Thursday, January 26, 2012

Story Driven vs. Risk Driven Preparedness

For Many Survivalist and Preppers fictional stories are an important part of preparing for potential disasters; this article will take a quick look at these stories and suggest an alternative approach.

The End Of The World As We Know It
The World as We Know it is about to come to an end. The true reason for this can vary (economical, political, terrorism, Peak Oil, EMP etc) but the imagined end is the same. The End will come fast, very fast. It’s likely that we will experience and enormous amount of civil disturbance and violence. Everything that we have become accustomed too is likely to disappear. The Question is not if this will happen. The question is When it will happen. The signs are all around us. The state of the economy, Peak Oil, Global Warming, International Tensions, Terrorism and much more. The World System is like a House of Cards, it will only take a push and it will all come crashing down.

It’s important to stockpile food, water, weapons and ammunition. Those how haven’t will try to take what they need from those how have prepared. These “Raiders” will attack everything and everyone. Therefore it’s critical to maintain what you have an absolute secret. This is often referred to as OPSEC; if no one knows what you have they can’t steal it.

This type of Storytelling that we can see within the Prepper and Survivalist is not something that is shared by everyone, but it is relatively common. This type of stories is represented in fictional literature like James Wesley Rawles book “Patriots” and William Forstchens “One Second After” but can also be found in Hollywood movies. There are some common parts; The Belief that The World As We Know It Will Come To An End, That it will take place soon and That it can’t be stopped.

Risk Oriented Preparedness
All people face different types of Risks and Threats depending on their location. This is both affected by the Geographical location that affects what type of Natural Disasters like Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Hurricanes and Tornadoes that might affect the individual. But the location is also critical for other type of potential hazards related to human activities like Human Conflict, Terrorism and Failing Technical Systems.

A Risk Assessment is a structured tool to help you create a good understanding of Risks you face but it can also create a situation of false security. It’s important that you also understand what type of events that you don’t regard as threats and why you don’t believe that this type of events poses a threat. It’s also important to realize that everyone has Blind Spots; Potential Risks that we are unaware of. There are also events that are not anticipated by almost anyone; these types of events are often referred to as Black Swans after the concept introduced by Taleb Nassim.

Building Your Capacity To Deal With Emergencies
Having the ability to Cope with Disasters not only as possessing the right tools but also having the experience and skills required to utilize these resources. Here Knowledge, Skills and Experience and Physical Fitness and Health are variables that can be more valuable than the equipment you own. Without training and skills a First Aid Kit is of little use and the same goes for all type of equipment – it can make a difference but you must be able to utilize this resource. Other Critical Factors are also External Factors like your Family, Social Network and other type of resources like First Responders that may assist you during an Emergency.

The World is Changing
The World is not a static place, the World is constantly changing and individuals are constantly changing as well. In a Risk Oriented Preparedness it is important to adapt to the changes both in your personal life but also when it comes to the situation around you. People get older, may change their location, their family situation can change and new political, economical and environmental challenges can appear. So instead of viewing the problem as a linear problem where you first make a analysis and then take action I suggest that you approach the subject from a cyclical perspective where you will always have to adapt to the ongoing reality. The same goes for skills, in order to maintain skills repeated training is required. Focus on potential disasters for what they truly are. Instead of approaching the subject from a One Size Fits all point of view where stockpiling supplies prepares you for every possible scenario actually analyze threats and risks for their specific consequences.

Two Approaches: An Analysis
There many examples throughout history when civilizations have Collapsed. There are also many contemporary examples when States have either Collapsed or Failed or various levels; Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, The Conflict in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are some examples. But these examples do not necessary follow the storyline imagined in fictional novels.

Many reason that if they are prepared for the absolutely worst they are also prepared for less extensive disasters like Earthquakes or Hurricanes. The Problem here is that every disaster is specific in its origin and consequences. Have a year’s worth of food do not necessary prepare you for an Earthquake; in order to prepare for this type of scenario training in First Aid, having the right Insurance and choosing a building and location that has the proper resistance may be much more important.

Disaster Preparedness is big business today. Many companies make large profits selling everything from food to flashlights, survival kits and ready to go Bug Out Bags. For many bloggers and writers making the worst predictions is a way of getting the most attention. What I want to raise in this article is that preparedness should not simply be bases upon fictional fear driven stories. You should make efforts that make sense for your personal situation and setting.

One critical factor is that the Storytelling does not welcome the idea of working together with others in the name of OPSEC. This a personal choose for everyone must make, but I personally see it as problem if people disregard the idea of working together with others based upon a fictional idea. Another critical factor is that some individuals use the SHTF / TEOTWAWKI as a Mental Model, taking any information that indicates a negative development and believes that it indicates that end is near.

