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!


Couldn’t Sleep Last Night

Last night, I was not prepared for a tornado.  I have taken baby steps over the last year to get my family more prepared for emergencies.  I have several other posts on the back burner that detail all of the things I have been doing, and I will post those soon.  Yet, despite my efforts, I learned just how unprepared I actually am should a disaster strike.

Here in Texas, severe thunderstorms are as common as Wal-Marts…seems like there is one on every corner.  I love thunderstorms.  Something about them makes me feel alive.  However, last night, the hairs on my neck stood on end.  The thunder was just a little louder than it usually is.  The winds were just a little bit stronger than they usually are.  Instead of feeling invigorated, I felt concerned.  You see, I have lived in Texas my whole life, and I have never encountered a tornado (thankfully).  That doesn’t mean the day won’t come.

So I was in bed, feeling quite unnerved, and my mind suddenly raced with a thousand thoughts: “What if there is a tornado tonight? What would we do?”  I thought about the food and water I have set aside. “Would that be enough?”  “Where are the flashlights?”  The kids had taken them to a night time scavenger hunt. “Did they put them back?” I had no idea. “Where is the first aid kit?”  We had recently gone camping, and had not unpacked the bags yet.  “At what point should I tell the kids to get in the bathtub?”  I didn’t want to alarm them for no reason.

My mind was a whirlwind, much like the storm that raged outside.  I convinced myself that everything would be fine…it always is, and that I was overreacting.  I suppressed my fears, and tried to go to sleep.

I found out the next morning, that there were actually two tornadoes that touched down in the next town over!  Goosebumps pricked up on my skin.  My instincts were right.  Here are some photos of the destruction, courtesy of kxan news:

I share this story because it is easy to convince ourselves that nothing bad will happen. Here I am, an advocate for emergency preparedness, and I felt terribly unprepared. Luckily for us, nothing bad happened, but our luck may not last forever.  I don’t want to feel like I did last night.  Today, I am addressing all those questions I had.  The flashlights and first aid kit are back in place.  I picked up a few extra cans of food and water when I did my regular grocery shopping.  I talked with my kids about our tornado plan.

The key with being prepared is, don’t get complacent.  I don’t mean live in fear.  I mean that prepping should be a natural thing we do, like getting an oil change, or spring cleaning.

If I was smart, I would have had a NOAA Weather Radio. This is a special radio that is programmed to alert you for severe weather warnings. If I had one of these radios, I would have had my answer, and I wouldn’t have been left guessing.  Couldn’t I have just turned on the weather station on my tv?  The power was out, so I had no tv, and no internet.  It’s fairly common for the power to go out for an hour or two.  I am prepared for long periods without power, but I didn’t consider the possibility of not being able to get a weather report.

What about sirens?  The city has tornado sirens, don’t they?

That’s what I thought too.  But I recently found out that many cities do not have the sirens, and depend on reverse 911 emergency alert texts to your cell phone.  So if I was waiting to hear that siren before taking action, I would never hear it.

The nice thing about this radio is that it has a battery backup, so if the power goes out, it will run off of battery.  Also, if you are sound asleep, and there is a tornado warning for your area, it well set off an alarm to wake you up, giving you and your family time to get to safety.  Sometimes tornadoes can be on top of you in a matter of seconds, so every second matters.

I have learned from this experience, not to become complacent. I have ordered my NOAA radio.  I hope to be better prepared for next time, because next time might be the real thing.