It hit the fan, now what?

The majority of us who are concerned with emergency preparedness spend our time thinking about, and doing things, that should be coordinated/completed and in place prior to any sort of disaster or emergency. An area of lesser focus is what should be done once something happens. So you planned and did everything you were supposed to… things go south… so what will you do?

First steps following disaster

  1. Accountability

The primary task that should be completed, upon realization that there has been a triggering event, is obtaining accountability of anyone who you share a home with, loved ones in the immediate area or your mutual-assistance group (this should include pets as well). Because this can be extremely difficult immediately following a disaster, consider implementing a plan ahead of time about how to gain this accountability.

A solid plan to obtain accountability of the others in your home, immediate area or mutual assistance group (don’t forget your pets!) should be multi-faceted to include a PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency) plan. This will provide you four ways of getting in touch with one another. A PACE plan might look like this:

Primary — Contact one another by phone at a primary phone and then secondary phone if needed. Don’t forget that during a disaster, phone lines may be tied up so text messaging may be the quickest and most effective way of getting through to one another.

Alternate — Contact one another by phone via a neighbor or co-worker.

Contingency — Meet at a predetermined location. If someone goes there and has to leave, have a system in place for leaving a message or indicator that you had to move on and where it is that you were headed.

Emergency — Physically go and try to link up with others at their homes, places of work, etc. This option is the absolute last resort and may have to be skipped altogether depending on the level of risk associated with it at the time.

  1. Stay and play or load and go?

When providing emergency medical treatment in the field, there are two options when deciding what to do with your patient… “stay and play” (meaning the patient is not in dire condition and you have the time to provide treatment on the ground before releasing the patient or transporting them to the hospital) or “load and go” (meaning load up and leave the scene to go to the hospital as quickly as possible).

To me, this has always been a good analogy when talking about the decision to hunker down in place or bug out from a specific situation. Obviously, when discussing both emergency medicine and evacuation decisions, there is no “play” involved but the wording lends itself as a good way of remembering the options available and what they mean.

Faced with the potential need to evacuate versus stay in place, there are a few factors that should be considered:

  • Risk — There is going to be risk associated with your decision. This will happen regardless of which way you decide to go. You will need to weigh the pros and the cons of the situation against one another to determine which action will be best for you in the set of circumstances you are facing. One way to make your decision easier in the heat of the moment is to spend time thinking of different scenarios and what you would do if you were facing them ahead of any actual emergency or disaster.
  • Loss vs. gain — Much like the risk associated with making a bug out vs. stay decision, what you have to potentially lose versus gain in a particular situation can be a major driver behind your decision. As an example, if you stay at home you may have a well-developed set of relationships around you that could be beneficial while, if you decide to bug out, you may give up this network but also end up further removed from the actual threats you were facing.
  • Available resources — The amount of available resources where you are, compared to where you will go, will also be a major factor in your decision-making process. If you are like most preppers, the majority of your personal resources are at your primary residence. A key thing to consider here is what resources will also be available when your personal stockpile begins to diminish.
  • Time — Not every decision will need to be made in a rush. Sometimes there will be a window of anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to make your final decision. What you do not want to have happen is for that window of opportunity to close and you have not made your move. Don’t forget that change can come at the drop of a hat, so do not remain indecisive for too long.

Option #1 – Lock it down!

If your decision point brings you to the conclusion that you should hold in place and batten down the hatches, your immediate steps should be to:

Fill the bathtub with water — Water is a vital requirement for drinking, cooking and conducting hygiene activities. This can be happening in the background while you tend to other things. Even though you probably have some water stored already, the additional 50-100 or so gallons of water that your bathtub can hold will be a nice addition. If for some reason you do not have a bathtub, think about the container your may have on hand like coolers or plastic totes and consider filling them as a substitute.

Bring the outside in — When danger approaches you will want to limit your exposure to the outside world. Once a triggering event occurs, pull any resources you have stored outside (possibly even the garage) inside the house or as close to it as possible. This will minimize future risks that could be associated with outside exposure.

Make a last minute run — If the situation is safe enough, this is likely your last opportunity to obtain anything from the outside world. The hope is that you already have everything that you need, but the opportunity to go out and grab a few last minute items could be very valuable. I would not recommend going very far away from home and definitely do not go alone if at all possible. Stops to consider making on this last trip might include:

  • Big box store — This will be where you can get the most variety in one location, but also poses the greatest probability of being crowded and therefore the greatest chances of danger.
  • Hardware store — Don’t discount the value of having the tools and materials on hand that you can use for repairs and future projects. This stop could be to obtain additional items or more of something you already have.
  • Pharmacy — The drug store is obviously stocked with common medications and medical supplies that will definitely be needed for any emergency, especially one of extended duration, but it can also be an opportunity to stock up on some other common items. Things that come immediately to my mind include food and beverages, water, paper dishes, plastic ware, cups, sanitation and hygiene supplies, batteries, etc.
  • Garden center — Much like the hardware store, a garden center will likely have tools but offer the additional benefit of plants and trees, but especially offer seeds for sale. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get additional seeds to store. Other garden center items of value could include containers, fertilizers, pest control items and potting soil.
  • Warehouse clubs — Where better to go than a place where you can buy the essentials of food preparation in bulk quantities? Warehouse stores also tend to carry a large variety of items that are available in the regular big box store, just in larger quantities (jackpot!).

