But What If Nothing Happens?

I was in Boston this weekend visiting my sister, so didn't have a chance to reprise my Irene prep post or any of the other approximately two billion (ok, maybe a slight exaggeration) posts I've made over the years about how to prepare for a natural disaster, but I'm still getting emails from people in the dark or by the water talking about how their preps fared, and how they are doing.  It is one of the most rewarding things about what I do - hearing that others are warm, fed and safe in part because they took my advice.  For us, it was a matter of putting our preps into place and then nothing happening - which is a natural and expected part of preparedness - even more the norm

The storm was minor here, which was a relief - our area is still recovering from the twin disasters only last year of Irene and Lee.  Frankly, another similar disaster so soon after the storm would have been possibly beyond recovery for many of the worst hit towns around here.   We prepped (like mad at my house, since I didn't get home from Boston until Sunday evening), moving wood in, getting our water stocks high (no power = no running water here, although we can haul from the cistern), and making sure everything and everyone was clean (I want to go into an extended power outage with clean hair, clean children, no dishes and no laundry - these seem trivial but they are big quality of life issues).

We also had some other preps to do - the kids' big worry was what would happen if they couldn't trick or treat with their friends, so we made plans for host a power-out spooky Halloween party at our house for the kids in our neighborhood if we couldn't get out (otherwise kids mostly go to other neighborhoods, since our rural area is terrible for trick or treating - too few houses, no sidewalks, dark streets, etc...).  Asher's 7th birthday arrived with the storm on Monday, and we celebrated with board games, jack-o-lantern carving and a family dance party.  His birthday gift, his own shofar (a traditional Jewish wind instrument made from an animal horn that makes a really loud noise, and yes, that's what he wanted!) prompted me to say "Ok, yes, it is a hurricane, but you still have to blow it OUTSIDE" which goes in the parental lexicon along with "I'd really prefer you hit each other somewhere else" and "No, you may not bury your brother in the lego bin."

All this is lighthearted, but as we all know, the storm was not a light matter for many people.  We are still waiting to hear about some of Eric's extended family in the worst storm-affected areas, particular distant relatives in Queens.  Phil-the-Housemate will be headed downstate with the relief effort this weekend, taking my spare stash of baby formula to shelters in need.   The number of deaths and losses is appalling.

As is always the case, there are always those who prepared and didn't need their preparations, and those who didn't prepare and did.  People take different lessons from these experiences.  Already, and only a year after Irene and Lee destroyed whole communities in my region, I hear people saying "Well, everyone was off school and nothing happened, it was overstated, people shouldn't over-react next time."  The correct reaction, of course is "we were damned lucky and chose the right course in preparing" but it is human nature to resent additional effort.  Indeed, a friend who is an emergency planner for New York city tells me that it was harder this time to make some of the preparations in the city precisely because New York was largely spared in Irene last year - everyone remembered that last time the bridges and subways were closed for no reason, and he suggested this is probably why they waited so long to close the bridges.

As climate change alters the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, we are going to have to change our basic response, which is often to minimize and deny.  and avoid the inconvenience of preparation.  As my colleague at Class M points out "Think about that. Storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often."   If once a real disaster came one time in twenty, now we are talking about one in three or five or seven.

 I've written many times about why it is we are so reluctant to prepare and use the precautionary principle.  In many cases, I think it is because our sense is that preparing for disaster might bring it upon us, in others because we've had an experience where effort was wasted.  But such efforts are NOT wasted - preparing once, even if the disaster doesn't strike, gives you the experience of preparation - next time you will know what to do and do it more easily - if only you can take the right lesson from this.  The odds are good that next time, or the time after that or the one after that, you'll be sorry if you aren't prepared.

