Preparing for Life: Disasters Large and Small

Preparing for Life: Disasters Large and Small
As humans, we have a tendency to avoid thinking about things that stray too far from what we encounter on a day-to-day basis. For example, most adults go to work and come home at predictable times. It happens so routinely, in fact, that your brain stops devoting much time and effort to thinking about it; it’s only when something atypical happens that your brain makes note. And generally speaking, this is a good thing; it allows your brain to be busy doing other things, like figuring out dinner, planning your next family vacation, etc.

But the truth of the matter is that sometimes atypical things do happen. Disasters, both natural and man-made, happen. Fortunately, it’s rare; most people live their lives without experiencing a full-scale disaster. But those who have been through a disaster or cataclysmic event will tell you that luck favors the prepared, and a little bit of preparation can go a long way toward minimizing disruption and maximizing your ability to manage.

Take my friend Veronica, for example. She and her family live on an island, and she’s a devoted mother to three young children. To get to work, she drives over a large, long, narrow suspension bridge. Every day, she leaves work in time to pick her young children up from school. This routine worked well for two years, until one day, a particularly heavy storm hit. The storm knocked out power lines and cell phone towers, and it brought such strong, gusty winds that the bridge had to be closed off to traffic. It wasn’t exactly a natural disaster, but it was a temporary disruption to a routine. There was no way of knowing when the bridge would reopen, and she and her children could not get ahold of each other; the school’s phones were out, and so was Veronica’s cell phone.

This event was so far out of the norm for Veronica that it had never occurred to her to think about it, much less plan for it. Fortunately, a friend and neighbor with same-aged kids stepped in and helped. She’d heard about the bridge closure and knew enough about Veronica’s routine to recognize she needed help. Without being asked, she picked up Veronica’s kids (along with her own) and kept them at her house until Veronica arrived—four hours later. The bridge had only been closed for two hours, but the subsequent backup of traffic took another two hours to navigate. You can imagine Veronica’s state of mind for those four hours, not knowing where her kids were or whether they were OK.

After that, Veronica and her husband created a plan so that they would never again find themselves in such a desperate and frantic situation. They identified the key players (like neighbors) and talked to their kids about it. And they practiced it until everyone, even the youngest, could answer the basic questions about where to go and what to do.

The chances of a major catastrophic event might be very small, but the chances of a moderate disruption are much higher, and you can significantly enhance your family’s ability to cope if you think a little bit ahead and prepare for the atypical.