Regardless of where it is that you decide you might go, consider making a list now of the items that you will want to prioritize above all others if you are able to make a last minute run to the store(s).

Seal up the house — Maintain the ability to seal up your home if the need arises. Keep all designated supplies (plastic sheeting, duct tape, plywood, screws, lumber, etc.) readily available.

This is also an opportunity to consider making your house look like it has nothing to offer in the event that roaming groups or individuals come around looking for places to scavenge from. The best way to make your home look undesirable to these folks is to do things like scatter some furniture and personal items in the yard, stop maintaining the exterior of the house, black out the windows and make it look like there has been a fire inside.

Making it appear as though there has been a fire in a dwelling can be a little tricky but can be done by spraying black spray paint above doors and windows (carrying the paint a little down the sides and up onto the soffits/roof line in a “V”ish look), possibly even breaking out some of the windows. If you do break out windows, think about securing a piece of plywood that is painted black behind the broken window to make it appear dark and charred looking inside. For a good idea of how to create the visual after-effects of a dwelling fire, consider watching videos of active fires on YouTube and note how the dwelling is affected by the fire.

Bug out bags — Make sure that you bug out bags are squared away and stay ready to go in the event that you end up having to bug out instead.

Option #2 – Get out of dodge

Loading up – Once the determination is made to bug out, your load out plan gets put into play. Hopefully you have made a load out plan, know what you are going to take with you and where you are going to place it in the vehicle that you are taking with you. This can be a handy time to have a trailer to take additional items along.

Having your supplies neatly organized and conveniently located can make all the difference in the world when trying to get everything together to load up.

There are several items that you will need to remember to take with you that you may not have packed up and ready to go to include personal papers and important documents as well as irreplaceable items of monetary and sentimental value. Make sure that these types of items are accounted for in your load out plan.

If possible, load up during the cover of darkness or at least partially concealed in the garage to prevent curious onlookers from getting a good look at what you are doing.

Decide when to travel — At this point you are probably anxious to get going, but is now the best time to be traveling? There are advantages for traveling during the day just as well as there are for traveling under the cover of darkness. Consider the pros and cons of each for the location(s) you are considering going to.

Routes of travel — It will be important to have multiple pre-determined routes to the location(s) which you are planning to bug out to. With these routes already determined (hopefully), you will need to see what the impacts of the triggering event have been on your potential routes. Also consider the idea of taking a less direct route to avoid the extremely heavy use of main routes by the masses who may also be trying to get out. Don’t forget to factor in the law enforcement/military level of involvement and how this may alter your travel. In times of martial law or extreme lawlessness, there may be checkpoints, roads that are closed or restrictions on travel that have been put in place.

  1. Security

Simultaneous to putting your hold in place or get-out-of-dodge plan to work, immediately begin implementing your security protocols. At this point in time it does not matter what your next steps are, security is paramount and the worse the disaster or emergency is, the more important security is.

Your security protocols should be established in advance and should consider factors like:

  • Who should be armed
  • When to be armed
  • Do you openly carry a weapon or should it be concealed

In addition to these points, you should not be in a place where individuals are going off to complete tasks by themselves if it is at all possible. The buddy team concept is extremely effective if you have the people power to make it happen.

  1. Ration food and water (and other supplies as appropriate)

With an assumed limited supply of food and water, you will want to start considering what the priorities are for that food and water and in turn ration it appropriately. This planning can begin ahead of time, based on what you are storing and who you expect to share it with, but should be adjusted as the reality of the situation dictates, i.e. you may end up with fewer or more mouths to feed as compared to what you planned. Make this plan extend the life of your stores as long as possible. It is better to control the use of these resources up front and maybe not need them all as compared to doing whatever anybody wants and ending up without the things that everyone needs.

  1. Monitor the community

Make sure that you are keeping a finger on the pulse of the community. Situational awareness can literally be a lifesaver in emergency scenarios. Keeping apprised of the community situation will also allow you to make adjustments as needed when it comes to relationships with others, security and the reality of needing to leave when you planned on staying.

As much as some would like to think that the lone wolf approach to survival is the best way, when the wheels come off it will be the community that ensures the survival of one another.

While each situation may vary, and there will certainly be additional things that may need to be done, the six actions above (and their sub-components) are vital steps following the occurrence of a disaster or other emergency. Identifying these steps in advance will eliminate unnecessary panic at the onset of such an event and allow for key tasks to be completed when they matter most. Failing to plan these key “post triggering event” actions will almost certainly result in panic, anxiety, missed vital activities and potentially loss of resources or life. What will you do when it hits the fan?

–Thomas Miller

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Thomas Miller