What to do If the Unthinkable Happens

If the past two years of global pandemic was not stressful enough, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added a whole new layer of uncertainty to our day-to-day lives. Still, it is not too late to take control of the situation to the best of our respective abilities.

Those who live in an area where earthquakes, wildfires or storms pose a risk of natural disaster may already be familiar with emergency preparedness basics: Prepare to go a minimum of three days without food, water, phone/Internet service and electricity — and for those who live in outlying areas be prepared to go significantly longer. Keep on hand emergency cash, medications, food, water, batteries, flashlights, first aid supplies, a battery-operated AM/FM radio, blankets a list of important telephone numbers (in case it is not possible to access them digitally) and other essentials. For those who spend a lot of time away from home, take time to assemble a kit that can travel to school or work with you.

When deciding what to include in a home emergency kit, imagine what it will be like to go without basic utilities. To get an idea what that might look like, it is helpful to imagine something more familiar: camping. What would you have on hand if you were missing the amenities and comforts of home? As you imagine roughing it in the wilderness, other things will come to mind: a multi-tool/pocket knife, lantern, sleeping bag, map, lighter, camp stove, firewood and so on.

The typical emergency guide is focused on getting through the first 72 hours in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In the event of cyberattack or even a conventional act of war, however, it may take weeks to bring critical services back online. What then? Unless you are a hardcore “prepper” and/or have the ability to live off the grid in an undisclosed location safe from opportunistic criminals, this kind of scenario is one few of us care — or dare — to imagine. Indeed, it is virtually impossible for any one person to account for every possible contingency. Still there are steps each of us can take to mentally rehearse how to get through such a crisis — and, with any luck, help others around us plan for this contingency too.

Truly self-sufficient homesteaders and survivalists are far-and-few between. But what one lacks in experience may be compensated for providing one has a good grasp on the human resources required to increase the odds of pulling through a long emergency successfully.

Potential allies include neighbors, coworkers and classmates.

Some readers may recall the old Twilight Zone episode in which a Cold War-era family, having dutifully prepared a bomb shelter to much skepticism from their neighbors, quickly becomes the target of panicked townspeople after word gets out that a neighboring household are the only ones who have prepared for the unthinkable. This is certainly one view of emergency preparedness — the view in which it is better to keep a low profile so that no one will know how extensively one has prepared in the hope silence will keep one from becoming a target. Unless, however, one lives in an isolated area it is unlikely to keep such a secret hidden for long. For those who have not given emergency preparedness much thought, a sudden interest in knowing who has what supplies or advantages, where and how much is all but a certainty in an emergency.

It does not take much of an imagination to appreciate that things can and will get ugly very fast — if the mentality is “survival of the fittest”.

Rather than isolate, seek safety in numbers. The more people who are committed in some way to help, the more likely it is that the combined skills and resources of the group will see one another through an emergency. Begin by brainstorming in advance how you will prove yourself to be of value in a community of fellow emergency survivors. You may not have unlimited time and money to plan for every contingency but the good news is, if you bring others in on your emergency plans you will not need the skills of a rugged individualist. Take inventory of your talents, skills and personal attributes and encourage others who may end up in your emergency survival “pod” to do the same.

You may not think you have something to offer but in all likelihood you do. Suppose, for example, you are a 70-year-old quilter. Your handiwork has been piling up in a linen closet faster than you can sell or gift your quilts away. The weather outside is cold and the power is off. Guess who will supply the blankets? Suppose you raise chickens or enjoy canning and have jars of food stashed away. Guess who will have a bartering tool? Suppose you own a horse or are an avid runner or cyclist. Guess who will be able to cover a lot of ground to determine whether conditions are significantly better a few miles away? Suppose you are a talented singer or musician. In the event radios, televisions and cell phones are eerily silent, guess who will be able to help others cope? Suppose you are a hunter or have military service in your history. Guess who is qualified to help protect your small group of emergency survivors from those who are trying to strong-arm their way to the survival finish line?

Knowing what you have to offer that others around you are less capable of providing when everyday conveniences and basic resources are scarce is a little-discussed yet essential component of emergency preparedness. Learning what others bring to the table is equally important. Take inventory of what everyone within your immediate reach can do to facilitate the best possible outcome. Be prepared to trade, barter and cooperate for the goal of mutual survival.

It is said no man (or woman!) is an island. The best way to get through an emergency is to work quickly — before stress overcomes our better instincts — to establish a mutual aid society or “social contract”. Above all, remind those with whom you find yourself hunkering down that we can get through virtually anything if we stick together.

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