There are many things that I consider luxuries that we have the benefit of living with in a modern society. Things like electricity, running water, cell phones, air conditioning, etc. are nice, but society survived for thousands of years without them. If they all disappeared it would suck, but a good number of us would be able to find a way to function without them.
One of the things that is worth considering for your emergency preparedness planning is how you would cope without access to emergency services. There are a few reasons to give this some thought because emergency services could potentially disappear in a major series of disasters, they could be so tied up that they cannot meet demand or you could live in an area where you will ultimately end up not mattering as compared to the urban need for these services.
It can be a hard pill to swallow but it is reality. Imagine this, what if all four of the aircrafts that were hijacked on September 11, 2001, had gone to New York City and been as successful with other major buildings as the two were that hit the World Trade Center? There is great possibility that the emergency services in New York City would have been in a position where there were not enough resources to meet the demand placed on them.
Eventually, emergency service workers from other jurisdictions would have likely shown up but that would have taken time and then in turn the jurisdictions that volunteered those workers would have to do without them. There would have been a great possibility that a ripple effect could have happened. All of this would have been a great obstacle to overcome and the fact that we have become so reliant on our emergency services is a testament to the fact that if they were to become strained or exhausted, we are likely not equipped to function without them.
So what is there to overcome?
When it comes to emergency services we can ultimately break them down into four major groups: police, fire/rescue, emergency medical services and hospitals. Here are some ideas of how to operate (on the smallest of scales, your home) without assistance from emergency services.
As a nation, Americans have great dependency on the police. We don’t just call them if there is a major crime (like a murder or bank robbery) we call them for everything!
The current neighborhood that I live in had empty land behind it and as nature tends to exist, there are various critters that occupied that piece of land. When their home was destroyed to build apartments they moved on to other places and over time there have been some scary snakes that have traveled to some of the neighbor’s back yards. As a result of this, some of these neighbors have called emergency services because they had a rattlesnake in their yard! This is not an emergency and should not involve the police but that is what they have become accustomed to. Instead of waiting for the snake to move on or calling a critter catcher, just give 911 a quick jingle and your problem will be solved, right?
As a reference, The Art of Manliness has a great article on How to Call 911 and to borrow their subtitle… (No, It’s Not as Obvious as You Think).
In a society without 9-1-1, here are some things that you should be prepared to do for yourself instead of relying on the police:
- Leave your house and go ask your neighbor in person to turn their music down.
- Plan to defend your own life and property. For many of us that means owning firearms. Others may prefer a more subtle approach like a security system. If there are no police available though, your alarm can go off all day long and no one will show up. With that in mind, you should at a minimum:
- Have someone close that you can call or signal if you are in trouble.
- Keep a baseball bat or frying pan handy if you are not comfortable with other weapons in your home.
- Install sturdy doors and locks on your doors and windows. If you deem it necessary, come up with a way to barricade your doors and windows.
- Always, always, always have an escape plan in mind. The last place you want to be trapped is in an upstairs bathroom with nowhere to go. One of the best investments I ever made was a fire escape ladder that we can use to get down out of a second story window.
- Life without a police force will also mean that you will likely need to develop a diplomatic spirit in a hurry. The ability to deescalate a situation, mediate, arbitrate, counsel and work with others will be paramount.
- Stay up to date with current events, especially in your local area, so that you know what threats there are. In this case, the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies. If you can avoid potential problems then stay clear of them. But it is equally important to know what threats you may face if you have to go somewhere else so that you can be in the right frame of mind and properly equipped to deal with them.
- Be a part of your community. If you are known and know others you will be in a much better position of safety and will also be aware of the local events. This will only take you so far though. If you do not take care of those relationships and maintain them in good standing, the exact opposite could be true.
Obviously if there is no fire department, there will be no one else to put out a fire but you and hopefully the neighbors that you have a good relationship with and are willing to help you. Yet another reason why having a good community around you can be so powerful.
In a society without 9-1-1, here are some things that you should be prepared to do for yourself instead of relying on the fire department:
- Get your own cat out of the tree in your front yard.