The message of "I prepared and nothing happened" is not "I wasted my time and resources" as our culture so often tells us.   Instead, it is  "I was ready.  I was ready to care for myself, ready to step up and aid others.  I did all I could to avoid being a victim and thus endangering others (rescue workers) and placing demands on what could have been a strapped emergency system.  I stepped up, so that those who cannot step up due to poverty, lack of a home, disability, age, ill-health can be protected."

If you were in Sandy's path and are struggling now, I wish you much aid, a quick recovery and good hope.   If you prepared and nothing happened, be proud of yourself, and remember, someday something will happen - few lifetimes pass without something happening.  Preparation is not wasted effort, it should be a point of pride.



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Yeah, we prepped and Sandy wasn't too bad in our area--so now we have plenty of wood inside, the lawn furniture is put away earlier than usual, and the oil lamps and flashlights are all set in case someone skids into a pole and takes down the power for a while. Plus we have several loaves of bread in the freezer thanks to baking in advance "just in case." We win, as far as I'm concerned.

People in a power outage are emailing you?
That's devoted!

I've lived in Florida most of my life. I've seen devastation brought on by hurricanes and I've seen people unprepared because we went a few years without bad storms, so they thought the preparation wasn't worth it. I'm seeing friends from NY who were not affected lamenting their decisions to prepare for this storm (on facebook). I think this year for Christmas, I will give away books like yours and Kathy's, and prep starter kits.

By Sandra Wilson (not verified) on 01 Nov 2012 #permalink


" why it is we are so reluctant to prepare and use the precautionary principle"

I think that one aspect of this is to accept the awareness of entropy; merely continuing to do our best to maintain the "business as usual" of the average daily routine, is winning. Keeping fed, keeping the job rolling, keeping the school work up is a signal effort to resist decay, chaos, and insecurity.

Preparation is a response to a significant, life-changing event. Like reactions and recovery, the efforts and goals often compromise the daily routine. Preparation, being a response to a (real or imagined) possible event is less easily recognized by those around us, so we often lack the group consensus that reassures us we are headed in a reasonable (right or wrong) direction.

Preparation, being based on a message or perceived problem, also suffers from lack of consensus about the nature of the possible problem, lack of consensus about the gravity of the possible problem, and lack of consensus about appropriate response to the possible problem.

The approach that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, takes simplifies a lot of that: Keep a year's supply of food in the house. Your writings, urgings, information, and experiences help reduce the cloud of varied perceptions for many people, and your recommendations help organize the possible responses (from ignore it until needed, through community based resilience planning).

Blessed be!

Just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you. Not just for all the amazing prep info, but for helping me to see my entire life differently. I look at my marriage(and life as a whole) in a new, more positive light since finding you.

P.S. Having all the laundry done before the power goes out, really is priceless, best advice ever.

We were so blessed - nothing big hit the house!

No electricity, but we have a means of drawing good water and keeping warm and cooking. The roads are passable.

Your good advice, thought experiments and perspective accompany me as we live in post-storm mode. We were prepared for worse and I know we could do better next time.

Indeed, laundry, dishes and showers before the storm take a burden off the other side of it.

Routines shift, and timing chores with daylight helps.


Yay! Good to hear from you, and glad it missed. I also have a friend in Queens I haven't heard from yet.

Yes, the repeated disasters will take some getting used to. We got hit directly by a tornado last year; and there are still places on the farm where we can't go, for the tangled down trees. Just a couple weeks ago got our road access to the main root cellar open; we'd lived without it a full year- a real burden.

Some progress though- Bloomberg endorsing Obama- for climate change- that's different.

We are in the dark thanks to sandy....but have a generator and our home. Haven't lost the fridge or freezer and can flush and wash and see. Will be restocking on tea lights and buying some led ones (for bathrooms w/o windows at bedtime) plent of food stored so consider ourselves very lucky. But we do prepare for these things, rather than fancy meals out or lots of vacations. Reading here has helped lots!

By Ct daffodil (not verified) on 01 Nov 2012 #permalink

"Having all the laundry done before the power goes out, really is priceless, best advice ever."

