29 August 2011

To be better prepared, use your apocalypse eyes

As I've traveled the road of self-reliance, I've studied a lot of books and manuals on emergency preparedness. One of the most surprising, but useful, ideas that I've come across is the concept of seeing the world through "apocalypse eyes."

I found this concept in Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss. He mentions it early in the book:
I've begun to look at the world through apocalypse eyes.
It usually begins in airports. That's when I get the first portent of doom. I imagine explosions, walls blown apart, bodies ripped from life.
The idea is that, periodically, he suddenly is aware of what things would be like if a terrorist attack occurred, or some natural disaster struck. He vividly imagines the carnage and the chaos.

After reading this passage, I too began to look at my world through apocalypse eyes. As such, my day-to-day existence is occasionally punctuated by flashes of disaster.

Walking from the car into the store, I wonder, what if "it" happened right now? Suppose there was a faint flash in the sky over my shoulder, and suddenly everything goes silent. I look down, and my cell phone is dead. Other cars in the parking lot falter and coast to a stop, some bumping into one another. I glance at the store ahead. It's dark. The doors stand shut, while confused and angry people wonder why they don't open. Since I've read up on this kind of event, it's pretty likely to me that we've suffered an EMP attack.

Then I blink, and everything's back to normal, just like Strauss mentioned in his book. Still, the feeling lasts a while. As I continue walking, I consider what I would have done if the EMP had really happened. What would I do? My car would very likely be useless. What would I do? How far is it to home, and (relative) safety? What resources do I have with me right now to help with such a journey? Am I as prepared as I can be?

Of course, I'm not stuck on an EMP attack... the catastrophe varies in each vision, as does the location that triggers my imagination. I suppose that going to public places makes me consider terrorist attacks or natural disasters a bit more, whereas I think more about storms and other severe weather around home. Still, I try to consider a wide variety of emergencies in all of the places I go and envision the destruction, all the while trying to figure out what would I really do?

Strauss continues on the next page:
That's how the world looks through apocalypse eyes. You start filling in the blanks between a thriving city and a devasted one. You imagine how it could happen, what it would look like, and whether you and the people you love could escape. 
Of course I don't want it to happen. Hopefully it never will happen. But for the first time in my life, I feel there's a possibility it will. And that's enough to motivate me. To motivate me to save myself and my loved ones while there's still time.
Like Strauss, I don't want it to happen. What's more, I don't go around with these morose and distressing visions for every waking moment. Not at all. That would be a sure-fire recipe for anxiety problems and related health issues.

Instead, I often consider such things only after I've read (or written) something related to catastrophic events. Even then, it occurs to me briefly, I quickly run through the scenario, and then make note of anything I feel compelled to change in my preparedness planning. After that, I don't dwell on it.

While I'm considering the vision, I think about things like:
  • Would I be stranded?
  • What's the best course of action?
  • If I need to leave, do I know where would I need to go?
  • How would I get there?
  • Where would my family be?
  • Would they (or I) be in immediate danger?
  • Does my family know where to go?
  • Can they get there?
And then, I think things like: What can I do to mitigate any (or all) of those things? What can I add to my car's emergency kit to help in such an emergency? And so on.

Using my apocalypse eyes enables me to be better prepared, and helps me think of ways to improve my family's preparedness plans.

Now that you've read this, give your apocalypse eyes a test run. Right now, stop and imagine that a disaster has just happened (whatever one first comes to mind). What would you do?

If you're reading this at home, you may feel pretty secure, especially if you have a reasonable level of supplies stocked up. But, what if you're reading this at work? Or, on a mobile phone in a restaurant? Now what would you do?

Remember, the goal here isn't to make you afraid. Sure, you might be startled or a bit scared at first, but it's just your imagination (for now). Instead, use that tension to motivate you to figure out how you can be better prepared, and then make the change!

PS: I highly recommend Neil Strauss' book Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life. It's a good, fast read, and comes at the idea of survival and preparedness from a different perspective than many other books on those topics.

PPS: If you're interested in reading a related interview with Neil Strauss, check out Christal Smith's article Seeing the World Through "Apocalypse Eyes".


  1. I do this more than I should. It does take an emotional and mental toll though.

  2. Thanks for the comment! That's an easy trap to fall into, Todd. As with most things, it's important to find some balance. Like I mentioned in the post, it is valuable for us to consider the possibility of disaster, but not to dwell on it, if at all possible.

  3. So that's what it's called. Hmm. I thought I was losing my mind! i don't feel quite so crazy now. Thank you. It's good advice, you're right. Everyone who starts prepping should do this. This is why I don't take elevators, live above the fourth floor or fly anymore.

  4. Thanks for the note, Carolyn! I agree, once you look at situations this way, it can (and should) alter you actions, just as you noted.