Disaster Prevention Spawns a Cottage Industry
No one really can predict when or where the worst is going to happen, but disasters — whether they be fires, floods or earthquakes — tend to be wakeup calls for those who were fortunate enough not to be affected.
Today a not-so-small cottage industry is now built around disaster preparation. While it never hurts to be prepared, say experts, how much of this industry is actually playing into people’s fears? And is there a line between being adequately prepared and just wasting money on over- priced goods?
“Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, but anyone can reduce the impact of those emergencies by taking a few simple steps now to prepare, such as developing a communications plan to ensure family members know how to get in touch with each other, putting together an emergency kit, and staying informed of potential risks in your area,” says Rachel Racusen, FEMA spokeswoman.
She adds that having a prepared public is critical to ensuring that “as a nation, we can respond to and recover from disasters more effectively.”
While no one would suggest that being unprepared is the best course of action, does this mean it is necessary to purchase an expensive specialty emergency kits, or to stock up on water and buy MREs — Meals, Ready to Eat — in bulk?
“There are too many people that focus on fear motivation with the sole purpose of marketing and selling overpriced and oftentimes useless equipment,” says Paul Purcell, vice president and lead security analyst for InfoQuest Investigators in Atlanta. “Instead of spending money, you should focus on things you can do economically to protect you and your loved ones.”
However, the truth is that most Americans are probably not really prepared for a disaster, and those who adopt a survivalist mentality serve as the opposite extreme.
“Generally, the American public, and for that fact many businesses, are not well prepared for disasters,” says David M. Neal, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events at Oklahoma State University. Neal adds that there is an important distinction when it comes to be prepared.
“They may think of being prepared but the real issue is, how many will take that though and turn it in action,” he says.
The biggest consideration when planning is to understand that in most situations disasters don’t leave people cut off from civilization. Even in the worst case, taking that survivalist mentality is not necessary.
“There is such a thing as overkill,” says Martin Kuritz of Active Insight and author of the "Disaster Preparedness Guide." “You don’t need 10,000 gallons of water in case of fire. Instead, it is better to think of the stuff you can grab and go should you need to evacuate.”
Kuritz, who lives in California and has had to evacuate three times because of brush fires, says that even in the worst disasters aid tends to arrive well before most people would need to rely on their cache of canned food and survival equipment.
“The worst earthquake isn’t going to leave you high and dry for months,” says Kuritz, “And even following the recent tsunami in Japan the first responders were there in hours and everyone who survived had foods within days. The truth is that a couple of miles from many sites life goes on and places are typically open for business.”
However, with each new disaster comes new awareness, and this creates a type of post-disaster mentality where people stock up and then forget about it.
Neal says the practice is actually counterproductive, but suggests that some can serve as a model to the right way to prepare as part of a normal routine.
“One group that prepares well and effectively are the members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints,” Neal explains, noting how it is common for members to have certain amounts of food, water and other supplies stockpiled in case the worst does happen. “However, they have a means to use what is stored and to replace what is used.”
The key, say most experts, is to prepare for a disaster by simply buying what you would normally use, but keep a reasonable stockpile. Just as it is a good idea to buy milk before a snowstorm, it is a good idea to have food on hand that is regularly replaced.