If I would be writing this article anytime last year, probably no one would ever read it. I mean let’s face it, who the hell thinks in normal times about potential crisis & disasters that might or might not happen? Well, governments do, and so do organizations and all kind of corporations and businesses, at least the big ones. There is actually a whole industry out there that deals with the preparation and proper response for any kind of crisis & disasters.
Always be prepared
Surely most of us have heard about terms like Business Continuity and Crisis and Disaster Management, but you might have never actually thought that this has anything to do with you. Sure, every now and then we see disasters on TV, Tsunamis somewhere in Asia, devastating Hurricanes or Tornadoes in the USA, a huge wildfire somewhere, earthquakes, floods, but hey, that´s always somewhere far away right? Until a disaster hits you…
The year 2019 and now 2020 might have changed that perception a bit, as there have been numerous events over the past months that made everyone globally very aware of potential risks to our health and safety by disasters. The devastation of Wildfires first in Florida and then Australia later in 2019 have shocked the world! Then the COVID-19 Pandemic started and took the world hostage for months. Since we are still right in the middle of it, no one really knows what comes next? Will we return to our lives soon as if nothing happened or will something change for good and maybe there will be long term consequences on our lives as we know it.
Dealing with the consequences of disasters
If you wonder what Crisis & Disaster Management is all about, it’s fairly simple, it’s dealing with these kind of situations in a structured, logical and somewhat empirical way. In simple words, all available relative data is being collected and evaluated, mainly based on similar prior experiences, this numbers are then used to make risk assessments and predict the likelihood of such events to happen again. The next step is to determine how serious the impact would be in such a scenario, leading to the the creation of a Crisis Management plan that defines what measures can be taken to prevent or at least reduce the potential damage, as well as how the whole situation will be handled.
In other words, no crisis or disaster should hit us unprepared!
You might wonder now, what kind of possible disasters are there actually that could affect your life? Well let’s list a few of them here: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Floods, Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Severe Storms, Power Outages, Snow & Extreme Cold, Extreme Heat & Drought, Wildfires, Volcano eruptions, Chemical Emergencies due to Industrial Hazardous Materials Incidents or Bio-terrorism, Natural Pandemics, Radiation exposure as a consequence of Nuclear Power Plant accidents or Nuclear explosions, Terror attacks in public space, Active Shooter Scenarios, Civil unrest & War. As you can see, the list is quite extensive and by far not complete. The biggest difference to what we refer as security management, is the fact that those disasters are usually either a “will of god” as many insurance policies might state, or the result of other events out of our control. The focus is therefore not on prevention, but on dealing with the consequences!
Do you have a disaster plan?
That much about the theory, now what does this have to do with you? As I have already mentioned in the beginning, this whole pandemic, but also other catastrophic events in the past months have thought us a few things, have they not? Just ask yourself, if you would have known a few months ago, what you know now, would you have done something different? Luckily for us, this whole COVID-19 pandemic is not as catastrophic as it could have been, and before you get upset now, I don’t mean to deny the existence of it or that people around the world are dying from it, all I want to say is that the overall death toll is luckily not comparable with similar pandemics in the past, like the Spanish flue that killed around 50 Million people a 100 years ago! But even so, we have seen how most people react in times of crisis. We have all experienced empty shelves in supermarkets, seen people fighting over toilet paper, the shortage of essential things like masks and hand sanitizer or even pain killers, airports and borders being closed and being stuck at home for weeks because of a quarantine order. I guess the paranoid “preppers” who have gas masks and weapons at home, as well as s food supply for months, were the real winners here. Just to make that clear, I am not one of them! I have had my doubts from the very beginning about the severity of this virus, I have written about it critically because I find that the measures that were taken are not justified by any scientific proof about the mortality of this virus, and that is of course my personal opinion. Time will tell, however I am affected by all this, just like everyone else. I also had to hunt for toilet paper as if I were looking for something rare and precious! Now, whilst the virus itself did not scare me at all, what did scare me is how this pandemic managed to bring the world to a full stop. As how to properly communicate with the public in a crisis situation is an essential part of managing a crisis, mainly in order to prevent chaos and disorder, it outrages me how the media did the exact opposite and literally slammed us with negative and sensational reporting, creating an atmosphere of fear and despair. And maybe the worst of all was to see how selfish people can be and that in case of a real catastrophic event, panic and chaos would take over in shortest time and everyone would look only after himself and his closest, willing to do anything just to save themselves. If this was some kind of test, as a society I think we have failed. The only positive thing that sticks out is the hard-working health professionals, who were willing to scarify even their own lives to safe others, whilst many could not even obey to stay in quarantine and rather went picnicking in the park.
