Saturday, December 09, 2006

Imagining Crisis.

I guess it's a sign of the times that I can find myself, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, discussing crisis contingency plans with friends. An atmosphere of fear has evolved, partially due to historical circumstances, and otherwise exacerbated by the reactions of our political leaders. Growing up at the tail-end of the Cold War, survival preparations seemed rather beside the point. The worst case scenario meant global nuclear apocalypse. Buying a sidearm and stocking canned ravioli in the basement seemed to be a completely superfluous strategy. But the nature of threat has clearly evolved, and we now fear more immediate and smaller-scale threats.

How much time have you devoted to imagining the variety of crisis scenarios possible in our modern society? Would you be prepared for the form of natural disaster most likely to occur in the region you live? Are you in an area that could be possibly threatened by mass civil unrest? What would you do if the grocery stores shut down for a month? What if your supply of water, electricity or heat was cut off? How would you and your neighborhood react in plague conditions resulting from some particularly virulent strain of bird flu?

I haven't seen any surveys exploring the amount of thought the public has put into emergency situations. I would imagine there are many, at least in our cities, who have chosen not to devote much time or money preparing for this type of "What if?". For them, a pre-blizzard trip to the grocery store for milk and bread seems to suffice. There are enough day-to-day concerns and problems to concentrate on without the increasing anxiety of speculative nightmares. Bills need to be paid, families require provision, and property must be maintained. I've talked to some who would just rather not think about social crisis. They are resigned to reliance on the government. Or alternatively, they are willing to put their faith in God, with the confidence that He will take care of them. Yet others operate on the other end of the extreme, and actively accumulate stashes of survival supplies, weapons and gear. To some it is a hobby. There is a wealth of literature and an ever-expanding industry of paranoia to service their needs.

Personally, the Katrina crisis of 2005 was a motivating force for me. It became clear rather quickly that the federal government does not recognize its natural role in insuring the security of ordinary people. "They" will not take care of "us". "We" should expect to be on our own. Once you get over the initial cynicism and dismay of that realization, you may feel compelled to take some preparatory steps. A good place to start would be in stocking a supply of bottled water and canned food. The Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) makes emergency preparedness a priority. Many outside the community are surprised to learn that church doctrine requires adherents to maintain a year's supply of emergency provisions. A cursory examination of their history exposes the causes of such a mindset. Perhaps we can learn something from their example.

Forming an informal network of contacts among friends and neighbors also seems to be a wise approach. Even if you are never unfortunate enough to have to call upon this resource, such action can bear fruits during periods of prosperity and tranquility. It's useful to know what abilities and knowledge those we live among possess. What are their thoughts regarding crisis management? How can you band together to ensure the safety of your family and friends? It seems to me that community can provide one of the strongest sources of security during tumultuous times. A basic recognition of the realities of interdependence can go a long way.

Much too can be learned from a comprehensive examination of the area in which you live. Are there water and food sources that can sustain you during difficult times? What are the main thoroughfares and byways in your community? Are there little known routes of passage that can be utilized in a pinch? What kind of commitment does the local authority have to planning for emergency situations? Are there detailed contingency plans and policies in place already? What level of cooperation exists between responders and figures of authority within your area? How does the location of your property effect your thoughts about potential crisis?

While it seems beneficial to devote some time to these matters, it also seems healthy to assume a moderate approach. It's too easy to become miserable by dwelling on the negative possibilities. It does you little good to become so preoccupied by potential disaster that you miss out on some of the simple enjoyments of life. Imagine and prepare for the worst while looking for signs that the worst is not likely to happen. A balance of prudence and priority can be struck.


Anonymous robp said...

The thought of prepared or "paranoid" people surviving a disaster is just as scary as the disaster itself.

Faith in humanity is hoping people won't act purely in thier self interest.

There are some major negative implications in crisis situations that also apply to non-crisis living.

Perhaps more of a chat later.

rob p

9:50 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Well... certainly if you die, then you don't have to worry much about the quality of folks that survive. I think that when the shit hits the fan people regress a bit... naturally act more like the animals they actually are. I'd rather regress, and then have the opportunity to civilize myself once again, than to simply give up.

As fas as ramifications... you mean inconveniences due to property damage? Or dealing with the law?

10:11 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

I've devoted enough time to this issue that I know I'm f**cked. I don't have the resources to prepare for a disaster. It is more likely that any disaster that I face will be much more prosaic (serious illness, irreparable damage to property) and I don't have the resources to prepare for that.

The disaster of Katrina was definitely class based and I suspect any disaster will take its toll on the underclasses in much the same way as it did in Louisiana. How much community-building can a group do when it is struggling just for basic sustenance? You can't depend on friends/family when those folks are in the same position as you are.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


That's definitely true that the poorer you are, the more vulnerable you are to all manner of crises. Luckily, Pittsburgh isn't a place that faces the regular threat or natural disaster. Anyway, it is pretty obvious that the hungry aren't going to be able to put away a store of food in case of emergency. For them, their entire existence takes on a lot of the characteristics of what others would consider crisis conditions. It's a sad reality that one of the only advantages they would have in an emergency is that they are accustomed to doing without, and don't have much material wealth to lose.

8:40 PM  
Anonymous rob p said...

I guess where we differ is the to level that humainty will crumble. Perhaps to a default people will cling to a status quo.

Banks, businesses, gas stations, and others will find it beneficial to operate as "normal" and they have the resourses to "normalize" their operations.

If not well then I'm royal screwed like Sue. I surely don't have the resources to get a gun, generator and stock pile food. I have trouble getting my s..t together given the "non-crisis."

If worse comes to worse and given anarchy rules, I'm sure I can find a few weaker souls to prey upon.

That's a bit of a joke but it appears some people operate on the crisis principle constantly.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I've actually considered a number of scenarios with varying degrees of social breakdown. Many people have been conditioned to live within a certain order... if that is removed quickly, they could initially be at a loss as to how to act, and then subsequently display reactions formed mostly by panic. There doesn't even need to be a serious long-term crisis... all that is necessary is the perception of helplessness.

Certainly the powers-that-be will try to maintain/restore a sense of "normalcy". But perhaps they will be as ill-prepared to do so as individuals. Do you have confidence in your elected leaders to coordinate an effective response plan? What did you learn from Katrina? Is FEMA reliable?

I think it is realistic to believe that some may resort to exploiting the weak. I read stories of that kind in the aftermath of Katrina. It's hard to predict what one would do under extreme circumstances.

9:09 PM  

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