Knowing what local threats are all around you is the most important step in your path toward preparedness. This step requires some research and study, for the area immediately around your home or business, and for the larger region where you are located, in your county, state, or region. It should be repeated if you move around often, or if you decide to relocate to a safer place.
Don’t take your surroundings lightly. Situational awareness is the most basic of all preparedness and survival planning. You don’t walk into a known crime ridden area in the dark, unless you’re not paying attention to crime rates, signs, news, or any other warning bells around you. In many daily activities, you are doing the equivalent of heading into dark places, unless you make the personal decision to act safely, with every part of your life. The warnings are everywhere. You just need to see them for what they are.
One of the most important senses you have as a human is your sight. Understanding what you’re seeing, with every waking moment, is what will always give you the best chance of living through any disaster. This means heads-up, eyes-up, and looking where you are going. Use what God gave you, to live a happier, healthier, and longer life.
Nature can trick you, thrill you, enthrall you…and then kill you. It’s a fact of life. But, nature is not the only threat out there. Understanding what you’re seeing is most important, but that comes from real world experience, personal study, or knowledge from other sources. When it comes to your family, you really want to know and understand what the real threats are. It might be nature, it could be mechanical failure, or it may be your fellow man, coming to take what you have…just because.
Think for a moment…during the March 11, 2011 Japan mega-quake and subsequent tsunami, do you think that the Japanese drivers in vehicles closest to the coastline could comprehend what they saw through their windshields as cars, buildings, bridges, and boats begin moving toward them in a massive wall of swirling water and debris?
No one, except those who paid attention to the events from the Sumatra quake in 2005, would understand that at that very moment, their lives depended on how fast they could turn around and get the hell out of the way seeking higher ground.
Visit YouTube and research those two quakes, the wreckage they caused, and what you would want to understand as a trigger point for you to take immediate evasive action, should you see the same thing heading your way. Now, repeat that same investigation for every single natural or technical hazard that can occur exactly where you live. I like to call this exercise “preparedness due diligence”. Not taking the time to understand real world events, means you are that much closer to not surviving when that disaster comes to your town.
The most obvious things that Preppers think of when making lifestyle changes due to threats is natural disasters. Other threats are often more mundane, such as travel, workplace safety, bad habits, crime, and a huge potential list of everyday technical breakdowns in industry, infrastructure, and government control.
There are many good sources online to check for local and regional natural and technological hazards. One FEMA publication, Risks and Hazards, State by State (FEMA-196 …right click to download) gives you a great head start for learning about the most likely natural hazards, as well as some historical context for cold war nuclear targets for every state…a rare document to be sure. A visit to your local emergency management office can also provide you with specific natural hazards that are possible in your area. Your local library can also help you find out more.
Using some simple research methods, even Google Maps or Google Earth can give you a bird’s eye view of your city and neighborhood for potential flooding, landslide, technological threats, wild fire, and other types of disasters. Think of the lay of the land around your city…the topography and watershed…the rivers, streams, and drainage ditches. Floods are going to be your most common disaster, but you need to know when, where and why. Earthquakes can occur anywhere in the nation, covered from coast to coast with thousands of fault lines. San Andreas, New Madrid, and many other historical fault lines are well known. Thousands more are not.
Flooding, and many other kinds of natural threats, like to travel downhill. Severe storms can occur anywhere or anytime, from severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, straight line winds, lightning storms, hail, flash floods, and everything else. These thunderstorms occur where cold fronts from the north and west of the continent hit the warm, moist air of Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf Coast high pressure areas. That is a vast area of millions of square miles in the heart of our nation.
As you begin to research your local natural and man-made hazards, you want to think about the entire range of threats, dependent on exactly where you live. Are you near a coastline? 80% of Americans live within 100 miles of the oceans. Are you near any rivers or major streams or watersheds? Are you in a mountainous area? Winter time events can create killer avalanches, ice jams in rivers, killer sub-freezing cold and wind, and all kinds of threats, especially in most mountains across the west. Flash floods, huge out of control wild fires, and more usually start in the mountains, before heading down into civilization.
Live near any volcanic regions? Remember Mt. St. Helens and the widespread damage it created coast to coast in 1980? One catastrophic natural hazard event can kills thousands, and affect millions. Mt. St. Helens provided a tremendous learning opportunity of what a volcano does before it explodes. But, when it exploded, we learned the hard way, even after massive historical events like Krakatoa, Pompeii, or the Toba event some 70,000 years ago, in an eruption which very nearly killed off mankind, that exploding volcanoes are DEADLY.
We were reminded, live and on TV, that volcanoes do kill hundreds of people every year, all over the world. In May 1980, we all had ring side seats to a national calamity. Nature likes to repeat itself…often.