Are you prepared for a Crisis?
So, where am I going with this? Well, whilst it is still to early to do a full aftermath of the still ongoing pandemic, we can certainly already conclude, that most of us were not prepared for all of this at all. I am including myself here and this is somewhat tragic-comically, as I have actually studied Crisis management! But, same as most of you, I did not really give it any thought before it happened and I did not apply any of that knowledge to my private life, to make sure my home, family and loved ones are safe! Should I have done so? Absolutely! Not because the outcome was so catastrophic for me or my family, but because it could have been as we were missing on the very essentials. And this is not a “once in a lifetime” type of event, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore once it’s over. Just when I look back at my life, that of my closest family, and the places we have lived in over the years, I can come up with several events that took place at or around that time and had or could have had devastating impact on our lives.
The country I was born in, Yugoslavia, fell apart followed by a bloody war that went on for several years. While we lived in Canada we experienced once extreme cold weather that led to power losses that went on for days in Toronto! We have lived in Germany close to the relatively small city of Winnenden, where back in 2009 a young man shot 15 of his fellow students in a school shooting, before he took his own life. My in-laws live in a city that was severely devastated by a strong earthquake back in 1969, always living in fear it might happen again. My wife was at work only a few hundred meters away from where the recent terror attack on the London bridge took place. In the middle of this ongoing pandemic, my hometown Zagreb was hit by an earthquake that luckily resulted mainly in material damage. Now, obviously I am still alive, but this was just to point out that all kind of disasters do happen far more often then we actually think and therefore it is worth to give it some thought and ask ourselves the question, what would I do if something like that happens? And this is the motivation for this article and many that will follow with more detailed insight on specific crisis situations and advice on how to prepare and deal with them.
Create a simple disaster plan!
As a very minimum one should have at least a simple plan for a potential crisis! What is it you need essentially, could you for example pack a backpack with the most important items in a rush if you would need to leave your home in an emergency? What would you put in there? Some money, your most important documents, phone chargers, a flash light, etc. Most people couldn’t do that fast, because they never thought about such a scenario being even a possibility. Now it is a fact that under extreme stress, most people find it very hard to concentrate and I guess you can imagine most of us running around like a headless chicken trying to put those things together, my dear wife is the living example for that, as she totally loses it under pressure and searching for things around the house is a regular “exercise” we do ;-). Or take for example our current situation, if you would need to stay at home for weeks or months, who did actually had all the essentials in the house? I didn’t, I admit, but it is actually not a stupid thing at all to have some canned food, rice, bottled water and other essentials like pain killers, some Paracetamol stocked up, or to know where the flashlight is.
I “of course”have a flash light, but it actually didn’t work, as it has a special type of rechargeable battery that I struggled finding a replacement for, even on Amazon. During the power loss in Toronto, we needed lots of candles and luckily we had those at home, but since we both don’t smoke we struggled to find a lighter in the house! I ended up setting paper on fire on the the stove the first night, to light up the candles with it. The devil is in the detail as you can see! I am not talking here about crazy preparations and professional risk assessment followed by a 20 page detailed disaster recovery plan, but you should have a little check list as a reminder what you need to have at home. Also, it is of course important to know where you store these things safe, dry and easily accessible (do you hear me darling?), check on them regularly once a year at least, is the battery still good, expiry date on food, etc. I don’t want to go to deep with this now, in order to keep it easy to read. If we agree now, that we should give it some thought and put together some kind of disaster preparation plan for ourselves, I am satisfied. I will write in a separate post in more detail about putting together a proper disaster preparation kit and link it here.