September is National Preparedness Month, and it’s not as if you need to look too far to find a poster child for the occasion. This week, look no further than the Bahamas, devastated by the slow-moving Hurricane Dorian. As we write these words, the hurricane may yet cause additional misery along the East Coast of the United States.
But if it hadn’t been the hurricane, you could have looked closer to home to find other reminders that it’s never a bad time to get ready for a natural disaster: Consider last week’s earthquake off the Oregon coast, a reminder (again) that the Cascadia Subduction Zone lurks just offshore, a fault zone that scientists believe is overdue to unleash a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
And we still have another six weeks or perhaps longer before we can breathe easier that we’re out of the heart of wildfire season. (But it’s worth remembering that the most devastating recent wildfires, such as last year’s Camp Fire in California, occurred in November.)
The point is, we never can exactly predict what the disaster might be. It could be something out of the blue, such as the Columbus Day windstorm of 1962 or the snowstorm of a few years back that essentially paralyzed the mid-Willamette Valley.
Although the disasters may differ, the basic ideas behind preparedness are essentially the same: You want to be ready to fend for yourself for two weeks — the amount of time that might be required in some cases for help to arrive at your residence. (If you live in an area that might be impacted by wildfire or flooding, you want to be ready to be able to leave your home as quickly as possible, so you want a plan about what you’d take with you in such an event — and how you can round up those items in a hurry. The time to start planning is not when you get the evacuation order.)
We know people who have despaired at the sheer enormity of crafting (and updating) workable preparedness plans. But the point of events such as National Preparedness Month isn’t to make you feel inadequate. Rather, it’s to encourage you to keep plugging away on the plan that you probably already have in progress.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and frightened by the scope of some of the disasters that frequently make the news.
But chances are pretty good that a disaster won’t strike your home this week or this month or even this year. That means you don’t have to complete your disaster planning today or tomorrow.
It does mean that there might be one or two things on your planning list that you can check off this week. Next week, tackle one or two more. If you need a little inspiration, consider checking out useful online sites on this topic operated by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, the federal government (ready.gov) and the American Red Cross. The online version of this editorial includes links to those sites.
Even Kathryn Schulz, the writer whose New Yorker piece on the Cascadia Subduction Zone scared the daylights out of most of us (and won a Pulitzer Prize) understood how difficult it can be sometimes to take even simple steps in the face of fear or a misplaced sense of fatalism.
Schulz spends her summers in Oregon. After the initial article appeared, people kept asking her why she still came back to the West Coast, even though she knew so much about the fault. Her answer, as she outlined in a follow-up article, was that she had taken the relatively simple steps required to mitigate the risk. (We quoted her last year, and her words still strike as wise.)
“I’m still scared for the region, but I am not scared in it,” she wrote. “Take some basic steps to protect yourself, work to draw attention to those issues that demand collective action — do that, and you need not be overly scared either.”