- Part of my plan is to divide my resources so that they are not all in the house. With a standalone garage as well as cars that we park outside, I can allocate survival resources to the house, garage and vehicles so that if one thing were to burn, hopefully the other resources would remain safe and usable. This could be a useful model if you are in a position to do the same.
- Develop a plan to fight a fire at your own home and also to protect your home from any fire that occurs nearby. You will obviously need a source of water but you will also need a way to get that water to the fire. Aside from water and a delivery system, remember to protect yourself the best way you can. It might be a good idea to have respirators and goggles at a minimum. These will also come in handy if you find yourself in the position of needing to try to rescue others from a fire.
The cardinal rule to remember is that your home and its contents are just stuff and that it is not worth risking your life or the lives of others for stuff.
- Always ensure that you have an escape plan from your home. Practice your plan, refine as needed and make sure that everyone who lives with you is familiar with the plan.
- Hopefully you have some sort of get home or bug out bag already in your car but make sure that you include additional clothes and supplies for every member of your family in the event that you are all displaced from your home. If this happens you will at least have a start to continuing on with life and not be completely dependent on others.
- Remember that the fire department does more than respond to fires. They are also the primary resource for many rescue efforts. If there is no fire department anyone that gets trapped in their car in the middle of a flash flood will be solely reliant on themselves or the goodwill of others to rescue them, as an example. This is another type of scenario where you are better off to avoid potential problems then to take risks and ultimately be in need of resources that may not be there.
Emergency medical services
It is hard imagine experiencing the worst medical emergency of your life and not have an ambulance that you can call for help. If you stop and think about it there are people who live in rural areas that have that experience but they cannot allow the lack of a resource to determine
In a society without 9-1-1, here are some things that you should be prepared to do for yourself instead of relying on the ambulance:
- Call a taxi, a friend or consider driving yourself to the hospital if you have a cold and your doctor did not have any appointments available.
- Learn what is a medical emergency and what is not. Aside from traumatic injuries, some of the medical emergencies that require immediate evacuation and medical treatment include:
- Severe chest pain (possible heart attack).
- Medication overdose (confirmed or suspected).
- An older person that has slurred speech but did not consume any alcohol (possible stroke).
- Difficulty breathing
- High fever and stiff neck (possible meningitis).
- A person who has lost consciousness or goes in and out of consciousness.
- A person who has a known medical condition (diabetes, heart, lung, etc.) that is experiencing difficulty.
- Ensure that you have a trauma medical kit that is designated for use on a person (s) who has suffered a traumatic injury.
- Take the time now to gather medical books and get training as a resource to assist in properly treating traumatic injuries. If nothing else, take a basic first aid and CPR class.
If all you have is the basics, you can do more than if you know nothing. Like I was always trained…
“Air goes in and out. Blood goes round and round. If nothing else, make sure that the air goes in and out and the blood continues to go round and round.”
As long as you can do those two things, you’re on your way to saving someone’s life.
Oh yeah, don’t forget that all bleeding eventually stops. Hopefully it will be because you stopped the bleeding and not that the patient ran out of blood.
- A good way of gauging the types of medical emergencies you may have to face and what kind of treatments you should become familiar with can come from the actual emergency medical services protocol for your local area. While this may not be available to you, an internet search will produce usable results, even if it is not your local protocol. The 2009 EMS Medical Treatment Protocols from the College Station, Texas, Fire Department is a good example.
- When talking about medicine it is important to know that while technologies and the preferred standard of practice are always changing, the basics are usually the same or very similar. If it is not your line of work, keeping up with the most recent medicine can be exhausting and difficult. Learn the basics and do those well before seeking out anything advanced.
In all reality, if there is a disaster and the hospital is not staffed, understaffed, or full we will all be in trouble over the long term but there
In a society without 9-1-1, here are some things that you should be prepared to do for yourself instead of relying on the local emergency room or hospital:
- Remove that splinter from your big toe yourself.