Better advice: don't use a tumble dryer to dry your clothes. Hang out to dry and stick in your front room (and any other room that is normally heated).

It was a little surreal here. I was almost directly in the path of Sandy, but a couple hundred miles after landfall, so while we've had one of the rainiest weeks in recent memory, here this wasn't even the most damaging storm this year.

By John D Wheeler (not verified) on 01 Nov 2012 #permalink

I lived on farms either just outside of Houston (3 years) or in NW AR (25 years). The farm in AR was hard to get into or out of in high water events or winter storm events.

I learned to keep at least a month's worth of food and other necessities for people and//or stock on hand, just in case. It isn't that hard if you buy an extra can or three of the basics every time you grocery shop. In AR I also kept a good supply of wood in winter and made sure the propane tank was at least half full (a 500 gal tank so 250 goes a long way). The cookstove and water heater were propane fired so loss of electricity was not a huge problem. And you do learn to do chores inside during daylight hours. Eventually I got all the birthing seasons rearranged to occur in more moderate weather months...that was a huge help.

Shutting off all the water lines to toilets and sinks except for one hot line in the kitchen allowed precise use of the water in the water heater before I started depleting the water in the pressure tank (very useful when the electricity was off since I couldn't pump water then). I had a 2inch water supply line from the well to the house about 100 feet long. That stores a lot of water, particularly if one is frugal.

I really never felt deprived all that much the times I had to do these adaptation things...it was more or less expected that at least twice a year, once in warm months and at least once in cold months, it would be very useful to be ready.

Like the old timers, you learn to work in daylight hours and sleep in the dark hours...it isn't really that bad...just different. Even now that I live in town I still do the food thing and have a gas cookstove and heater (the non vented no electricity required type). And lots of winter clothes and blankets. It helps to have a bit of experience as well.

By Luane Todd (not verified) on 03 Nov 2012 #permalink

We were lucky, only lost our power for 19 hours. I had put many bottles of water in my freestanding freezer so I did not loose any food. We had enough warning to be prepared but I still found some holes in my prep. Reading your blog and Kathy Harrison has really helped me to organize and get ready for unsettled times ahead. Still much to learn, thanks for all you do to help with that!

By Karen from CT (not verified) on 03 Nov 2012 #permalink

One item that might not be thought of, ensure that you have low flow toilets instead of the old 5.2 gal ones. Then you can go a lot farther on a tank of water, plus they save when you have power as well.

"As climate change alters the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, we are going to have to change our basic response, which is often to minimize and deny."

There is, of course, no truth whatsoever to the claim that the frequency or intensity of natural disasters is measurably increasing. Every pseudo-environmentalist knows this and every remotely honest one admits it.

Perhaps we should change our basic response to ecofascism by legally requiring them to repay all the costs of the false scare stories they have produced over the decades. If it is criminal to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre where, at most, it might kill dozens, what would be the preportionate punishment for shouting "stop DDT" and deliberately killing 85 million? Are there any circumstances under which it would be proper to believe a single word said by anybody in the pseudo-environmentalist movement after that genocide?

Answers awaited. Lets see if ot is possible for any pseudo-emvironmentalist to answer in a way that is factual rather than gratuitous rudeness and obscenity.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 05 Nov 2012 #permalink

Our main worry is being hit by a neighbor's tree(s). We agreed with the folks across the street that we would decamp to one another's house in the event of a hit. My husband groused through Sunday as I needed his help to pack a bin with the important papers, spare set of warm, dry clothes, meds, and dog stuff sufficient for a few days. He maintained that I was overreacting or tempting fate. I maintained that preparedness neither attracts nor deflects bad events, it's just smart.
After his walkabout late Tuesday, he said that he supposed Alex wished Lisa had packed an emergency tub. Their house--a hundred yards from ours--was hit.

