Prepping Matters: Prep For Secondary Disasters

Dangers of Secondary or Cascading Disasters

The whole idea behind prepping is being prepared for disasters.  The word “disaster” conjures up images of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, explosions or anything that suddenly, and tragically disrupts the normal flow of our daily life.  While those events are terrifying, they often are not responsible for most deaths.  Experts call these events initial, or primary disasters.  What happens next is what causes the most trouble.

Let’s look at a hurricane as an example.  Most people who live in hurricane prone areas are very familiar with preparing for them.   They know how important it is to have several days, even weeks worth of food, water, and other supplies stockpiled.  If a hurricane only lasts for a day, why the need for such a stockpile?

With the damage that comes with severe storms, our lifestyle is interrupted.  Streets are covered with debris, so trucks can’t make deliveries to stores.  That means no food on store shelves, possibly for weeks until the streets get cleaned up.  If you had to live for two weeks with what you have on hand today, how would life be?

Now imagine that the electricity is out, and over the radio (you have a battery powered radio, right?), they announce the public water system has been contaminated.  The water may still be flowing, but it will make you sick.  They have issued a boil notice, or worse, a “do not consume” notice.  You are already in a bad situation.  The last thing you want is to get sick and have to go to the hospital (which is already overcrowded).

It could be a week after the primary disaster, and you could still be dealing with several other disasters that happen as a result of it.  These are known as secondary, or cascading disasters, and in many ways, they are more dangerous than the primary disaster.  Here is an example of this concept:

Cascading Disaster Flow chart


In the scenario above, there is a massive flood. Let’s pretend that we were lucky, and there are no deaths as a result of the flood.  However, look at all the things that were disrupted because of the flood.  Although there were no deaths, the hospital is overwhelmed by injuries, near drowning victims, and people who are medically fragile.

The city still has running water, but no electricity.  Unfortunately, the water is contaminated by sewage.  The city has issued a “do not consume” notice, but there are hundreds of people who did not get the message.  They come down with severe diarrhea, and vomiting which puts them in danger of dying of dehydration.  The hospital gets a new wave of sick people who drank the contaminated water.

The city has set up an emergency shelter in the gym of the local high school for people who have been flooded out of their homes.  The gym is so packed with people, you can’t even see the floor.  After three days, several people are ill with cough, body aches, and a high fever.  It is flu season, and since there were so many people sharing the same space, everyone in the gym has been exposed.  Because of the lack of resources, especially clean drinking water, those with high fevers need medical help.  So they go to the hospital.

At this point, the hospital is overwhelmed. They are short on staff.  There are just not enough doctors and nurses to take care of the high number of people, and some die in the waiting room, or outside on the curb without getting any help.

The food supply is interrupted.  Store shelves are empty.  A disaster relief organization rolls into town with food and supplies, but people are panicked, hungry, and exhausted.  Fights break out, and a few people get trampled in a stampede.  More people need to go to the hospital.

There are many other hazards that could happen as a result of the primary disaster.   Some cannot be controlled, such as weather, but for many, the chaos can be minimized, or even prevented.

This is Why Prepping Matters

Look at the chart again, and you will see “Lack of Preparedness” as a contributing factor.  By not being prepared, we make a bad situation worse.  On the flip side, being prepared can help, or even prevent some of those secondary disasters.  Let’s re-imagine the scenario through a preparedness perspective.

This area is prone to floods, so the city emergency management team develops a public education plan to help citizens be more prepared.  The local CERT team helps organize and promote the education campaign.  They teach their family and friends the importance of being prepared by having enough food, water, and supplies to help see them through the next disaster, as well as “bug out bags” in case they do need to evacuate their homes, and go to a shelter.

They encourage everyone to get a battery powered radio so they can receive announcements about the safety of tap water.  By doing this, and by having citizens stock up on bottled water during the flood season, they significantly reduce the number of people who will show up at the hospital for drinking contaminated water, and dangerous dehydration.

Local CERT members and Red Cross volunteers lend support to the hospital and emergency responders by performing triage and first aid to victims, which helps make the process more organized, and saves time.  The doctors can focus their attention on who needs help the most.

At the shelter, volunteers help organize the situation, establishing sanitation routines, and putting up flyers as reminders that good hand washing prevents illness.  They set up separate areas for people who are sick.

Along with the water stockpile, citizens are encouraged to stock up on at least a week of food to feed their family.  Next time, when disaster relief rolls into town, the people are much more calm, and even help to distribute supplies in their community.

