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I never thought this would happen to me

Failing to accept that tragedy will impact your life leaves you vulnerable to be unprepared in the inevitable moment that disaster strikes. Face these possibilities head-on and make a plan.

Posted by Judson L Moore

Terrible things happen in the world; to individuals, communities, and society as a whole. These events transpire all the time, everywhere. No one is invincible or invulnerable from suffering tragedy. This is hard to acknowledge, and many people ignore these hard realities to their undoing when the inevitable catch them off-guard. By recognizing the possibility that these challenging topics could affect you, you will be better prepared to respond to them if they should happen in your or your loved ones’ lives.

It is impossible to be prepared for or have a premeditated response to every single scenario you will face in life. But there are many common scenarios that everyone should spend at least a little effort thinking their way through.

When you turn on the news and listen to reactions from people who have suffered from a terrible thing, you will often hear one of these two types of statements being said:

I never thought this would happen to me. For many scenarios, it isn’t easy to imagine that anyone who has ever opened a book, a newspaper, or watched a movie, has not been faced with many of the world’s most challenging scenarios. These works of fiction and nonfiction offer evidence of tragedy in this world, and this should be a trigger for the reader to consider that these things could happen to them as well.

I thought this would never happen to me. Even worse, people with this mentality have contemplated the terrible things in the world and then were arrogant enough to determine that they were untouchable.

Coincidentally, in the middle of my writing this post, The Indicator, from NPR’s Planet Money, covered the topic of why we didn’t prepare for the pandemic where they identified three different biases people have that lead to a lack of preparation when disaster strikes.

As these biases go a long way in explaining the human condition for being ill-prepared to respond to disaster, I wanted to include them here.

Three biases stopping you from preparing for an emergency:

  1. Optimism bias - the tendency to be over-optimistic, underestimating the probability of undesirable outcomes vastly and overestimating favorable and pleasing outcomes
  2. Normalcy bias - the refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster that has never happened before.
  3. Heard instinct - individuals’ behavior in a group acting collectively without a centralized direction.

I’ve been writing a lot about planning recently. Most of that planning has focused on identifying and pursuing your life goals. Planning for a successful future is very important, but what about planning for disaster? How can forethought and planning increase your ability to survive difficult times?

This article covers some challenging topics. By facing them head-on together, I hope that you and I will both be better equipped in the future to respond positively to these events, should we ever experience them first-hand.

An amateur sketch of the Crichton Leprechaun reported in Mobile, Alabama in 2006.

Non-violent crime

From burglary to identity theft, harassment to hacking, non-violent crimes can shake your sense of serenity or transpire without you even noticing until long after the act is committed.

I’ve had my apartment burglarized while on vacation, my car broke into, and most recently, my bike was stolen. I am not careless with my things or my security, but these things do happen. Luckily the burglary and car break-in were covered by insurance (I was well prepared), but the bike was not (I was not well prepared).

In the case of theft, insurance is a good way to protect yourself from financial loss. What about the emotional impact of having your home invaded? This is much tougher to mitigate, as your home should be the place in the world where you feel the safest.

Mitigating risk with home security systems (like SimpliSafe) and having strong doors and locks will give you some peace of mind that your home is protected from invasion. In the event of a break-in, security systems can automate a call for help and alert the authorities that you need help. This can be a useful preparation for protecting your home when you are away or asleep.

Responding to a home invasion, in-progress must be a nightmare for people who have gone through that experience. In America, many people believe that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Many people view that it is necessary to be armed to protect their home and family. If being armed makes you feel more at ease and secure at home, I certainly support that you should have the right to do so. But then you also need to take on proper training and preparation measures to be ready to use a firearm in self-defense.

Many people with a firearm are not mentally prepared to take a life, even if it is to protect themselves. It is a big responsibility and if you’ve chosen to go this route, then take the appropriate steps necessary to be prepared to put this into action, should you be forced to. Though I don’t have a gun or any real interest in owning one, I do very much enjoy shooting my friends’ firearms. I get the appeal.

When contemplating shooting someone invading their home, it is hard to say how anyone would act until they are faced with reality. I’ve considered that I would keep a gun loaded with the first two rounds as blanks, followed by real ammunition. That way, in my mind, I know I can’t hurt anyone when I first pull the trigger. If the first gunshots aren’t enough to scare the person away, then by the time I get to the real bullets, I’ve also built the courage to go all the way.

Well, it is something I hope to never actually be so prepared for. Even so, I’ve thought about it, and that goes a long way in being prepared, even if I don’t own a firearm in the first place.

The north side of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Terrorism

Whether it is bus bombs in London, mass shootings in America, or coordinated attacks like those that transpired on 9/11, terrorism is a reality of the modern era that is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Though many acts of terror seem to occur at famous or symbolic locations, locations that might look like an obvious target for attack, many other attacks happen in random places where people would not expect to be victims of such attacks.

Like with non-violent crimes, terrorism can unfold anywhere. It is essential to be aware of your surroundings and take measured risks when traveling or visiting popular and crowded places.

