“If a disaster happened today…

…would you be ready?”

Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and ask this question?  Chances are, you don’t.  Or if you do, it probably sounds something more like, “if a disaster happened in two weeks, would I be ready?”  Because that way, you’ll always have two weeks, right?

As an emergency manager, I ask people this question pretty frequently.  Usually it’s when I’m conducting a “how to get prepared for a disaster” type seminar, or sometimes when I’m teaching a class at the local university.  I’d occasionally do it when I was a guest at a neighborhood bar-b-que or holiday party.  But when I realized I wasn’t being invited to those anymore because the question (and subsequent conversation) made people uncomfortable, I stopped.  “No one likes a pessimist,” or at least that’s what one acquaintance once told me.

I’ve never felt that thinking about disasters and wanting to be prepared for them makes me a pessimist; quite the opposite.  In fact, I believe I’m a tremendous optimist.  I fully expect to survive the next disaster, in whatever form it may take.  In that regard, I’m just like everyone else.  I know this because that’s the second question I always ask: “When you envision experiencing a disaster, tell me what happens.  What does that look like.”

Of the scores, maybe hundreds of responses I’ve heard, not a single person has ever wrapped up their answer with, “…and then I die.”

It’s simply not in our nature to predict our own demise as the result of a calamity.  Sure, we know it’s possible, and eventually, unavoidable – calamity or not.  But when we go to the trouble of actually visualizing how we ourselves might fare or respond to the kinds of emergency and disaster incidents we read or hear about virtually everyday, we are by nature, optimists.  We always see ourselves surviving the situation.  And generally speaking, the statistics support that perception.  Disasters result in death, to be sure; but they result in vastly far greater numbers of survivors.  But in all the discussion about disaster preparedness (and there’s a lot of it), there still isn’t enough delineation between surviving a disaster, and recovering from one.

The difference between simply surviving a disaster and recovering from one quickly and efficiently is called resilience.  But resilience doesn’t happen by itself – it takes some effort, most of the time a little effort here or there (like adding a few extra cans of food to the pantry), and occasionally a big effort once in a while (like retrofitting your house so it’s bolted to the foundation).

Most importantly, however, becoming resilient to disasters requires that you decide, every day, to be resilient.

If that’s your goal, then try this: look at yourself in the mirror every morning and ask, “if a disaster happened today, would I be ready.  And if I knew a disaster were going to happen tomorrow, what’s the one thing I’d do today to prepare for it?”

Is doing one thing every day to become better prepared feasible?  For some, maybe.  For others, maybe not.  But even if you only act on one thing a week – that’s 52 decisive steps towards greater resilience in a year.  Mostly easy steps.  Probably a couple of harder ones.  But each step gets you, your family, your business, and your community, a little closer towards being truly disaster resilient.  And one day, when you ask yourself that question, “if it happens today, am I ready,” you won’t have to guess – you’ll know.


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