Start Prepping Today

I hope you see the importance of being prepared for disasters. Even prepping in small ways can make a big difference.  Being involved in your community is tremendously helpful, and part of being a good citizen.  For more information on how to get involved in your community, visit my post about joining CERT.

Please explore my other posts, where I go into several topics in more detail.

Follow me on Facebook, and encourage your family and friends to start prepping too!


Communication Matters: Become a HAM Radio Operator

No Dial Tone

If you have not read my post about joining CERT, please do (Community Matters: Join Your Local CERT Team).  After I joined my local CERT team, I discovered that one of the main areas that was lacking in my emergency preparedness plan, was communication.  I had ample supplies of food and water.  My family knows what to do when disaster strikes.  We have a first aid kit , and know how to use it.

However, if a tornado ran through here, and knocked down power lines, how would my CERT team contact me?  Phones would be out, including both landline and cell towers.  Without electricity, there is no internet. What would I do then? Furthermore, how would I contact my family?  How would I let my out of town family know that I am safe?  This poses a dilemma.  In fact, during disasters, the few phone lines that do remain operable, are constantly jammed with the huge influx of calls–people who desperately want to contact their loved ones.

Assuming my family and neighbors are safe, I want to do what I can for my community.  The problem is, if the CERT commander can’t contact me, then I won’t be any help at all.  If I just go out there and try to help, I might just be getting in the way and doing more harm than good.

Radio to the Rescue

The good news is, there is a perfect solution to these problems: HAM radio.  Radio communication works independently, meaning even if phone and electricity are out, radios still work.  With battery powered radios, people can still communicate, even over several hundred miles! This means that I can contact my family over the radio to communicate, without relying on phone lines or cell towers.

I was surprised to learn that it is fairly easy to become certified by the FCC to become an amateur radio operator, by taking a simple 35 question exam.  The study guide put forth by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), contains all of the questions that might appear on the exam.

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual

If you are unfamiliar with concepts such as radio frequencies, or electricity, some of the concepts can be technical and confusing. While the official study guide is a great study tool, and covers all of the questions on the exam, I felt like I needed to have some of those concepts explained in a more simple way. The Ham Radio For Dummies book is helpful for breaking down the technical things in an easy to understand way.

I put in about two weeks of study with flash cards and practice exams. I passed the test. I had no prior knowledge of radio, electricity, or anything remotely related.  To put it into perspective, there was a 10 year old girl in my class who passed. You can do it!  Once you pass the test, you will be issued a call sign by the FCC, and you can get on the radio. It’s that easy!

You don’t need an expensive radio station and antenna to communicate.  A simple handheld radio will do almost everything that a new operator would need to do, and is actually perfect for disasters.

The radio that my mentors (or Elmers) recommend is the handheld Baofeng UV-82 Two-Way Radio. There is a two pack available ($59), but as of the date of this post, it is cheaper to buy two singles ($56), not including shipping and handling.

Why not just use Walkie Talkies?  They are only programmed to certain frequencies, and they generally only work by line of sight, which means you have to be very close together. Those radios are generally not powerful enough to work in dense areas such as cities where there are a lot of structures that get in the way of the signal.  Walkie Talkies are fine for very local areas, such as a campsite or apartment complex.  However, their reach is probably not more than one mile.  With a handheld HAM radio, you have a broader range of frequencies, and you can bounce your signal off of other radio stations to achieve a distance of perhaps 100 miles, depending on conditions.

This kind of communication is wonderful when I consider how many friends and family I have scattered all over this state.  I could use my HAM radio to check on them, and to let them know that I am safe (being careful to avoid the emergency bands of course).  Even when the phone lines are working, they can become jammed  during a disaster. It can sometimes be impossible to make a call, because everyone is calling in/out to check on the ones they love.

Know How to Use It

While the HAM test covers the basics, every radio is different.  Even various models from the same manufacturer are different.  You have to spend time reading the manual that came with your radio, or watching youtube videos for that specific radio in order to learn how to use it.  If you are lucky, there might be a HAM mentor in your area (called an “Elmer”) who can help guide you on how to use your radio.  It’s another great opportunity to get involved in your community, and get to know your neighbors!

Another Step in Being Prepared

By getting my family certified as HAM radio operators, we will be well prepared to communicate during a disaster, and prepared to be a much needed help in our community. I am proud to say that I have passed the test and earned my Technician license, aI am prepared to be an asset and a resource for my community during tough times.