With a budget of almost 14 Billion dollars in 2013, you would expect that FEMA would have the resources at its disposal to really be able to assist the public prior to any disaster. If you haven’t already; I recommend going out to the FEMA website to see what their recommendations are for getting prepared. FEMA, through their Ready.gov website is the government’s office that addresses most of the specific topics of the prepper movement so I was surprised at the information I found on their site. Actually, I wasn’t completely surprised because I did write about National Preparedness Month and how I believed that as an agency their communications left me completely underwhelmed.
Regardless, I went out again today with fresh eyes to see what I could learn from FEMA. I say that because I truly believe that our government should have the smartest people in our country in positions like this, right? I mean if you are an agency that deals with disaster you need to have the top disaster experts in the world giving out advice, right?
FEMA breaks the topics on their website down into a few categories to start with:
So at first glance this seems like a good start. I went under “Be Informed” to learn what protective measures I could take and decided to start with pandemic. The first thing to notice is that they mention influenza pandemic and I didn’t see anything about Ebola, but let’s just assume that anything bad enough to spawn a Pandemic would be covered by FEMA. They mention having a two week supply of food and water, plenty of prescription drugs, copies of your health records and to talk with family members about how they should be cared for if they get sick. Lastly they ask you to volunteer and get involved.
During an actual Pandemic (this is the page that FEMA has for Pandemic information) they recommend avoiding close contact with people who are sick (Really??) staying home from work if possible and the usual suspects of covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands.
A pandemic by definition is when a disease is prevalent throughout an entire country, continent or the whole world. I am going to add my own addendum that there must be a relatively high loss of life. With that definition, the only other pandemic any living person has seen (I don’t count AIDs or SARS) was the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 that killed an estimated 30 to 50 million people in two years. In the United States alone over 675,000 people died in two years!! When FEMA is supposed to be informing you about what to do for a Pandemic that is the best they can do?!!!
Maybe I am over reacting and this is sound advice? Perhaps, but look at Ebola where they say you are contagious for up to 21 days. If you are supposed to stay indoors for three weeks, you would be mighty hungry that last week if you only stored two weeks of food wouldn’t you? The World Health Organization states that people with Ebola can still transmit the disease though semen for up to 7 weeks after they have recovered. Is it possible that a two week plan might leave you seriously under prepared for the next pandemic?
Obviously I take issue with the plans FEMA seems to have for sheltering in place should that be necessary during a pandemic so I went over to their Make A Plan page and then down to the Plan to Protect yourself and your family link. The page seems worthless to me and the most prominent item on the page is a link to download their Family Communication Plan which is really just a sheet for you to write down phone numbers, a meeting place and medical insurance information. I don’t see how this is a realistic plan. Phone numbers are helpful I guess and having your dentist’s phone number would be a good thing if you are having a tooth emergency but I expected more again from FEMA.
A family survival plan is more than just simply writing down phone numbers and being truly prepared requires more than two weeks of food; especially during a pandemic. FEMA it seems has always recommended the most basic information and supplies that anyone probably already has on hand. Is this preparing or are they trying to cater to our lazy side? Is this the lazy person’s way to prepare? Just write down some phone numbers that won’t help you at all and keep the regular amount of food you probably already have on hand and no worries! But while you’re at it, FEMA does recommend some social messaging shout outs you can use.
You can go lots of places on FEMA’s website and there is some good advice, but on balance I get the sense that either FEMA is trying to lower everyone’s expectations for any real disaster to the point of leaving millions under prepared or they are simply out of touch with reality. I know people who have been without power for longer than two weeks in the winter and this wasn’t considered a disaster by any stretch. When we imagine disaster, it will probably take FEMA two weeks just to get out and do anything if you are foolish enough to believe that you only have to hold out until they get there. Once FEMA does arrive, they are no magic savior. Remember Hurricane Sandy when the FEMA office closed? They actually had the mental sharpness to hang up signs informing the public, who presumably was going to the offices for assistance, that they were closed “due to the weather”. You can’t rely on anyone else in a disaster so it’s important that you take the responsibility for your life and the lives of those you care about into your own hands.
So what are my solutions since I seem to know everything? First thing is that will admit that I don’t know everything but I don’t believe there are any one size fits all plans for preppers. You can’t just say store 2 weeks of food and think that will do for just about any disaster. Everyone has to have their own plan that has been carefully structured based upon the needs, resources and skills of your family/group with a strategic consideration of the potential threats you face. Here’s my take on FEMA’s 3 points.
Make your plan to fit your family, to take into consideration where you live and what you are dealing with. You will make better choices than any bureaucracy and your family will be better off with you than at any FEMA shelter regardless of the disaster. FEMA doesn’t have a plan for you. They have a plan to maintain order for the masses and hopefully prevent chaos. You are the only one that is going to keep your family’s needs in the front of your focus. Take steps now to ensure you aren’t living with FEMA’s idea of what is important.
What’s your plan?
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