There’s a lot of “tsk tsk” going on with regards to the ill-preparedness of virtually everyone involved in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, from the President and his cabinet for lack of planning, an uncoordinated response and ill-timed guitar photo ops and shoe–shopping trips to the citizenry of New Orleans, many of whom stayed put despite warnings of a category 5 storm and didn’t even stock up on emergency supplies.
While the assignation of blame is an amusing intellectual exercise, I propose a more useful one: trying to extract lessons from this situation that could be applicable to our own lives. Are we who weren’t in Katrina’s path laughing at the speck in others’ eyes while ignoring the log in our own? How well prepared are we for life’s emergencies, both large and small?
The following is a set of questions, arranged into categories, that you might want to ask yourself about your own preparedness for the future. I’ll admit that these are pulled straight out of my head (or ass, depending on your point of view about this sort of thing), but many of these are based on casual personal research, advice from trusted people and good old-fashioned experience. This is by no means a complete list, but I think it’s a good start and walks the median mindset between not-thinking-beyond-today and paranoiac survivalist.
If you have any comments about any of these questions or would like to add to the list, please feel free to do so in the comments.
- Are you putting at least 10% of your take-home income away in some kind of savings account or investment?
- Are you saving money in an RRSP (if you’re Canadian), 401k (if you’re American) or some similar retirement savings plan?
- If you were suddenly to lose your job, would you be able to cover this month’s rent or mortgage? Next month’s?
- Do you have any “rainy day” money stashed away to cover a small emergency — say at least $300?
- Do you have “breathing room” on your credit card, or is it maxed out? Are you paying it off as qucikly as possible? Getting by on the minimum monthly payment? Are you “kiting” — that is, paying off one credit card with another?
- What sort of insurance do you have? Medical? Disability? Life? Homeowner’s? Car?
- When you travel, are you covered by travel insurance?
- Do you have flashlights and candles handy in the event of a power outage? Do the flashlights have batteries? Do you have matches or a lighter for the candles?
- If you live in a country with cold winters: do you have spare blankets should the heat go out?
- Do you have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen?
- Do you have smoke detectors? Are their batteries still good?
- Do you have a planned escape route in case of fire? Do you have a backup escape route?
- If you have a house with direct access to the garage or you have a gas or oil furnace: do you have a carbon monoxide detector?
- Do you keep a supply of non-perishable ready-to-eat food?
- If you live in an area that is prone to natural disaster — it could be flooding, tornadoes/hurricanes/typhoons/monsoons, earthquake or forest fire — do you have something like a jump kit?
- Do you have a plunger or toilet snake?
- Do you keep a bottle of drain opener handy?
- Do you have a home alarm? Do you use it? Does it have a “panic button”? Does your home alarm notify the police and/or a security company and/or the fire department? DO you know how to report a false alarm?
- Do you have a first-aid kit in the house?
- If you take medicine on a regular basis, how vital is it to your survival and how much of it do you keep on hand?
- How much first aid do you know? Can you staunch serious bleeding? Set a broken bone? Help a choking victim? Help a drowning victim? Jump-start someone whose heart has stopped?
- Do you know where the nearest walk-in clinic is? The nearest hospital? The nearest one with an emergency room (not all hospitals
have emergency rooms)? The nearest emergency dental clinic?
- Are the ownership and registration papers for your car up-to-date? Are copies in the glove compartment?
- Does your car have a “donut” or a full spare tire? Can you change a tire?
- Does you car have jumper cables? Do you know how to jump-start a car?
- In the event that your car breaks down at night, do you have road flares and a flashlight?
- If you live in a country with winters: Do you have an ice scraper and snow brush? If you go on long trips, do you have emergency supplies like a blanket, water and high-energy food (such as chocolate)?
- Do you have a cell phone? Does it have a spare battery?
- Do you keep extra batteries for portable electronics?
- Do you back up the important data on your computer? How often?
- Do you have anti-virus/anti-spyware/anti-adware software? Do you keep that software’s virus/spyware/adware definitions up-to-date?
- Are you careful when you open email attachments?
- Are your home appliances — especially those which generate heat — in good working order? Are their power cords in good shape?
- If you work on documents or files, do you save your work often? If your software supports it, do you enable auto-save?
- Do you change your computer passwords at some regular interval? Do you have them written down somewhere safe?
- What is the rate of violent crime where you live? What is the murder rate?
- Do you have “street smarts”? Have you taken any “street smarts” classes?
- Do you know any form of self-defense?
- Do you own a firearm? (Can you justify owning one?) Is it kept in a safe place? Do you have some kind of criteria, either explicitly stated or internalized that clearly states when it is an appropriate time to shoot someone?
- Is your neighbourhood busy or quiet? What is the crime rate? What is the violent crime rate?
- Is there a sense of community in your neighbourhood?
- Do you know your neighbours? Is there a neighbour you can call on for help?
- Do you participate in community events — anything from organizing a local rummage sale to something like a neighbourhood watch?
- Do you keep in touch with your family? Could you call on a family member for help? How long a period of non-communication with them would have to pass before they got worried about you?
- Do you keep in touch with your friends? Could you call on a friend for help? How long a period of non-communication with them would have to pass before they got worried about you?
Super-Duper Bonus Question
For the purposes of this question, please ignore certain geographical impossibilities, such as your living in the midwest and being a thousand miles away from any large body of water.
Here’s the scenario: imagine that you’re doing exactly what you’re doing right now. There’ve been rumblings in the news of an extremely severe storm that might come your way. Suddenly, you are given notice — perhaps from your supervisor at work, a phone call, email or instant message from a family member or friend, a civil defense announcement on TV or radio — that the order to evacuate is given.
The storm is headed right for your town, and it is expected to be a category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale: winds at 150 miles per hour (250 kilometres per hour), trees blown down, damage and even complete destruction to houses and buildings.
The evacuation order says that the safe distance is at least 150 miles (250 kilometres), which you can assume to be a two and one-half hour trip under normal conditions. You have 24 hours before the storm is expected to hit.
Assume that you have only the resources available to you, in their current state. Do you have a car, is it working and is the tank full of gas? If not, can you arrange for a ride? Are you at work, and how long would it take you to get home to collect your things under normal circumstances? How about during a general evacuation? Where would you go? Is there somewhere you can stay where you’re going? Whom would you take with you? What would you take with you?
Additional Scenario Twists
For an additional challenge, add these twists to the scenario:
- The Joey twist: Your father, who lives in the same town as you, is handicapped and walks slowly with a walker. He also takes insulin before each meal, which means you need to stock up.
- The Joey’s sister twist, part 1: You have three kids, aged 4, 2 and 4 months.
- The Joey’s sister twist, part 2: You are the assistant health director for the region; they’re going to
call on you for emergency duty. And yes, you still have the kids.
- The new kid in town twist: You just moved into town, don’t have a car and know almost no one.
- The “the Weather Channel screwed up again!” twist: They were right about the storm, but wrong about the time — you have 12 hours before it hits.