general safety stuff

How to think about Disaster like a Professional

Makesafe StaffJul 12, '23

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, a chef could have a disaster in the kitchen because the cake didn't rise and the client is at the door. Disaster is relative, and just means "bad."

An Event however, is something to plan against. It means something unplanned, large or small (a car breaking down is an unplanned event, so is a text from an old friend). Here's why you want to think differently about Events.

A good readiness professional will think about the cake having "unplanned results" 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." This allows us to put all bad results into a single box called "Event" and plan. Instead of saying "ok, maybe the oven didn't work, or maybe a bear gets into the kitchen, or a meteor hits", all our planning is simply "cake fail, no cake" - a cake Event.

This lets us put the focus on our response to an Event, rather than get bogged down in a thousand "rabbit holes" of how the cake goes bad. We are solution oriented instead of problem oriented.

So your family 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 unplanned Events you can imagine, using tools (food, water, crowbars, etc.) that meet the specific needs of your family.


Event Analysis as a Family

Ok, so what is a general Event analysis and Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that your family can embrace right now? Well first we sort our possible events:

Good vs Bad
We don't care about unplanned Good Events - they're happy. An unexpected check in the mail, a refund on a bill - all good. No worries. So our first focus is that we are going to plan against Bad Events (Unplanned Negative Instances to use the jargon of the day).
Large vs Small
Large/Small is a relative term when it comes to family. In some corporate response plans, we will care whether a given tank is leaking at 1 gallon an hour or 100 gallons an hour - but in family situations - the scale is more subjective.
Generally, good advice is that you consider Small to represent things you know you can handle right now, and Large represents things that our outside of your control. Again - you don't have to go down into the monster rabbit holes, keep it general. Helicopters crashing on your roof, alien invasion ... the options for "Large Unplanned Negative Instances" is basically limitless - so just call it "Big and Bad."
Short or Long Term
Again - a relative idea for a family (in business, we will care about how many hours the gallons are leaking and actually attach what are called "SLAs" to those Events - Service Level Agreements. Vendors will have responsibility to handle different size and time ranges or pay penalties to the customers).
For families, since time is constant (a day is always shorter than a week), you want to determine how long you are willing to endure an adverse situation before leaving for better places. Usually, a family will be considering evacuating if they have endured an adverse situation for 3-5 days. So let's call 5 days (or your preference) the cutoff point, anything shorter than 5 days is "short" and anything longer than 5 days is "long."

Plan for Short and Long Term Adverse Events

So there we have it, we don't care if it's a Playdoh factory explosion on the other side of town, or an earthquake, or a drought - we care that we are now looking at having a Response Plan (in business parlance, an ERP - Emergency Response Plan) for two general types of Event: Short Term Negative Large Scale Event, and Long Term Large Scale Negative Event.

Professional Advice

Generally speaking, for you and your family, for the most part, you don't care what kind of Event might strike, you care about 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 if you have plans for Long/Short Term Large Scale Events, you really can just clear your head by recognizing that the main concern is what do you do when the grids fail.

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)


Generally speaking, you now understand that you are concerned about Large Scale unplanned adverse Events that could impact your family. You care about how long you have to endure those Events, and what resources you have in hand to handle them.

Look at our site. Buy whatever you need (food/water/warmth/etc.) to be able to Shelter in Place for the duration of your "Short Term tolerance", this can include making sure your house has enough backup food, that you know how to get water, and that you generally are safe in your home during a time of grid failure and limited unrest.

Get enough kits (or copy ours and make your own, that's fine) so your family can evacuate on foot, either in response to command from authorities, or because you have reached your Short/Long Term tolerance threshold.

Yes, this is a website - so our one plug is that our kits (see our homepage) have enough in them to get you to safety for 24 hours - so one kit per family member, or per adult with extra parts for kids added, will be enough to keep you safe.

We hope this helps - readiness is not complicated - it's just a process of thinking from the general problem to the specific solution, which is not the way people think. Now you know - stay safe!