In this article I have criticized some of Storytelling that often can be seen within the Survivalist and Prepper Movement. This does not mean that I do not recommend people to Prepare for Potential Disasters or Crisis Situations. The aim of The Free Online Survival Guide is to provide readers with resources so that they may enhance their own ability to deal with Crisis Situations and Disasters. This article is intended to move the Focus from the Fictional Stories that motivates many to a Perspective when you put Your own Situation, Your Own Needs and Your own Analysis in Focus.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Analyzing Risks

Two of the most popular acronyms within the Prepper and Survivalist Community are SHTF (Shit Hit The Fan) and TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). What these acronyms truly represent is a matter that varies heavily depending on how that does the classification. Some people can use SHTF as way to describe that they lost their job while other use it to describe a full scale breakdown of modern society. In this article I will take an alternative look at this subject and try to give some alternative suggestions concerning how one can approach and think about different type of Disasters and Risks. This article is also intended to be a complement to the article about Risk Assessments intended to provide a more comprehensive framework for assessing the potential impacts of various threats.

1.) The Scale
Disasters comes in all forms and sizes; from large scale natural disasters like Earthquakes that may affect tens thousands of people to smaller disasters like automobile accidents that may just involve a few people. A disaster may just involve a few persons a personal level, it may affect a local community, a region, an entire nation or it may affect the world on a global level.

2.) Consequences
Disasters may affect people in many kinds of ways; one of the obvious results is Casualties in the form of dead and wounded. Disasters can also affect the physical and mental health of those affected; and in many cases like the nuclear power plant meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima it can be very difficult to establish exactly what the long term effects for the affected will be.

Infrastructure is something that can often be affected resulting in a situation when roads, the electrical grid, gas pipes, electronic communications, water pipes and sewage maybe interrupted. This can be the case during wars and natural disasters but there are also other types of disasters like pandemics that may not affect infrastructure.

Property and Economical Loses is often a major problem when people can lose their homes, savings, businesses and jobs. People can get injured or disabled resulting in additional long term economical los.

Disasters often have Other direct consequences for politics especially in the form of blame games and assigning guilt. This can result in everything from political resignations, or new institutions like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This is just a few examples of what type of consequences a disaster can have; all disasters are unique and have their own specific effects. The result of these effects is not only the disaster itself, it is also an effect by the of buildings in case of earthquakes, topography, what economical resources that is available, the resources and training of first responders and the population density of an affected area just to name a few possible factors.

3.) The Perspective of Time
Fast or Slow Onset
Disasters are often viewed as fast dramatic events like the Haiti Earthquake or The Nuclear attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is however not the case in all types of disasters, some disasters slowly gain momentum like Famine and Starvation. Two examples of other potential slow onset threats are Peak Oil and Global Warming. Other type of threats like Hurricanes can be detected days before they strike and thereby allowing an Early Warning.

The Duration
Some disasters like Earthquakes and Tsunamis can cause an enormous amount of damage during a very short period of time and then be over. Other type of disasters like Famine or an Economical Depression may last for months, years or even decades.

For individuals this aspect can indicate how much food or water storage that may appropriate for different disasters, for organizations that work with Crisis Management this can provide an insight into to what type of endurance the organization must be able to poses in order to manage emergencies with an extended duration including aspects like the rotation of man-power and how much supplies that must be available.

4.) The Origin of the Disasters: Man-Made or Natural Disasters
One very popular way to describe disasters is to split them into two categories; Man-Made and Natural Disasters. Natural Disasters involve all type of natural phenomena like Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes, Wild Fires, Hurricanes and Tornadoes. Man-Made disasters refer to events like Human Conflict, War, Terrorism and large scale accidents and failure of technical systems. This distinction between the origins is not perfect; many researchers emphasize that the Impact of Natural Disasters is a direct consequence of building standards, population density, access to Early Warning Systems to name a few factors. This is especially clear when it comes to number of dead in high-income countries and low income countries in various disasters. Natural Disasters can also trigger the failure of Man-Made systems like case of the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant Disaster.

This article is intended to provide some support for people how want to get a better understanding of Risks and Threats they may face. In this article I have discussed some of aspects of disasters but it’s important to understand that every disaster and risks presents its own specific challenges. One Size Does Not Fit All.

After you finished your Risk Assessment and Analyzed the specific Risks it’s also important to think about what Risks that you have not included into you assessments. A Risk Assessment can be of great help but it can also mask threats; especially those that does not correspond well to current trends and knowledge. What potential danger do you not view as Risks and Why? What information supports your assumptions and what information challenge them?

Also see
Risk Assessments