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April is Earthquake Preparedness Month

But the rest of the year is a good time to be prepared, too. Which is why I bring you this post in July, of all months.

There are no locations on Earth immune to natural disaster. You might live in earthquake country, tornado alley, or the hurricane zone. You might have extreme winters or severe heat waves. You could live in a high-fire-risk forest, or a desert prone to flash floods. If you live in the city, a power outage can mean a complete shut-down of services and social order. If you live in the country, isolation during a disaster might mean help takes longer to arrive. Disasters don’t need to be natural, either– from terrorist attacks to petty crime, any number of unexpected traumas can require you to pull out your survival techniques and traits.
Eric Rice posted last week about disaster preparedness in his blog and asked everyone to raise the awareness a bit on Twitter and elsewhere in the Web 2.0-o-sphere.

Here’s the list of questions he offered:

Could you:
1. Perform CPR or basic first aid?
2. Use maps, compasses, axes, drive off-road?
3. Work in a technical capacity with electricty, gas, mechanical objects?
4. Cook outside, for any number of people?
5. Do physical labor, lift 50 lbs, etc?
6. Comfort people?
7. Handle the sights and sound of injury and death?

My response, in addition to answering the above 7 questions, was that the best survival skill one can have is not a skill, it’s a personality trait: taking direct responsibility for your own survival. If you do not foster that trait, no amount of stockpiling or scenario plans will help you make it through a survival situation.

A disaster plan is good. Survival skills are helpful. It’s good to be prepared with a bug-out bag. But you don’t have to be a stockpiling Mormon, nor a former Special Ops guy to survive a natural disaster. Military folks know that plans only survive to the first encounter– after that, they need to be modified. All disaster plans must be flexible.

Personally, I believe that survival isn’t a learned skill, so much as a personality trait that you can encourage in yourself. It’s the willingness to take personal responsibility for your own survival. That doesn’t mean you step over someone to reach the exit; it means that you get yourself to the exit, however. It also means you have the flexibility to know that, if that exit is blocked, you can look for another one.

Practice these traits in yourself and your family, and you will be able to survive many “sticky situations:”

  • Be responsible for your own survival and well-being. Don’t relinquish your responsibility for well-being lightly or to just anyone. You can practice this by taking personal responsibility for your financial well-being, your physical health, and your environment. Balance your checkbook and stay off the credit cards. Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle (exercise!). Keep your home clean. Remember that you do these things because they improve your quality of life, not because of what other people say. No one will clean your toilet as well as you will, because no one else will care as much about the germs on it. When you find yourself in an evacuee shelter, you and your fellow shelterees will be grateful that you keep a tidy kip.
  • Be alert and aware. Accidents happen, but they happen more to people who are just not paying attention to what they’re doing. Look around you. To practice this trait with your family, use observational games, like “I, spy,” Memory, and the license plate game. Take up nature sketching as a hobby– artists are some of the most aware people when it comes to seeing what is actually around them.
  • Learn basic skills. Knowing the basics of how to cook, and how to safely store food is helpful whether you’re in a disaster zone or a college dorm. If you don’t know how to do something simple, ask someone who seems to know what they’re doing, or look it up on the Internet (I have some cooking tutorials you might check out if you need them). To practice this trait, go camping in a tent. The first time you camp without services, you will learn a lot about what you really need to survive, and what is just luxury. You’ll also learn which techniques you need to practice more– like squatting efficiently in the woods, or catching a fish without poking your finger with the hook.

There are some survival skills and knowledge you should learn and practice, because personal responsibility has its limits:

  • Escaping a fire, because the time is so narrow (seconds, not minutes– you want an escape plan that takes 30 seconds or less to implement).
  • It’s always good to know basic first aid– around the home, or in a disaster, you never know when you’ll need to bandage a cut or identify when a wound deserves medical attention.
  • Swimming is a survival skill that never goes to waste– if you’re afraid of the water it is doubly important that you get yourself to a YMCA and take a swimming class, because you are the person most likely to need rescue during a flood. Finally, you should always know how much water your body needs, and how and when to boil water to purify it (water is not always safe to drink during an emergency).

And, of course, I’ll remind everyone to include responsibility and planning for your pets’ survival. In a fire, uncaged pets will save themselves if you leave a door open (and, sadly, most caged pets will not survive due to more delicate anatomy, so either leave them behind, or keep their cage next to the emergency exit). In an evacuation, know which pets are coming with you, and how you will round them up and transport them if it’s needed. Keep a ziplock bag of kibble and a bottle of water inside their carrier, or in your car or bug-out bag if you keep one. Just as you would keep a bag of diapers inside the car if you have infants, you should have a little pet care kit for your pets, just in case.

Best of luck, and please let me know– how are you prepared for a disaster or emergency?

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