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The Disaster Dozen

Top Twelve Myths of Disaster Preparedness

by Paul Purcell, author of "Disaster Prep 101"

"Blame is for God and small children." --Dustin Hoffman's character in "Papillon."

Hurricane Katrina has given us yet another wake-up call. Do we pay attention now or hit the snooze button again?

Pushing our way past the people intent on doing nothing but laying blame and playing armchair quarterback, we come to the bottom line conclusion that, "Yes, more could have been done." In other articles, we'll get to the ideas that could have been put to good use by federal, state and municipal organizations, but for now, let's look at the most important part of a comprehensive emergency readiness plan, and that is the preparedness levels of individuals and families.

We find that the biggest obstacle to improved comprehensive family emergency readiness education are the misconceptions surrounding the true nature of preparedness. So, to set the stage for better education, and ultimately better public safety, let's take a look at some of these myths and set the record straight.

  1. "If something happens all I have to do is call 911 and someone will come protect me." We wish that were so, but the truth of the matter is that help can only go so far, or be there only so quickly. Security, like charity, begins at home and the responsibility for yours and your family's safety rests squarely on your own shoulders. This isn't to say that you shouldn't call for help when it's truly needed, it's just to remind you that there will be those instances where you're on your own for awhile, especially if the situation is a complicated, expansive, or severe one. Too, family preparedness is one of the best ways you can help your fellow citizen. The less first responders have to help you, the more you've freed them up to help others.
  2. "All I need is a 72-hour kit with a flashlight, first aid kit, some food and water, and a radio to hear further instruction." We're really not sure where the "72-hour" figure came from, but we can say that it's an extremely minimal amount of time and not very realistic. Granted, it's far better than nothing, but a more practical goal is to be self-sufficient for a minimum of 2 weeks. Why 2 weeks? Consider this: As bad as Katrina has been there are numerous natural disaster and terrorist attack scenarios that could see substantially more damage done, and a disruption of local services for three to four weeks. In fact, one of the more common terrorism scenarios involves a Smallpox attack, and the incubation period for the virus would dictate a 14-day quarantine.
  3. As for all the other goods and gear you'd need, all we can say in this limited space is that the lists are as varied as the people reading this article. There's no such thing as a "one size fits all" checklist that will take into account each and every family's unique risks, needs, and assets. For a comprehensive source of all the preparedness and readiness information you'll ever need, visit our site at http://www.disasterprep101.com.
  4. "I'm not worried, my insurance policy will take care of everything." In a perfect world it would. However, on Earth, it's a different story despite what the TV commercials would have you believe. SWAT teams of insurance agents aren't going to swoop down from the skies and instantly rebuild your life. Insurance companies will be far more concerned about their own bottom line than yours. In fact, many companies are quietly rewriting policies to include the term "water damage" in their long list of exclusions. By the way, rain is being redefined as "water damage" whether it's in the form of a flood or not. Also, most companies have redefined "terrorism" as an "act of war" and therefore not a coverable event.
  5. "Good preparedness is too expensive and too complicated." Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem is, we haven't made preparedness a part of our overall education. We get far more preparedness info on the average airline flight or cruise ship than we get as citizens. What most of us aren't taught is that there are literally thousands of subtle, simple, and economical things we can do to drastically improve our ability to deal with an emergency. The notion that it might be expensive or complicated has come from companies that market unnecessary and over-priced gear, and who tell us that "unless you have our exclusive such-and-such widget, you're a goner!"
  6. "We can only form a neighborhood group through FEMA, the Red Cross, or local Law Enforcement." Neighbor helping neighbor is one of our highest civic duties. No one regulates this and you don't have to get anyone's permission to coordinate your safety with others. Granted, there are quite a number of advantages to being listed with these other groups or establishing a good liaison, but it's not required.
    "In a ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction' terrorist attack, we're all dead anyway." Oh contraire. "WMD" is a scary military acronym freely translated as "really efficient weapon." This means that it's easier to kill larger numbers of people, but that doesn't mean that widespread destruction is a guaranteed thing. In fact, for widespread destruction, a top-grade WMD must still be expertly and precisely applied under ideal conditions. Now, this does not mean that WMDs are to be ignored or that they're nothing to fear, it's just that "Mass Destruction" does NOT mean "Total Destruction." These things are survivable, but it will take individual preparedness.
  7. "Nothing like that could ever happen here or to me." Though some areas of the country are more prone to certain types of disasters, say earthquakes in California, or tornadoes in the midwest, the truth is that no area on earth is completely immune from disasters or general disruption. Prepare accordingly. Too, with as much as people travel, you really don't know where you'll be or what you'll be doing from one month to the next. You might travel somewhere and wind up in a disaster you never thought about. Education is the key. Learn to protect yourself from all types of disaster.
    "All I have to worry about is my own family." Technically yes, but the more you're able to care for your own family, the more you can help others. Helping others is our highest civic duty and one of the best ways to help our country and our fellow citizen. Do all you can to help. A burden shared is lighter for all.
  8. "If preparedness were really important it would be taught in school." The sad thing is that preparedness really is that important, but schools only have so much time and budget to teach the things they already do. This is one of the many things we're trying to change across the country, but for now, you're going to have to not only realize the importance of thorough emergency readiness but to teach your family yourself.
  9. "I can get all the preparedness information I need for free off the Internet." There are a lot of good free sources that contain some really good information. The problem is that it takes so much time to filter the trash from the treasure that you use up all your education time simply deciding which source you should learn from. Worse, some of these free sites have some really useless and dangerous "information" that could actually cause more problems than they cure, but they do a very convincing job of making the material look useful. This is one of the many reasons we spent years in gathering the over 400 additional books and training manuals that come on the CDs included with our book "Disaster Prep 101." We filtered out the good stuff so you could have it immediately.
  10. "Full preparedness means I have to get a lot of guns and be a ‘Survivalist." Nope. While personal security is a valid concern when planning for your family's safety, the one thing we'll remind you is that the vast majority of people around you will be in the same boat you are and will not be a threat. In fact, though looters and criminals gained a lot of media attention after hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, there were far more numerous stories of heroism and neighbor helping neighbor. Our suggestion is that you balance your personal security needs with your desire to help those around you and strive to reach the best of both worlds.
  11. "If something really bad happens, NO one will help." There's no such thing as "no one helping." Though help can only go so far and be there so quickly, some help will come at some time to those who truly need it. However, the one thing we've stressed throughout this article is that we believe the best thing people can do to help themselves and to help others is to prepare their families so they need as little outside help as possible. There's always someone needier than you and the best thing you can do is to free up the assistance resources so they can be used to help those less fortunate.
  12. "If something really bad happens, NO one will help." There's no such thing as "no one helping." Though help can only go so far and be there so quickly, some help will come at some time to those who truly need it. However, the one thing we've stressed throughout this article is that we believe the best thing people can do to help themselves and to help others is to prepare their families so they need as little outside help as possible. There's always someone needier than you and the best thing you can do is to free up the assistance resources so they can be used to help those less fortunate.

About the author: Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based security analyst and preparedness consultant with over twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He's also the author of Disaster Prep 101, billed as the "Ultimate Guide to Emergency Readiness." More information on Paul and his book can be found on the book's site at www.disasterprep101.com.