of freeze dried food in my basement. I’m not worried we’ll suddenly live in a nuclear wasteland any time soon, but I keep extra food, water, and batteries on hand. I have enough blankets to survive if my heat fails in the winter. I know where my flashlights are. Do you?
Are you prepared for an emergency in your area? How much preparation is rational, and where is the line where it crosses into irrational behavior? What kind of emergencies could happen in your area, and what can you do to ensure the survival and comfort of yourself and your loved ones?
*Zombies are sort of a joking catch-all phrase used among some preppers to avoid talking about specifics of what kind of emergencies to prepare for, and sort of refer to all possible situations.