general safety stuff

How to think about Disaster

Makesafe StaffNov 21, '22

Events, not Disasters

In the Readiness profession, we don't talk about disaster as much as we talk about Events. We do this because it helps us separate the solution planning from the problem type.

To us, a disaster is when everything goes wrong, you could have a disaster in the kitchen because your cake didn't rise and your mother in law is at the door. Disaster is relative, and just means "bad."

An event however, is something to plan against. It just means when something unplanned happens, large or small. A good readiness professional will think about the cake "not working" and plan for that - we don't think about the cake rising, or the ingredients having gone bad, or the oven not working, we just plan against "cake not successful."

Simply put, we focus more on our response to an event, than the nature of the event itself. We are solution oriented instead of problem oriented.

So your model for readiness should be general about problems and specific about solutions. The goal is to have a good set of plans in place to handle the broadest set of Events you can imagine, using tools (food, water, crowbars, etc.) that meet the specific needs of your family.

Grid Failure

Ok, so what is a general Event analysis and Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that you can embrace right now?

The simple reality for you and your family is that, for the most part, you don't care what kind of event might strike. What you care about is grid failure.

Grid failure is when an earthquake, hurricane, wildfire, alien invasion or other large Event takes out your primary service grids - namely power, water, sanitation, communications, and roads.

So to define our problem we just have to consider a plan for how your family will handle grid failure.

Shelter in place (SIP) or Evacuation (EVAC)

Once grid failure of any kind occurs, you will be forced to answer how long you are willing or capable of enduring without that grid. When you do that by staying home, it's called Sheltering in Place. When you do it by leaving, it's called Evacuation. These are your two basic options for Emergency Response.

First, assess your SIP response to electrical failure

When the power drops, our first instinct usually will be to roll our eyes, wonder why we live here, and wait. This, in a nutshell, is likely your existing plan for "Sheltering in Place."

Now ask yourself, how long can you SIP without power? A day? Two days? Do you have a loved one who needs electricity for health reasons? A week? Only you can decide - but this timeline is your minimum Emergency Response Plan, congratulations, you are now aware of your default response!

In general, we observe that the average family is comfortable sheltering in place for 3 days, but will begin to consider options by day 4 and will need to leave by the end of the first week.

Second, consider all the other grids

Life gets more difficult quickly if you don't have water, or the sewers back up (sanitation), or even if your phone no longer works. All these services will accelerate your desire to switch from SIP to Evacuation (EVAC).

Water is a basic need of life - you must have 2 liters of water every day in order to survive indefinitely. You can operate on less for short periods of time, but going days with a shortfall is not sustainable. Given that, if you intend to have an SIP plan that can handle water grid failure (e.g. flooding, earthquake, or any other Event that interrupts or pollutes the water supply) you will need to have water on hand. Rather than going into deep detail about that right now, let's just say that water grid failure will make you want to evac sooner than later.

Communications grid failure is not a basic need of life - you can sit in a darkened cave indefinitely without your phone as long as you have food and water in good supply, e.g. But the reality is that, in this day and age, a drop in communications (comms) will make you feel isolated, and also accelerate your sense that you need to escape and reconnect with the world.

Sanitation is a very important external driver to when you should evacuate. Global flooding isn't fresh running water, it's an epic overload of everything that keeps water clean. Sewers backing up, flooded septic, toilets that don't flush - these are potential health hazards you should take into account if you are in a flood-vulnerable area. A decent backup is a bucket with sanitary waste bags (basically bags that have that blue gel you find in port-a-potties) and a snap on seat. These items can give you weeks of waste management, if you are forced to shelter in place without sanitation.

 Roads are critical to evac, obviously. But all the really means is that if you expect roads might be a problem (e.g. you live in a remote area) you might have to calculate your evac as a walking evac. That's the baseline evac solution and we will cover how to calculate all that in another article. (Basically, figure out how many miles you can walk in a day - perhaps as much as 8-10 - and multiply that by two; this is the radius distance you need to find an alternative shelter or reload station as you walk to safety)


Ok - so that's a lot of theory, but the point is that you are much closer to an answer of what you need for yourself and loved ones.


  • Think about grid failure, not every "bad thing" that can happen to you
  • Decide how long you can stay at home without each type of grid
  • Figure out what you need to walk out of your home to safety
  • Begin to develop a Shelter in Place plan and an evac plan