By Mary in Maryland (not verified) on 05 Nov 2012 #permalink

"There is, of course, no truth whatsoever to the claim that the frequency or intensity of natural disasters is measurably increasing."

Ah, where would life be without Whiner-boy here talking complete arse?

Irene. One-in-a-lifetime event.
Two years later..?

"...deliberately killing 85 million"

Hasn't happened Neil. It has been repeatedly pointed out to you that there is no substance to this assertion. Every decent person here knows it is false, and wonders why you continue to repeat it.

Seriously, Sharon. Would you allow a Holocaust denier to post continually here? It's not harmless.

We will see Neil.

I think we are coming to the time very soon when insurers simply won't cover certain kinds of things such as building in certain coastal areas. Then it really won't matter what anybody else says about the new climate because insurance or lack thereof controls so many business decisions of others.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 06 Nov 2012 #permalink

Dean you have proven yourself to be a holocaust denying Nazi. Your contenmtion that those malaria deaths did not take place is obviously and provably a lie.

Wow remains a disgusting obscene animal from whom every decent human being has dissociated themselves. That would even apply to his mother, with her porcine proclivities.

Greenpa, with Dean's latest it becomes clear that she does. Would you dissociate yourself from a holocaust denier? Not so far anyway - but then that is hardly unexpected for any eco-fascist..

Stephen, you think this unprecedented thing will happen. I don't. It would be interesting if you would specify a time period and amount of the wager but in any case it isn't evidence until it actually happens.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 08 Nov 2012 #permalink

So Sharon- if my weather map speaks true, you're getting snow on the ground there- how are you doing?

During Sandy, we had a day here on the farm where it was beautiful blue sky, all day- but we could just look east; and see- all day- the cloudbanks generated by Sandy; over Wisconsin; the extreme limit of that storm's penetration into the continent.

Whiner is back after his stint stuffing ballot boxes in the USA...

With nothing new to say other than more bollocks.


Dean you have proven yourself to be a holocaust denying Nazi. Your contenmtion that those malaria deaths did not take place is obviously and provably a lie.

Neil, you still haven't answered the accusation that you killed those 85 million people yourself, with your bare hands, and are cravenly trying to frame Rachel Carson. Until you are acquitted of all charges, no one will believe you're not the re-incarnation of Genghis Khan.

Nor have you produced your birth certificate yet. Long form! Original only, no copies!

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 09 Nov 2012 #permalink

And the release of all his university identification, including enrolment forms, TO YOUR SATISFACTION.

If he does, so there is a cheque you are waiting to write to give five million pounds to a charity of his choice!

I regrwet neither Sharon nor anybody on "scienceblogs" possesses or indeed anywhere in the eco-Nazi movement enough hoonesty or human decency to regard "pig-fucker" as representinmg anything other than the highest standard of debate to the entire movement ever aspires.

Mal you are, of course, an obsc ene lying shild murdering Nazi animal. If yo have any evidence that anything you hav e ever said or that anybody in your nazi movement gas ever4 said is more than 10,000 times closer to honesty than you ever aspire to give it.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 16 Nov 2012 #permalink

See what I mean, whiner-boy?

Again with the nazi stuff.

Look, just because you've got a nice brown shirt and a black armband and think you look cute in a pair of shorts and you KNOW that this is wrong and perverted, this doesn't mean you can just pretend everyone else does it to salve your conscience.

Warming trend is even now more than 1.7C per doubling of CO2. And that's with a cooling sun reducing it.


Mal you are, of course, an obsc ene lying shild murdering Nazi animal. If yo have any evidence that anything you hav e ever said or that anybody in your nazi movement gas ever4 said is more than 10,000 times closer to honesty than you ever aspire to give it.

I'm afraid you're not coming through clearly here; your typing seems to be deteriorating. That's OK, I'm sure it's nothing you haven't said before.

Still waiting for the birf-surfer-ticket.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 16 Nov 2012 #permalink