- Ensure that you have another medical kit in addition to your first aid kit or trauma kit that is geared specifically toward illness and disease. Having such a kit with basic medications, a thermometer, tongue depressors, an otoscope, etc. will make things easier by not carrying unnecessary items around in your trauma kit but will also result in having to dig through fewer things when trying to treat an illness or disease. Don’t forget some antibiotics for your pets while you’re at it!
- Find a doctor or healthcare provider who lives in your area and might be available to help if there is a serious illness and other medical treatment is not available.
- Obtain medical and dental (don’t forget veterinary if you have animals) books and journals now that can be a resource for all times really but especially if you find yourself on your own. (My all-time favorite medical book is Wilderness Medicine by Dr. Paul S. Auerbach that tackles the treatment of a wide variety of injuries and illness.) If you can, seek out basic medical training on how to deal with medical situations. If pregnant ladies are around, it is always nice to know how to deliver a baby if you cannot send them off to the hospital!
- Make sure that if you have the written resources that you have the supplies as well and vice versa. Having the knowledge without the ability to actually treat an illness is just as bad as having medical supplies but no knowledge to rely on to be able to put the medical supplies to use.
- Plan to have a “quarantine area” available in your home if the need should arise to house a sick person for an extended amount of time. This means having the supplies to keep this person separate from others while also having the supplies to protect the caretakers from contracting an illness (lots of gloves, soap, bleach, hand sanitizer and possibly even gowns and masks).
- As morbid as it sounds, you will need to have a plan to dispose of anyone who does not make it. One of the single biggest problems that has wiped out large portions of the population from illness and disease in history is poor sanitation. This includes the bodies of the dead.
Plan to dispose of them deep in the ground and well covered or burn them. If you plan to bury the dead, remember to do so in a place that is far away from any food or water source of yours or your animals. If you plan to burn a body, keep in mind that it takes a lot of fuel (propane, gasoline, wood, etc.) to properly burn a human body or animal carcass.
(Somewhat off topic but a good thing to think about.)
The main thing that drives a response from emergency services is a phone call. It doesn’t matter whether it is you or someone else, without a phone call the chances of a policeman, fireman or paramedic driving by are greatly minimized.
But technology has changed and not everyone has a landline. Not to mention that those things we used to call pay phones are practically non-existent. (Except in Hawaii. For some reason there are pay phones in many places still in Hawaii. I always thought that was strange when I lived there. Maybe the coconuts only get limited reception.)
If you are fortunate enough to have reliable access to emergency services now and during a disaster, you will need to be able to call for this assistance. Without the ability to call to even see if someone will help, you will be stuck at the curb waiting for someone to drive by.
So what is the best answer to this technology dilemma?
Landline or Cellular Phone?
A landline is convenient and very reliable and for those reasons makes it a great emergency option. Many times when a cell phone might not work, a call can go through on a landline. With that said, a landline is fixed to a specific location and unless you have an old school phone that gets it’s power from the actual phone line, you cannot use it without a working power source.
On the flip side is a cell phone that can go anywhere and works in many places. Furthermore, even if there is limited reception or all phone circuits are busy, there is a good chance that you might be able to get text messages sent and received. And, believe it or not, you cannot send or receive text messages from an old rotary dial phone.
Another huge bonus to having a cell phone is that the phone itself can assist you during an emergency. Earlier this year a mother in Australia used the ‘Hey Siri’ feature on her iPhone to call 9-1-1 while trying to simultaneously save her baby daughter’s life. Having these phone features, and being familiar with them of course, can be a great advantage and should be used to such if calling for help (regardless of whether it is emergency services, family, a friend, neighbor, etc.).
Regardless of which form of communication you decide is best for you, it is invaluable to be prepared to deal with a lack of emergency services in the event that you call for help but no one answers.
It is obvious that it is impossible to cover all the potential issues, plans and contingencies here in one article (if you can even find or think of them all) but I hope that this will at least serve as a primer to get you thinking about a part of our lives that we take for granted in modern society.
Think about the September 11, 2001, scenario I mentioned above and ask yourself, “What would I do if I had to take care of myself and my loved ones without any emergency services?”
— Tom Miller
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