Thursday, April 28, 2011

What If.....I'm Prepared?

(I understand there is wide spread devastation throughout the Mid-West and the South from recent severe storms, and I do not intend to make light of those situations.  It is even more pressing to me that families begin to give serious thought to what could, should and would happen if they were part of any kind of disaster.  I hope that each family feels spurred on to have a plan for handling situations ranging from a minor inconvenience to a major tragedy and everything in-between.)

Did you know that you can subscribe to text alerts from ComEd?  You will be notified about power outages and can receive updates about restoration efforts.  And although I could write pages about the awful and out dated power infrastructure here in the south end of town, I’ll just say I have a healthy texting relationship with the power company.  As in, they almost qualify for the “friends and family” reduced texting rates.  Almost.

During a cold winter outage in February (I think someone sneezed near a transformer), I was chatting with a friend about keeping a home at a tolerable temperature during cold weather conditions and no power.  She admitted that she had no plan and no solid idea about what to do.  We discussed a few ideas about closing off the house and using the fireplace, how to keep the pipes from freezing (run both the hot and cold water at a very S-L-O-W drip, using one sink on each level of the house) and I told her about playing the “What If?” game.  My Mom made up this game, and I now play it with my own children.  It’s a creative thinking game, meant to spur conversation and spark ideas.  It goes something like this:

  • WHAT IF we lost power for a day in the deep of winter?
  • WHAT IF we lost power for four days in the hottest part of August?
  • WHAT IF a pipe burst in the basement and it started to flood?
  • WHAT IF I (mom) was lying on the floor, unresponsive?
  • WHAT IF a micro burst (cousin to a tornado) ripped through our town and the tornado sirens were sounding?
In the past four years, every one of those “what if” questions became reality for my family.  And despite stress (and a touch of frantic hyperventilating), we had a workable plan for each scenario.  I’m not saying it was easy to deal with each situation, but it sure helped our family to have some kind of plan BEFORE it happened!

Consider a few more questions in the “What If?” game.

WHAT IF oil prices skyrocketed and gasoline DID get to $6 or $7 a gallon?  What car trips would be eliminated and how could I best combine all my running around into an organized, well thought out plan?  What would I do if there was a gasoline shortage?  Did you know that in 1974, the government printed, but did not distribute, five billion gasoline-rationing coupons?

WHAT IF the economy got so bad that there was a run on the bank (a la George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life) and the ATM was all out of money?  (How sad is it that my kids used to think money only came from the “box at the bank”?!)  It’s really not a far-fetched idea considering a bank run happened in England only a few years ago.   What would I do if the power was out for an extended time and credit card readers didn’t work?  I am NOT suggesting putting your life savings under a mattress, but do you have any cash in reserves that you can access without going to the bank?

WHAT IF the power was out long enough to keep the grocery stores closed for days on end?  A week?  (What if the coffee shops were closed?? gasp!)  If the power outage was compounded by flooding and roads were impassable, what would I do?  How would I heat or cool my home?  Do I have any non-perishable food stored?  It may be time to start thinking in terms of camping and “roughing it” at home!  Did you know that the average grocery store has only 2-3 days of food in reserve?  What is your plan if the food delivery trucks don't arrive at the grocery store?  Stocking up just before an impending storm usually results in bare shelves and plenty of news reports about the bare shelves!  Who wants to be shopping with everyone else, thinking their frozen pizza, jar of peanut butter and gallon of milk will supply their family for a week?  (After our power was out, it did make me chuckle to think of all the frozen pizzas I saw being purchased.)

WHAT IF our water became unsafe for use?  Do I have the means or know-how to make the water safe?

WHAT IF some futuristic-like, funky techie disaster happened and the Internet went down?  Not a power outage that kills your modem, but an actual “my smart phone doesn’t work!” scenario.  We’d be email-less! Facebook-less!  Twitter-less!  YouTube-less!  In other words: life-less, use-less and hope-less.  Take comfort—we’d be full of pathetic-ness!

It may seem this blog post is supremely depressing and pessimistic.  (I’m still reeling from the possibility of coffee shops being closed for long stretches of time!)  However, I think it’s good to give thought and consideration to these questions and countless others like it.  It is reality that “stuff” will happen.  Just watch the news—severe weather, natural disaster, economic distress.  During Chicago’s 2011 snowstorm (AKA Snoprah, Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, SnOMG), I am certain that many of the stranded motorists thought they’d “never” get stuck in their car, on a freeway for over twelve hours.

View the “What If?” game like insurance or a warranty.  Most everyone has insurance for their car, health, house and life and warranties on their washing machine, car, ear buds, etc.  (Yep, my teen son has a two-year, full-coverage warranty on his ear buds, and it set him back a total of $5 for the two years.)  With insurance and warranties, you hope to never need to make a claim or use them in any way.  But, when the day comes you thought “would never happen,” aren’t you grateful for the coverage?  (Like when the right ear bud quit working and it was replaced!)  No one mocks having car and health insurance as being over the top and fanatical, so don’t be afraid to think about these “What If?” game questions.

By taking the first steps of thinking about and discussing a workable plan for a potential disaster*, you will be a bit more prepared to use your time on action and not emotion.  (* “unfortunate incident” may be used to sound less threatening.  Use whatever language makes you feel less like a back woods survivalist freak.)  

I know a lot has been said about “preparedness” and there are many survival books, readiness blogs and seminars…some great and some way over the top.  To go from “I have one jar of peanut butter” to “I’m stocked with 27 gallons of peanut butter” is a huge jump.  (And NOT one I’m recommending you take!)  (Unless you really have a thing for peanut butter.)  It cannot hurt to open your mind to some possibilities and solutions.  In the midst of a flood, power outage or earthquake is NOT the time to start thinking about “What if…..”  A good teacher doesn’t walk into the classroom and start lesson planning after the students are in their seats.  I am certain that I would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared!

To get some sane answers to some of the “What If?” game questions, I would recommend the following resources:

  •   Here you can access common sense check lists, each state’s readiness website, as well as links to ReadyKids, which is designed just for children.
  •  Um…if Seasame Street is getting involved, I think it’s VERY reasonable that you should too.
  •  Be sure to check out this site, especially the blog portion where you will find very interesting news items and commentary.  I would HIGHLY recommend the book Just In Case, which is sold on this site, as a great beginning tool.  If you “like” The Prep Room on FaceBook. you will receive a discount when buying anything from their site!
  • Another great resource to get you asking more “What If” questions is to watch History Channel’s “After Armageddon” on YouTube.  The show is divided into segments, so be sure to watch them in order.

There is so much more to be said on this topic and it could easily become a three-part post!  Leave a comment if you would find more articles on this topic helpful.  The bottom line is that we all need to start somewhere, and I’d suggest you start by playing the “What If?” game to get the conversation going!  And with the rate of “unfortunate incidences” I’m seeing on the news, I wouldn’t wait to start.

For me, I’m still working on, “What if I didn’t get my morning coffee?”  (And hoping the answer is less dramatic than “Armageddon” or “apocalypse.”)