"Prepare for an Emergency?...uh...


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Helen Kobek's picture

N'haw! That's okay, thanks. I'm all set."

"Note to self: Think about maybe getting more of these." Image of battery.


When you think about emergency preparedness, what comes to mind? Jugs of water in your closet? Cans of beans stacked in your kitchen cabinet? A battery-powered radio and flashlights, with extra batteries? A decent, basic first aid kit? Some single-use hand warmers? A heavy coat, in case it’s cold and the heat goes out?

Well, if you answered “Yes…umm…is this a trick…question?” to the above question/list, then – SURPRISE!!! - you’ve got a lot of understanding of what it means to be prepared for an emergency.


Although, it’s worth mentioning casually that it’s not hard, time-consuming, expensive, heroic, disgusting, romantic, shocking - let alone cynical - to prepare yourself or your household for an emergency such as a week without electricity or water, or if you need to shelter-in-place (meaning, you can’t leave home to go to a shelter, but stay put and entertain yourself). It’s not complex.


Instead, I’m going to tell you some likely reasons, if you’re not prepared, why you are not. I do not judge you. To the contrary, I adore your not preparing because our world needs more people who are loyal to their causes. And no shame either. Just real. Here are some possible reasons why you just aren’t doing it. I’m not going to call the reasons “myths” because that would be whimsical. But, if you’d like, you can mentally insert the earthy word “Falsehood:” after each actual number below. And then, after the falsehood-related sentence, you can insert “Honestly…” If you’d like to.

Here’s what you might think, with an insertion example:

#1. Falsehood: The government will take care of you in an emergency. Honestly…yah, that happens a bit, including here in Cambridge, where you are likely to be offered a stay at a shelter for a number of days. But shelters might not be available. Or you might need to shelter-in-place (if there’s, say, a gas leak, or a sudden search for a suspected terrorist) and use your own resources. The government of the City of Cambridge will not likely have the personnel to go door-to-door giving out water, food, flashlights, batteries, radios, etc.

#2. Your neighbors will share their stuff with you. Again, maybe; maybe not. If your neighbors are like you (not to be judgy), they won’t have stored water to share with you.

#3. It’s a huge task and you can’t handle it. It might feel overwhelming, but it’s do-able. You get a list from any number of places in existence (see links below) and start going through it and checking off the items. If you decide to do this. You’ve done harder things. Not trying to convince you.

#4. It’s too expensive. Might cost a bit for, say, water and food enough for you and yours for a few days, or, you could collect empty water jugs and fill them with tap water and store them. Yes, it can cost some cash for canned goods. Plan, budget for it. If you are low-income, access food pantries to stock up on non-perishables.

#5. It’s wasteful to buy supplies you don’t use and have to throw away. Good point. As one Cambridge resident (who wished to remain anonymous) said, “I get caught up in pinching pennies rather than investing in a kind of insurance that could save my life.” This resident is stocked up on non-perishable food, but no water. They hold some empty water bottles available, hoping there will be enough warning of a lack of water supply to fill the bottles. Which speaks masterfully to #6:

#6: There will be enough warning to get things you need. This night be true, especially for a winter storm. But for a dangerous and quick local chemical spill, or a search for a suspected terrorist, not so much.

#7. It won’t happen to you. Because bad things like nor’easters, power outages, chemical spills, and flooding only happen to other people in other places. Other people like unlucky folks in unlucky places like New Orleans, New York City, Watertown, and Cambridge. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Brian Gover, Cambridge’s own Emergency Management Director and Deputy Fire Chief, stresses this “won’t-happen-to-me” thinking: “People always think it’s going to be someone else. Then there’s an emergency and they think ‘Gee, I wish I’d had three days’ worth of water.’” If only.

#8. Preparing for an emergency is too frightening to deal with. So the “falsehood” word is vivid here because, yes, it’s frightening to have to prepare for an emergency, but it doesn’t have to be TOO frightening. Consider this: Would you rather be frightened while planning and preparing for a couple of weeks, knowing you’re set and equipped, or would you rather carry around a not-well-internally- quarantined dread of what you read and see in the news, knowing – because falsehood #7 is not totally believable - you could get thirsty, injured, sick, hungry, cold, in-the-dark? Seriously, think about the balance there.

#9. Preparing makes you look bizarre or kind of paranoid, like how some people think of “preppers.” Sure. Some people might think that about you, until it becomes super cool and Advanced to prepare for an emergency, which will be soon. Until that happens, though, if you want, emergency preparedness can be your own private, wombic, born-free experience. Or a man-cave/woman-den, fun, bonding secret among roommates. Or a lovezilla, “we’ve-got-this” hoedown for your family. Oh, and, by the way, if you run into a known emergency -unprepared person at the grocery store while stocking up on 75 cans of Vanquish brand kidney beans, and if you are embarrassed, all you have to do is distressfully mutter, “Tapeworms. I’m so hungry.” And you will be left in peace. Tapeworms don’t tend to make people desperately hungry, but they are so rare in this country that few people know that. If you want to learn more about tapeworms so you’re exotically in-the-know if you go to a Cambridge emergency shelter and want to chat about something interesting, here’s an informative link. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/11/28/every-question-were-afraid-to-ask-about-tapeworms-answered.html

So there you have it! Some of the many valid reasons you might not be preparing for an emergency. So go ahead and curl up warm [heavy coat] in bed with your reading lamp [batteries], a bowl of soup [canned goods] and a cup of hot tea [water, heat source], listening to your favorite NPR show [radio, batteries], and do not worry about preparing for an emergency. I will not judge you. I will just worry about you.

If you do want to check out emergency preparedness ideas, guidance, here are some links: