Preparing for Emergencies
When I was a little kid at my grandparent's house, for some reason it always seemed like something special to be woken up while it was still dark outside. Usually, we'd only be up early because we were going on a long trip or some other exciting, non-regular activity. I remember the smell of coffee dripping and bacon frying like it was yesterday. Grandad would roll me up in my blankets and sit me in a chair in front of the old Stokermatic until the room was warm, then he'd fix me a plate of scalded toast. I loved it. Those are some of my fondest memories.
My grandad and I were buddies, and we did a lot together. I always liked doing whatever it was he was doing just because it was me and grandad. One thing we did a lot that we both loved to do was to stand outside on the porch and watch bad weather roll in. Big storms would be brewing and we'd stand out in them until it was just too nasty to remain or until grandma was so frantic that she was 'standing on her ear' wanting us to come inside and get into the basement.
I can remember when I was really small we didn't have a basement. There was a community storm cellar. Once in a while, on the worst stormy nights, grandad would come quietly and quickly, grab me up covers and all, and we would head outside into the rain, headed for the shelter with others in our little community. I don't remember a whole lot about it except for the excitement of the moment. Adrenaline and excitement and thunder and lightning and waking up in the dark; my favorite things all in one action packed adventure!
There was nothing much in the shelter. I only remember benches along the two long walls, sort of dark and musty, with dim light. I think it was flashlight lights because people smoked out in public in those days and I remember the cherry red fires in the ends of the cigarettes and the swirling smoke in the beams of light. I was never afraid but I could tell some of them were. I remember thinking they were silly.
Sam and Helen were always there. I think it must have been their property the shelter was on. They were the owner/proprietors of the local store in our little town of about three hundred or so people. They were older people, always good to my family. Sam's sister Mary, Helen's brother Ward, sometimes Bart Carroll, whose face was permanently stained in the creases by his mouth from years of tobacco spit, a guy named Mud Hen who always rode a bicycle and carried a fishing pole everywhere he went, along with our family, all huddled together in a narrow cellar, waiting the storm out.
Why am I telling this story? Partly because it is a wonderful memory. Partly because it is a picture of a time gone by and I want to tell it before it, too, is lost. Partly because I think it is an example of something we need, something we've lost, and an answer to a problem that most people don't even realize exists. The loss, the death of, no -- the execution of an endangered breed: the extinction of the good neighbor, and the loss of his natural habitat, the community.
I'm not all that old, not even half way through my time on this earth and I can well remember days when neighbors looked after one another. It was natural. It was normal. It wasn't demanded or legislated, it was just done by decent folks because it was right, that's all. We had too many tomatoes to eat so we sat bags of them on our neighbor's porches. They had too many zucchini or too much corn and we'd find a bag or two on our porch some mornings. If someone was needy we all ponied up. If someone was 'laid up' we filled in and helped them until they were able again. Grandad took food boxes to shut-ins and checked in on the old folks, and when my grandma was old and alone people checked in on her, too. They shoveled her driveway in the winter, brought her mail and her paper to her, and made sure she was okay. I am so thankful they were there for her.
Her town was a small town, but I don't think that is the reason the people there did things the way they did them. I think it may be part of the reason they are still able to do it today, though. Not because those mean ol' city slickers are bad folks, it just works out that some of those kinds of things get re-arranged and shoved to the edges in larger population centers. In cities people tend to segregate themselves. Wealthy homes are on one side of town, usually away from the noise and congestion of the inner city. If you had the money and lived in a city wouldn't you prefer to be away from all of that, too? Lower income people wind up getting squeezed into more affordable but less desirable areas. Poorer people are left with whatever areas they can afford to rent and sometimes they aren't the best places to be. The rich can't see the poor and their needs. The poor feel shoved to the side and hopeless. The middle classes feel like they are bearing the burden between two worlds, trying to reach one and avoid the other.
In a rural setting these same people co-exist side by side, as neighbors, and they know one another personally. As a rule they are available to each other in times of need. They don't build privacy fences between subdivisions and freeways to bypass certain areas, so they see the plight of their neighbors. Problems are usually dealt with as they arise, and if something goes seriously wrong or something gets badly out of hand, neighbors will step in and help. Neighbors help their neighbors in communities. That's how it is.
Why would I bring all this up in a blog about preparedness? Because in a time of crisis, if cities and rural areas alike are subject to some large scale emergency, it is the cities and the suburbs that are going to fare the worst. I believe they have lost the awareness that they need one another to be neighbors, and that could well be the most valued and sought after asset following a disaster.
Some of the problems people will face in areas of large population concentrations should be obvious: lots of people, limited resources, poor or nonexistent communications, inability to resupply, lack of order, lawlessness. Japan is to be commended in that the people have performed admirably in the aftermath of the devastation. Unlike the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, there has been no noteworthy lawlessness. No looting, stealing, rampant pillaging, murdering or raping, or the strong victimizing the weak and helpless. These things were possibly some of the greatest threats to the survivors of Katrina.
One of the things that is beginning to come to the attention of the world right now, just two weeks after the catastrophe, is the shortage of retail goods. Grocery store shelves are empty in cities hundreds of miles from the hardest hit areas. There are shortages of fuel, mandatory restrictions on energy and water consumption, and all the while communication is still unreliable. What must it be like in coastal towns or at the epicenter?
Do we want to survive a disaster only to face a fierce and barbarous environment in the aftermath as they did in Katrina's wake? I would prefer to think we would work toward the common goal as in Japan. I would rather find camaraderie and relief and be available to offer the same without fear. What have we come to and what can be done? Why have we stopped expecting folks to be decent and begun to expect the worst of them? They have not disappointed! We have taught a generation to be selfish and dependent and now we are reaping what we have sown. What can we do? I hate to think it would take a calamity, but worse, I hate to think that in the event of a calamity they still would not rise up.
Much, much more can be said about this, but I want to try to zero in and keep it to one topic if I am not too late already. One of the important lessons I have learned by being outside looking in is this: community is everything. I have also learned that even though life in the larger population centers is most vulnerable, it is not too late to cultivate a sense of belonging and responsibility, and that good neighbors are still among us, they just aren't obvious. Maybe they are overlooked, or afraid to be noticed, or maybe they are unaware of it themselves. They may be few and far between, but they are there and when the call is made to come to the aid of their community I believe with a little preparation and encouragement, they will turn out.
In my little home town if there was ever a disaster you could bet it would be met by everyone. Naturally we would see to our own, but as soon as we possibly could we would come to the aid of our neighbors. We would give of our time and of our provision, and we would continue until the need was met. Family or friend or stranger among us, it is right to do, and we would do it. It is our practice throughout our lives and our "preparation" if you will. It is expected and we rise to the expectation; not like Katrina but more like Japan.
So if you can't go right out and buy food and water to last for a year, or a years worth of medical supplies or whatever you might need to plan for an emergency, here is something you can do right now and it will cost you nothing, but it is worth so much. Practice being a good neighbor and a decent individual. Prepare yourself to be part of the solution for when the problems come. We have to regain that sense of being our brother's keeper. We must. Let it start right here, with me.
to be continued.....