Saturday, April 17, 2010

Self Sufficiency is NOT an option: Lessons learned from hurricanes, Lyme Disease and feral cats.

Several of you have asked me to blog an update on the feral cat bite and subsequent comedy of errors that followed as I attempted to get post exposure prophylactic rabies vaccinations. I promise I'll get to it, but what's more important is that I share what I've learned first hand on now several occasions about self sufficiency and being one's own advocate. Because this is vital to all of our well being on any number of levels and in any situation.

Many of you who are good friends have heard Michael and me talk at length about our firm belief in self  sufficiency, survivalism and sustainable living and why it is crucial to be prepared to take care of yourself in case of emergency or disaster rather than rely on a governmental agency to come to the rescue. It has sometimes been the source of amusement and bemusement to some, who occasionally give us a bit of a good natured poke as wacky survivalists. We grin and bear it, but we also keep the seriousness of the issue in the back of our minds even as we poke fun at ourselves. Michael's health care odyssey following an infection of Lyme Disease taught us both the importance of self reliance and trust in our own intelligence and ability to find out for ourselves rather than simply relying on someone with a badge or a piece of paper proclaiming their expertise. Had we not done this, we would have just bought the original diagnosis of ALS and Michael would not be alive today. This is not hyperbole, it is fact. Due to this experience, both of us knew full well how easily complacency and apathy kills.

I'll give you a funny, yet very good example of this. When a newly elected president is about to take office, he/she is given a sort of "grand tour" of the White House including the security features, to familiarize them with their new home and what to do in the event of an emergency. When President Jimmy Carter was receiving his tour, a secret service agent was filling him in on all the details of what to do if he had to be evacuated. The agent in charge was concluding the tour, and wanted to reassure the new president as to the readiness of the secret service to keep him and his family safe.

"Mr. President, you can rest assured that in the unlikely even that you have to be evacuated, Marine One is always on alert, 24/7, and is ready to take you to any of our safe locations at any given time."

"Really?" Carter raised his eyebrows, impressed. "Okay, let's go. Right now."

Now, here's the scary part. They couldn't pull it off.

Though this is an amusing anecdote, it doesn't make it any less illuminating. Obviously the problem was addressed immediately and supposedly now they really are ready, but the question remains. Are they? Has it been put to the test? If the Presidential detail of the Secret Service, whose entire purpose is to protect one family over all others, was unable to perform under pressure, how do you think a mid level government agency is going to prioritize saving your family in the event of a massive emergency?  One word. Katrina.

Just recently I had a debate with a dear friend of mine during the evacuation of Hawaii for fear of an approaching tsunami. Watching the news footage of the massive traffic jam as people tried to get to their designated safety zone, she asserted that the entire evacuation process was ill planned and should have gone more smoothly and quickly. There should have been buses available to take people to safe zones as opposed to everyone in their own private vehicles trying to get onto the same roadways at the same time to get to the same destination. If not buses, then helicopters to ferry people to safety. I pose this question to you, dear reader. If you were in a total evacuation situation and you were told to "sit tight" and wait for a bus or chopper to take you to safety, would you really sit in your living room with your kids and wait for the government to send you the promised ride, or would you get the hell out of dodge any way you knew how? A lot of people in Louisiana waited for buses to get them out of New Orleans. They have a special word for them. Victims. Fatalities. Missing.

How about a closer-to-home example. You are reading this blog right now. Suddenly, your desk shakes. Next thing you know, the building is coming down around you. Earthquake!  Let's say you are fortunate enough to get out of the building before it collapsed. Now what? Where are you kids right now? Remember, you can't call them on your cell because all circuits are busy as other unprepared people frantically try to reach loved ones or EMS (exactly what happened on September 11). Do you have a plan to meet up with your family at a specific location? What about a backup place if you can't get to the first one?  Let's be optimistic and imagine you are all at home, and all are thankfully uninjured. What's for dinner? Electricity's off, obviously. For how long? Hours? Days? Weeks?  How long can you feed your family without electricity? If you are one of those people rushing through the grocery aisle every time they call for snow, I'm guessing not long. What about water? If you can't use the tap and have no electricity to boil water, what then?

I'm being melodramatic to prove my point, but hopefully it's made.

Look, here's the thing. I agree that our government should have agencies and facilities to meet our needs should disaster strike. I agree that as taxpayers, we should be assured a certain degree of safety guarantees from the agencies that we ourselves fund with our tax dollars. These people are paid to be prepared for any eventuality and I agree that they should be. I agree that our government should be better equipped to handle disasters, as should all governments.

But they aren't.  And no matter how loudly you complain about how something should be doesn't magically make it so. So what are you going to do about it? Complain and wait to be the next victim? Or do something about it? Sure, you can contact your Senators and Representatives and insist on transparency in our disaster agencies. You can insist they be better prepared. Fine. But the fact remains that no one can wave a magic wand and make these sweeping changes overnight, and disaster doesn't wait until you are ready. That's why they call them disasters. Until they do come up with the nifty magic wand to fix all our ills, what are you going to do in the meantime to protect yourself and your family? If the unthinkable happens right now, are you ready?

...was that my desk trembling?


  1. Extremely good post. Darn good point. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Elle! Seems even more prudent after the horrific situation in Japan and, last week, the sudden death of a friend of mine who was unprepared for his own personal disaster.