Are you in an area that has very active and severe weather? Tornadoes happen with great regularity in certain areas of the nation, but have occurred in every state, on every day of the year, from sea level to 11,000 feet above sea level (an F-4 hit Yellowstone many years ago on a mountain top). Here in Wyoming, in the least populated state, nestled in the Rockies, we’ve had 6 tornadoes during the month of May 2014, due to monsoonal rains, and wind sheer caused by geological factors in the east half of the state, mainly the foothills of the Rockies in the middle of the state leveling out into the flat plains of the great plains of the United States. The closest twister to me? 10 miles to the north, in open country. Wow. I moved across the country to get away from tornadoes in 2000.
Our nation’s biggest threat, over the long term? Yellowstone. But, it isn’t exploding, spewing lava, or killing everyone in the nation with a 20 foot ash fall at this precise moment in time. I think we’ve got a long time before the next audition for “Best. Disaster. Ever.”
It’s been 640,000 years since the last caldera eruption, 70,000 years since the last lava flowed, and 55 years since the last major earthquake in the park, with the 1959 Hebgen Lakequake registering a 7.5, and creating Earthquake Lake on the Madison River, in an event that caused a huge landslide, killed 28, and left $11 million (1959 US$, $74.1 million 2006 US$) in damage. In the big picture, I think we have at least another 1,000 years before we have to consider relocating out of state. In other words, Yellowstone is NOT a current threat.
Important note here…if a huge earthquake right in the heart of Yellowstone did not instigate the entire caldera exploding…what do you think it will take to cause the caldera to blow? Something to think of.
Hurricanes have caused incredible regional destruction along the gulf coast and eastern seaboard lately, such as Katrina, Sandy, Andrew, and many more. The most powerful typhoon ever measured, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, destroyed vast portions of the main islands last year (November 2013), and as of the time of this writing, has a current death toll of 6,201 dead and 1700 missing, FIVE times the number of deaths of Katrina. 14.1 million people were affected, and 4.1 million people displaced. Utter devastation. And, it could happen here, in the US…at any point in the future.
This nation has approximately 95,471 miles of coastline. Every foot of that coastline is potentially going to be affected by hurricanes, storm surges, or typhoons, at some point in the future.
There are also plenty of threats that aren’t natural hazards, but still occur with alarming regularity. Transportation incidents (train wrecks, highway pileups, airliner crashes, etc.), infrastructure disasters (power grid issues, water plant breakdowns, crumbling roads and bridges, dam breaks, home and business fires, water main breaks, sewer system backups, and so many more), technological breakdowns (internet threats, cut optic or communication lines, computer meltdowns, food delivery system snafus, data corruption, etc) and many more threats occur with everyday, all over the nation.
Interstate highway interchanges allow the nation’s food, fuel, and retail and wholesale goods to travel anywhere, but on any given day, there are almost 15,000 vehicle accidents. Let me repeat that…15,000 wrecks A DAY. How many of those are tractor/trailer rigs, huge 40 ton rolling metal storehouses of our daily needs, traveling between 60 and 80 miles an hour, every hour of every day? Someone not paying attention is usually the beginning of the end.
When highways cross and allow shifting from one road to another, tens of thousands of vehicles are crossing paths, sometimes at the same time, giving us that huge number of daily accidents. The image of burning wreckage below happened recently along a 2 lane county highway 40 miles from nearby Interstate 80, in an small crossroads call Baroil, Wyoming.
Two semi-trucks collided head on, killing both drivers, and shutting down that highway for three days, because one of the semis was carrying hot oil, which is what you see burning in the picture. The driver at fault was inattentive to traffic, and was following too close. When the car in front of him slowed down to turn off the highway, he went around and crossed the line, straight into another massive truck heading the opposite direction. Combined speed of the two trucks was over 100 miles an hour.
Imagine that in your backyard or neighborhood. Not good. Small accidents dent fenders and break glass. Large ones explode like bombs, normally at intersections, overpasses, and sometimes the ditch by the road. Inattention to traffic is the leading cause of injuries and death to all Americans, and little things like texting, or looking away from the road, for even a few seconds, can result in life altering events.
BOTTOM LINE – HERE’S YOUR TAKEAWAY…
Situational Awareness. All day, every day. The smallest thing can injure or kill. Poisonous bugs and spiders under your bed. Snakes and other reptiles out in your yard and neighborhood. The occasional supercell severe thunderstorm. Not coming to a full stop at a stop sign or red light. Leaving a worn power cord for your power tool or bedroom night stand to fray and short out. Not doing regular maintenance to your car or truck. Allergies to food or medicines. Driving around train crossing barriers or traffic blocades. Not watching traffic as you stand on the sidewalk. So much more. Being on the wrong bus, train, plane, or boat, when the operator has a bad day, or one of his trusted mechanics leaves just the wrong bolt off an engine or wheel.
Preparedness starts with the very basics of everyday life. Only after you’ve got that under control, can you even begin to prepare for the huge, deadly scenarios that exist in our current society, covered so well by main stream media…in real time…live and in living color. Doomsday Preppers give us ideas of possibilities, but not necessarily probabilities. It’s up to each of us to do our own homework, and prepare for the most likely threats in our families lives.
Invest the time now, to have a longer and safer life later. Don’t become a victim of the obvious. Ever.