29 September 2011

Prep30: Don't confuse preparedness with paranoia

As we approach the end of September and National Preparedness Month, we'll close out this initial Prep30 series of posts with a couple of posts intended to help you transition from simply thinking about preparedness in terms of emergency kits and food storage to instead working on being more prepared in all aspects of your life.

For this first post, let's clear up a common misperception about being prepared: Being prepared does not mean that you're a paranoid nutjob, no matter what some people might say.

Whenever the topic of prepping comes up, people typically fall into two categories. The first are those who have suffered through some kind of "awakening" event (a natural disaster, job loss, car accident, civil unrest, etc.), and recognize how fragile the modern lifestyle really is. Most of these people become preppers to some degree, even if it's just being prepared in a certain part of their life.

The other category of people are typically those who have been "fortunate" enough to have not experienced such an awakening. Some may have experienced something (a relatively short power outage, for instance), but it was likely seen as just a momentary inconvenience; they didn't make the mental extrapolation to realize, "Hey! This could easily go on for a long time! Then what would I do?"

Worse yet are the naysayers, those who consider the potential disasters (or other life-altering events) in abstract, and believe that they are just not that likely. These are the folks who casually toss out the "paranoid" label for anyone who considers — even for a second — the fact that something truly catastrophic might happen.

These same people have probably not ever considered the interconnected web of infrastructure that our modern civilization resides within. Consider how much we depend upon others every day for a typical morning routine:

We wake to an alarm clock. Turn on a light. Go to the bathroom. Make and eat a breakfast of cereal, sausage, eggs, coffee, and orange juice. Shower, etc. Get dressed. Finally, go to work, whether by car or public transportation.

Looks pretty simple, and the person did everything themselves, right? They even made their own coffee, rather than stopping at Starbucks!

Look again. This person uses water from a tap, which provides clean water that's treated and processed by a local government agency. The food they eat is all store-bought, meaning that someone else grew, collected, processed, packaged, and delivered that food to the local store... sometimes from thousands of miles away in the case of coffee or some fruit.

It doesn't stop there, of course. Virtually all of these morning activities relied upon electricity, whether it was the alarm and light, or a water heater, to the kitchen appliances for cooking breakfast. Likewise, there's a big reliance on petroleum products too, considering the transportation of the food and other goods to the store, as well as the gas and oil for their car or the public transportation they're using. And none of this considers the other elements of infrastructure, from fire and police protection to sewer and trash handling and processing.

In short, most people don't farm or hunt our food, harvest our own water, develop our own energy, process our own waste, and protect our own property. Most people are dependent on the infrastructure for these things. However, major natural disasters or other long emergencies can (and do) interrupt these services, frequently leading to confusion, panic, crime, violence, and even death.

Do you want to just accept whatever help, support, or lifestyle that others can/will provide in an emergency? Or, would you rather have the peace of mind of knowing that you have the supplies, knowledge, and abilities to fend for yourself for at least a short time? If you prefer the latter, then preparedness is the answer.

Preparedness simply means taking the responsibility for producing some portion(s) of this infrastructure for yourself: becoming your own store, police, power plant, transportation, etc. — at least for some period of time. This can range from being set with a 72-hour evac kit to someone who has a year's worth of groceries, money, and other supplies set aside, and even to those hardy souls that live off-grid and buy only the few things they simply can't make for themselves.

Said another way, your preparedness is like insurance. There are many types of insurance available, each allowing you to take some responsibility for that aspect of your life. Likewise, having preparedness plans and supplies in place enable you to better weather a storm (literally or figuratively) in whichever areas you're prepared.

That said, it is possible to get carried away with prepping. When the need to store supplies crosses into full-bore hoarding, or when you live in the grips of constant fear and worry of impending doom, you may be flirting with real paranoia.

Below is an analogy from John Ross' article, Thoughts on Preparation vs Paranoia Among CCW Holders. While it was geared toward firearms, carrying a gun is a form of preparedness, and so this illustrates the prepared/paranoid difference nicely:
Case in point: Seat belts. People with a million miles of experience that have never needed a seat belt still wear them every time they get in the car because they only take one second to put on. Why not have the protection if the inconvenience is only two seconds per trip?
Conversely, if you were to don a helmet, firesuit, and Nomex gloves EVERY time you drove somewhere, and you drove the same places I do, I would call that paranoid. If you drive in Formula One races, I'd call it the only sensible thing to do.
So, a basic level of preparedness, like having a 72-hour evac kit and some food storage, takes little time, but the payoff is huge in an emergency. So, that's not paranoid.

So, how do you tell what's reasonable and what's paranoid? Well, similar to addiction, a good gauge is whether your behavior and actions are causing serious negative consequences to your physical, mental, social, and/or financial well-being.

If you're sick with worry, not thinking clearly because of stress, are increasingly isolated from your friends and loved ones, or spending all of your money (or racking up debt) due to your prepping, then you probably need to talk to someone about getting some help.

If your preparations are not causing these kinds of concerns, and your close family and/or friends agree, then there shouldn't be an issue.

But, notice: in the analogy, even the behavior that's "abnormal" in one situation may not be in another more-extreme situation. As such, it may make sense to ramp up your preparations in some cases.

For example, if your job industry were facing a severe downturn, perhaps driven by a change in technology, then going into "austerity mode" for your budget is a reasonable way to prepare.

Similarly, suppose the economy is doing poorly, and there's a very real chance for major economic problems in the future. (Like now?) In that case, stepping up your prepping to a point where you are far more self-reliant in all areas of your life is far more logical. Indeed, it may become a necessity.

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