Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prepare: The next big disaster

We are all watching the disaster unfold in Haiti and the response of the world, namely from the United States.

Take a step back and look at the larger picture. The Haitian earthquake demonstrates the limitations of any response to a large scale disaster. Here we have what seems like most of the world desparately trying to get supplies and aid to a tiny, ravaged region and look at the results.

Most of the affected have still not received food, water or medical aid. Thousands are trapped and dying under collapsed buildings. Bodies are stacked in the streets. Looters have rabid and law and order have collapsed.

Imagine now if New York was hit by a massive tidal wave or San Francisco by a 9.0 earthquake. Imagine if the main airports were heavily damaged and also the connecting tunnels, bridges and ports. Despite the resources of the rest of the nation, it would be days before any significant aid could be brought in.

Now imagine if the disaster was in several cities and widespread. Say a nuclear attack or multiple natural disasters. Aid would be prioritized based upon proximity, expediency or worse, political connection. Planeloads of supplies and doctors might be diverted from North Carolina and sent to Colorado because the president is from there. It can and does happen.

Now, imagine if the rest of the world was dealing with their own simultandous disasters.  And what if they said they could only offer limited aid to the US. Or worse, were more than willing to help, but only certain lucrative regions? Like if China said they would only help (themselves to) Hawaii or Europe would only assist Washington DC?

So what's your plan? There is not much one can do if they live in San Francisco and the Big One happens. Other than move. But in the case of most disasters, what you can do happens NOW before the big disaster strikes.

That means while there is still food in the neighborhood store, still water in the tap, still aspirin at the drug store and gasoline at the filling station.

If it were me, I would lay in supplies and backups so I would not have to depend upon help which may or may not be on the way. But that's me. If Haiti has to wait a week for a simple bottle of water, how long would you have to wait in your suburb or neighborhood? Remember Katrina? Some of those people waited for days to be pulled from a submerged home in the middle of alligator and snake infested water.

Regardless, I hope this tragedy in Haiti is a wakeup call to all those who think FEMA will be on the scene in a few hours to hand out food, chase off looters and move debris. You may be on your own for days, weeks or maybe even years. The best bet is to start with a plan and supply yourself accordingly for a disaster in your local area.

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