Disaster Preparedness and Paranoia: Ready for This?

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Winslow Homer's "Gulf Stream"

Winslow Homer's "Gulf Stream." Don't be ill-prepared.

This is a dangerous world. There are people, animals and elements out there that would do us harm. There are risks that we can mitigate, and risks that we cannot. Still, I am a two-fisted snake-handling believer in doing what can be done to prepare for the worst possible outcome.

It was born in me. Why does my family have land and tractors? Why, for the next Great Depression, of course. I come from a people who stockpiled not only toilet paper, but ketchup as well. Losing everything, as my grandfather did, surely changes a man. And going to his extremes is not an option; for one thing, it’s wasteful, and for another my wife will not allow it.

It appeared, only days ago, that we were going to get our due with Hurricane Irene. Many were ready to welcome the relatively-weak tropical storm, heralding the bump that some heavy rainfall might give to our fields and reservoirs. But things have changed, and that storm has gotten, well, mean.

But it’s not just hurricanes we have to worry about. Where I sit, way up here in in-land Georgia, north of the Fall Line, hurricanes are damned near one of the last things I worry about. Until this week, I didn’t fret too much about earthquakes, either, but the quake that jarred Virginia shook my confidence, too.

See, I have a list in my mind of things I ought to worry about that can occur beyond my control.

First is harm from people. In a previous post, I described my experience with a series of break-ins at my home. There are steps I’ve taken to mitigate this risk, as best as I can and within the bounds set by both the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and my abiding wife. As my home was built, I encouraged the builder to provide enough space around the house that I could see the approach of a stranger from the trees. So, I have a bit of a “killing field” that improves the odds of my getting the drop on an intruder. Further, my house is tall – the bedrooms are on the third floor – so no one can step foot through my bedroom window without taking a great deal of pain to get up there.

I’ve a very reliable, very loud and very robust security system that relies on a number of different detection methods that I need not divulge here, except suffice to say, I’ll know someone’s there. And I have a layout to my home that allows me the option of, in a worst case scenario, putting my back to a corner and blasting the hell out of anything that comes through a door. We’re talking 12-gauge here, friends. Magnum slugs. Big, big holes.

Peachtree Road

This is the cover art for Elton John's album 'Peachtree Road.' The crossing depicted here is right down the road from my house. It's rural, poorly marked and a reason why I'm scared of the railroad.

My second fear – the one for which I’ve not sufficiently prepared – is of the railroad. Not that they’ll come take my land or seek to run track in a way that would split my ranch in two the way others feared the railroad, but that trains will wreck. It’s happened close by before. And our area of the county includes a number of rural crossings – the kinds that have nothing more than a sign that says there’s a railroad there, without crossing arms or flashing lights and bells – and several factories and at least one large truck transit station. Further, trains run very close to the end of my street – the sound lulls us to sleep on many a night – and we’re well within the evacuation zone should a derailment necessitate a mandatory evacuation. We also are rather close to an interstate – also a factor that might cause us to have to flee – as well as the fact that our house is surrounded by woods that, in dry weather, becomes crisp kindling ready for a forest fire.

I would very much like to prepare an “oh, shit” box. I picture something by Rubbermade, with a lid that covers the top in such a way that rain water would not leak in. Inside, some food and water, blankets, flashlights and perhaps even a change of clothes and some sparse toiletries. It would be kept by the back door in the basement – the one leading to the garage – and could be grabbed on my way out the door.

Having the ManVan – a Town and Country minivan – provides some peace of mind because, in a pinch, it’s not as bad a place to spend the night as would be, say, a Mini Cooper. The back seat folds down into a sort-of bed, there’s room to move around a little, and it has a DVD player to boot. That my wife and I both have BlackBerry’s is nice as well, since we have multiple ways of communicating (cell phone, text, BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter) should the shit hit the fan.

As was my grandfather’s wont, I also keep my ManVan reasonably full of gas – at least at half-a-tank or better – so I could drive some distance without stopping. After all, if a disaster is big enough, as I’ve seen before, electricity might be hard to come by, and those gas pumps need it if you’re going to get fuel from them. A GPS system also helps, since I’m rather directionally-challenged and with the tap of a screen, I can get step-by-step directions to somewhere presumably safer than where I might be.

My third fear is weather, such that it would make travel impossible. Whether facing a winter storm as we did in February or something along the lines of a hurricane that can spawn tornadoes, flooding, downed trees, washed-out roads and generally making travel difficult (or impossible).

For this, I’m far better ready for winter disasters than summer ones, and to lose power than I am to lose water. In winter, I’ve a ventless gas fireplace that does a very good job of heating our home, and food can always be placed outside the door onto the porch to help prevent spoilage. A propane grill with a gas burner is in the garage for cooking and heating water, if necessary. I also have some canned goods – not a ton, but enough that should keep us alive if used sparingly. In summer, however, outside of being able to cook on the grill, there’s not much I can do. The fridge will go warm, the house will get hot and I’ll just be damned miserable. But I’m often like that anyway.

We take for granted that tomorrow largely will be like today. Philosophically, tomorrow is promise to no one. Just because the sun has risen every day that you’ve been alive is absolutely no guarantee that it will do so again tomorrow. There is a responsibility that we owe to ourselves to assume nothing.

Taking this too far, of course – as my grandfather did – edges in on mental illness. Knowing how to forage for food in the woods is a useful trick, perhaps, but so is knowing better than to go getting lost in the woods in the first place. I’m also no advocate for keeping large sums of cash on hand or converting your assets to gold; I do think that our financial system is adequately prepared to do what it must to enable you to make a purchase even in desperate times, because that system realizes that its survival, too, depends on your transactions.

Should the sun turn into a red giant or our economic system utterly collapse or a meteorite cast the planet into something like an atomic winter, then we’re boned and survival becomes a means only of prolonging our suffering. But we can be ready to, in the very least, grab our shit and get out of Dodge for a few days or, if someone busts through our window, do something about it.

So, are you ready?

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