Disaster Planning: which disasters?

Bruce Schneier, Chief Technology Officer of security firm BT Counterpane and the author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, has a thought-provoking article on disaster planning: Disaster Planning Is Critical, but Pick a Reasonable Disaster. His main point is in the title: plan for a ‘reasonable disaster’, in other words, the type of disasters that are most common, or most likely to affect you. “There is a sweet spot, though, in disaster preparedness. Some disasters are too small or too common to worry about…. And others are too large or too rare.” Good point. If all your prepping is aimed at the total annihilation of society, you actually might be less well-prepared for a more likely crisis, such as an unusually severe flu epidemic, a hurricane or earthquake, or a nuclear power plant disaster.

On the other hand, I disagree with Schneier when he discounts the practicality of preparing for a large, but not entirely unlikely disaster: “People can stockpile food and water to prepare for a hurricane that knocks out services for a few days, but not for a Katrina-like flood that knocks out services for months.” It takes more effort and resources to plan for a more substantial disaster, like the Blizzard of 1978 in New England, or the LA riots of 1992, or the Northeast blackout of 2003, or Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — but it is possible and helpful.

You can and should have a plan to evacuate (to ‘bug-out’), one that is adapted to the disasters most likely for your area. Where I live, in Florida, a hurricane or a nuclear power plant disaster would be the most likely reason for evacuation. In other places, an earthquake or wild fires might make your home unsafe, so that you would have to leave on short notice.

You should also have a plan for bugging in, for staying in your home for a period of up to a couple of weeks to a month. It is not unreasonable or difficult to store enough food and water and other supplies for that length of time. Disasters that might necessitate bugging in: extended power outage, severe snow storm, severe airborne disease epidemic, etc.

I’ll close this post by agreeing with one other important point in the article: “The key is preparedness. Much more important than planning, preparedness is about setting up social structures so that people fall into doing something sensible when things go wrong. Think of all the wasted effort — and even more wasted desire — to do something after Katrina because there was no way for most people to help. Preparedness is about getting people to react when there’s a crisis. It’s something the military trains its soldiers for.”

Preparedness can make all of the difference in a severe crisis. You might not have prepared for every eventuality. You might not have foreseen all of the resources that you would need for whatever disaster occurs. But you will undoubtedly be much better off that those persons who did not prepare at all.

– Thoreau

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