The most important thing is not to let the presence of evil-doers in the world push you to a state of paranoia or stop you from living your life. Being mindful does not mean you should just stay at home; it means you should acknowledge the world is a dangerous place and do your best to mind your surroundings when you are out in it.

The American Red Cross has a great guide and preparation checklist of what to do before, during, and after a terrorist attack. Notably, you can prepare to have a communication plan, a meeting point, and even some useful training like First Aid and CPR. Of course, these measures are helpful for a response to many scenarios aside from terrorism.

Tthe county level and vote share results of the 2016 US Presidential Election

Politics

For all the talk politicians have about uniting people, politics has a strange way of polarizing communities against each other. In recent years, many people have commented that we are currently living through extraordinary times when it comes to political upheaval and personalities. They may be so, but it is far from unprecedented.

I find it disheartening with so much division and passion for political topics that voter turnout is relatively low in many of the world’s most influential nations.

There are a few countries with compulsory voting, where citizens are required to vote or face some penalty. My favorite example is Australia, wherein the most recent parliamentarian election, they had over 90% voter turnout. Non-voting citizens of Australia can be fined unless they provide documentation of hardship, such as a doctor’s note from election day or a police report verifying they live more than 500km (310 miles) from their polling station.

Two of the most significant political upsets we’ve seen have been the events surrounding Brexit, as well as the 2016 American Presidental Elections. In both cases, the losing side was left in complete shock at the outcome. Political pundits and pollsters got all of the projections wrong, and to those who thought they were in for an easy win, the results were devastating.

In the U.K., the referendum to leave the E.U. had a 72% turnout with 52% voting to leave the E.U. A postmortem of the election revealed that those people assuming the U.K. would vote to remain in the E.U. mostly resided in London, where they were sheltered by the widespread feelings of people who lived in the rural areas.

The London-based media outlets and political commentators failed to go out into the countryside and talk with people. They simply stayed in their cosmopolitan bubble and assumed the “Remain” echo-chambers strong voices reverberated beyond the city. They were, of course, very wrong.

In the United States, the 2016 Presidental Election had a meager 55.7% turnout. Though the Democratic contender had 48.2% of the popular vote compared to her Republican rival’s 46.1% (a difference of 2.86 million votes), it was not enough to secure the Electoral College. The many who are not political science degree holders (I am) learned the President of the United States is elected by the Electoral College, not by the people.

Like the situation in the U.K. where political pollsters failed to get outside of their bubble, the American media (and many individuals) failed to seriously take Donald Trump’s candidacy until the election was all but over. Though I don’t recall hearing it characterized by others as a failure to understand the views of American’s all across the country, I observed that people seemed not to have a clue what the nation was seeking.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, 399 days before receiving the Republican Party’s nomination, I felt 100% confident that he would secure that nomination. I wasn’t sure about his general election performance potential, but I had no doubts about the party nomination. My friends thought I was crazy for thinking this. Still, I felt Trump was the most obvious voice representing a large portion of the Republican-leaning American electorate and that he was precisely who many had been waiting for.

To those who doubted my prediction of a Trump nomination, I often replied, “you don’t get out enough.” I mostly write about my international travel, but I’ve road-tripped from coast to coast in America several times and do my best to connect with people throughout the nation. From these experiences, I formed an impression that Donald Trump’s candidacy was one to take seriously.

When the election results came in, and half the nation stood in shock at the results, I hardly felt any surprise, or even sympathy, for them. They failed to take the situation seriously and to participate in the process. With just over half of eligible voters bothering to vote (which is sadly pretty typical in American elections), it is also hard to sympathize with the country as a whole.

Regardless of your political views and if you’re thrilled or devastated about the 2016 election results, you have a right (and duty) to participate in the political process.

Your voice matters, and regardless of your politics, it is crucial to participate in every election in which you are eligible to vote. Low voter turnout also encourages politicians to do what they want because they have to fight less for reelection.

If America had 100% voter turnout and every politician who has ever been elected was still elected, the country would be a better place than it is today simply because elected officials would know they are being held accountable by the whole population and not just by half of it.

Learn more about how to register to vote, confirm your previous registration, and get informed about election dates and locations at one of these links:

Christopher Reeve as a model, Superman, and advocate for people with disabilities

Illness

Mental and physical illnesses touch everyone’s lives. Through our friends, colleagues, neighbors, family members, or ourselves, we all have someone in our life who has struggled with illness.

Health is a point of concern for everyone. If you live a perfectly healthy life, eventually, illness will still come for you.

Take Christopher Reeve, for example. He was a supermodel, portrayed Superman in the 1970s and 80s films, and at the prime of his life while horseback riding, he fell, broke his neck, and became paralyzed from the neck down. He never regained motor functions below the neck.

Though tragic, Reeve’s high-profile in the media enabled him to go on and have a powerful speaking and advocacy career seeking support for the research of treatments and cures to paralysis. Fun fact, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation was founded in 1982, 13 years before his fateful accident (it just goes to show that he was a person of good character and, with or without the injury, was committed to making a positive difference in the world).

How many people do you know with chronic ailments? Can you point to examples in your own life of people who have suffered at the hands of cancer, suicide, addiction, disability, or life-altering accidents? How would you deal with these circumstances if it were you? It is hard to think about, I know, but putting yourself in the shoes of those who have suffered before you will go a long way in preparing you for a healthy response should your health weaken.

A man sits in front of his flooded house in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Natural disasters

Mother Nature is a force that no human can fully predict, and indeed, no one can do much to control. I’ve searched the globe for a place that is safe from natural disasters, and I’ve yet to find it. That said, there are natural disasters I am much more comfortable living with than others.

I grew up in Louisiana, where hurricanes along the Gulf Coast are simply a matter of life. Some storms just bring rain and elevated winds. Others flatten cities. Regardless of the impact, the great thing about hurricanes is that you know they are coming well in advance, even if the exact impact can’t be known.

Because of the warning, people can prepare themselves. If you live along the Gulf Coast, you should always have emergency provisions before Hurricane Season starts. Given the warning periods that can be a week in advance of landfall, there is plenty of time to secure property and decide to stay near the coast or evacuate.

Evacuation isn’t possible for everyone. Some people lack mobility, and unfortunately, it is also expensive to be dislocated from your home. The cost of transportation and lodging away from home can be too cost-prohibitive for many people to evacuate when a hurricane comes through, especially when knowing that most storms cause minimal damage.

In any scenario, people living in the Gulf states should prepare with water, non-perishable food, and other essential tools, which could be the difference between life and death when sheltering in place.

Earthquakes terrify me. I lived 6-months in California and felt three tremors during that time (though there were dozens that I didn’t feel or slept through). The sensation was more and more terrifying every time.

Earthquakes come without warning, except for the general warning that comes with being in an area that experiences earthquakes all the time.

The Californians I know (remember, I lived in L.A. half a year and visit there often) are all understanding that the next mega-earthquake is a matter of “when, not if.” It is good that they know the peril of their decision to live in that region, and I hope that they are also all prepared for such a situation when it unfolds.

Given the broad acceptance of the next mega-quake, the history of past city-flattening earthquakes, and the number of movies too numerous to count that depict California sliding into the Pacific Ocean, any Californian who says they didn’t see this coming will receive no sympathy from me.

Do you live in an active tectonic region? How are you prepared for a big earthquake? Please let me know in the comments below.

An empty roll of toilet paper reminds us that you need a plan B.

Toilet paper

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the news and social media have been littered with images of empty shelves in stores that should be full of a variety of toilet paper. As soon as people heard about the shelter-in-place orders, the panic to acquire provisions took over and a hoarding mentality set in.

Many of the podcasts I listen to have expressed confusion over why toilet paper is the commodity of choice for hoarders and panic-buyers. I must fall in with most people because I, too, would have guessed that this would be one of the top things people would want to stock up on.

Roughly 70% of the world’s population doesn’t even use toilet paper. But for those of us who do, it isn’t easy to imagine a life without it. Thanks to my time serving in the Peace Corps, I am quite aware of what life without toilet paper is like, and that is why I can sympathize with those who now have a 5-year supply at home!

Pro tip: newspaper is better than magazine paper. Avoid glossy at all costs! Should you need to use a toilet paper alternative, be aware that you probably can’t flush it into the toilet.

Toilet paper, like all other non-perishable supplies, is worth having an extra stock of. Whether you live in a high-risk area or not, you never know when a tornado, blackout, ice storm, flood, earthquake, or pandemic will reduce access to shops. Though hoarding years of supplies away doesn’t make sense (and who has that sort of space anyway?), it is smart to keep a few weeks’ supplies of some critical items, just in case.

Vegetable shelves in a grocery store are empty during COVID-19

How to be prepared

Being fully prepared for every scenario is not possible, so don’t make that your goal. The goal is to have a reasonable level of preparation and a healthy sense of reality regarding the types of emergencies and circumstances you are most likely to face in life.

Put yourself into the situations you read in the media, see in movies, or read about in books. Most of this will never happen to you, so just think creatively about how you would respond if it were you. If one of these events does unfold in your own life, your mind will recover that thought experiment and help you cope with the situation.

Ask yourself, “How would I respond to that scenario if it were me? Am I prepared? Is there anything I can do to be more prepared?” For the very most likely scenarios, have a plan and a checklist.

Last but certainly not least, always follow experts and authorities’ advice and instructions during an emergency or health incident. When the Red Cross hired me to rewrite their emergency response plan after Hurricane Katrina, I learned about all of the professionals and institutions who plan for all sorts of scenarios every day. When disaster strikes, someone out there has a plan for that. It won’t be perfect, but it will be the best available, and it will be your best shot at making a speedy recovery.

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Judson L Moore
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Travel addict. Ambitious about making the world a better place. Writing what I learn along the way.

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