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Defining the True Meaning of Preparedness

Living well afterwards rather than surviving a bit longer than your unprepared neighbour requires a well thought out approach and process which leads to an integrated preparedness plan

By Jonathan Byrne

The author is a mechanical engineer and consultant with over 25 years of experience in providing solutions to threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He designed systems for ships and facilities, worldwide to protect against the effects of nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical weapons, and provided integrated threat analyses, plans and procedures. He also wrote training syllabi and trained military and civilians in WMD defence. He currently provides threat and preparedness consulting. He can be reached at jbyrne@myserver-wv.net --- The editor.

The 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. Would such an attack be a threat you might face?

I recall an incident in the winter of 1994. The local news was announcing that an ice storm was likely over the next few days and of course, the stores were crowded with the usual milk, bread and toilet paper crowd. I actually needed milk, so I was getting a gallon when I overheard the conversation between a man and woman in the aisle near me. I found their conversation both amusing and sad. From their ID badges, I knew the couple worked for a high tech contractor nearby. Their conversation was about what foods to buy to weather the coming storm. They both decided that frozen microwavable meals were the best option since "the power is likely to go out." (OK, stop laughing). Here we had two college-trained people in a high tech industry with the resources to purchase their needs for "weathering the storm" but did not stop to think. I think the term for this would be panic. Having a three-day emergency kit and the FEMA handbook is very similar to the couple's mentality. We buy the kits and do not have to think about the problem. Buying tools, guns, shelters, other equipment, and a year's worth of food is certainly a start to preparedness, but is only a part of the solution. You must stop and think the process through. You must understand what you are preparing for and plan your response. True preparedness means living well afterwards rather than surviving a bit longer than your unprepared neighbours do or barely eking out an existence. To do this properly requires a well thought out approach and process that leads to an integrated preparedness plan with the specific objective of surviving a number of threats and prospering afterwards. The beginning of this process is determining the direct and indirect threats posed to you and your family. The locations of your home, work site, and retreat/shelter are critical in determining the relevance and severity of the various threats. Some threats are obvious, such as living in the Midwest tornado belt or downwind of operational missile silos. Some are not, such as living five miles from a busy interstate or rail line or 10 miles from an industrialized metropolitan area. These threats must take into account both natural and man-made disasters, war and terrorist actions and the related after effects. For instance, a chemical plant has a major leak of some chemical that is an irritant but not toxic. Is this a direct threat? Not really, but the ensuing riot that occurs in the downtown area (that was evacuated due to the leak) is certainly an indirect result and could be a threat to you and your family if you live nearby.

My expertise is in the area of what is now called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). For many years, I worked to design, build, test and field defensive equipment for the Navy. At the time (early 1980s), the ships and personnel were not well protected. The first hurdle was to determine the real threats. How are they delivered, how do they physically behave and how lethal are they? How do we respond to the threat? I spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the chemical, biological and nuclear materials likely to be used against us. I quickly learned that the threats were misunderstood and in many cases, exaggerated. I found that exaggerating the threat was the bureaucratic method of insuring continuing funding and political support. We have seen a similar approach by other branches of the government in recent times, and I expect it will continue.

Threat Du Jour --- This noise from the government and media should not interfere with your honest assessment of the risks posed by these and other materials. In my opinion, this is exactly what is happening. We run out and buy what we assume will take care of all our needs to survive (pick a disaster/war/terrorist attack) the threat du jour. To what end? I think it is time to take a deep breath and do some hard thinking about which threats we are preparing for. Like any weapon, a WMD can be deadly if used properly. The conditions for the use of most of these materials are, thankfully, limited. Weather, geographic features, and how the materials are released, directly affects the effectiveness of these weapons. I have witnessed the release of simulated materials under a variety of conditions and, thank God, it is difficult to effectively release these materials on target, unless many conditions are perfect. In addition, one must understand that these weapons were developed to use on battlefields. The release mechanisms and conditions are understood for that use. Using these materials as terrorist weapons can be done, but the effectiveness will probably be degraded significantly. An example was the release of Sarin nerve agent in the Japanese subway. More people were injured and killed from the explosive release and ensuing panic, than were actually poisoned by the Sarin. A conventional bomb with fragments would have done greater damage. However, WMD threats are out there. These threats must be rationally understood and put into perspective. In some urban and suburban environments with appropriate dissemination, these weapons are potentially devastating. There is also a ready-made industrial source of very similar and toxic materials. We must assess not only WMD but also other natural and man-made threats and develop our preparedness based on the most likely threats we will face. The good news is that with the proper planning, procedures and equipment one can easily survive these attacks. Knowledge of the behaviour of these toxic materials followed by appropriate actions with proper equipment essentially makes these weapons ineffective. Threats must be organized on the basis of most probable to least probable. The threats must be defined in easily understood terms to insure your complete understanding and to determine appropriate countermeasures. The job of determining your specific preparation needs must be based on the probability of a threat or threats and their respective aftermath. One other important point, determining the threats you may face is not being paranoid; no matter how the media and government may spin it. It seems that making fun of and disparaging those who prepare is a media pastime. History has shown repeatedly that some of the media and good portions of our government are notoriously bad at determining and quantifying threats.

Most Likely Threats --- Your next effort is to assess your preparations based on the most likely threats. This is where stored food, tools, equipment, and shelters become important. You must also assess your skills and knowledge. Like with any survival situation, your knowledge and skills are more valuable to you than all the "things" you have stored. The assessment will provide the "list" of needed skills, food, tools, equipment, and shelter for the survival and the post-disaster environment based on a realistic assessment of the threats. You probably thought the previous effort was hard. Not really. Now comes the hard part, planning, and its twin, procedures. Planning and procedures for how you are going to survive the threats are as important as having the best gas mask on the market. We have all heard the advice about having a meeting place and communications plan after 9/11. This is just the tip of the planning and procedures iceberg. After you meet, what do you do? Plans and procedures are the glue that binds all your preparations into a useful whole. In working with military preparedness, my efforts were focused on threats ranging from terrorist acts to nuclear war. All of the plans assumed that big airplanes and ships would bring supplies and troops in the nick of time to save the base. These plans assumed reliable modes of transportation would be available. These assumptions, especially when applied to the military in a third world country in wartime, were, at the very least, bad ones. Every minute detail up to the start of hostilities was planned meticulously and assumed to occur but I found it startling that after war started, the plans got very fuzzy on the details. Most of the residents finally got it and realized their small piece of third world country was not going to be protected when the fan got clogged. Fleshing out a bug out plan became a hot topic at a few of these places as well as upgrading defensive equipment. I recall that the headquarters folks got a rude shock when they found out the folks at the sharp end wanted to live through the next conflict. We rewrote a lot of planning documents and injected a lot of reality. US civilians have similar choices. Some folks where I reside have retreats many miles from their residence and workplace. In many of the cases, they reside and work in or near a metropolitan area. This is a financial fact for many prepared folks. Few of us can live in an isolated area on top of our shelter and make a living. They hope that they will have sufficient time and effective transportation to make it safely to their retreat. You need to make it more than a "hope." Your preparedness must consider "bug out" movement as part of your preparedness planning. You could be shopping at the mall when things go bad. This portion of the effort must also take into account what the unprepared folks and the government responses will be. Alternate routes and transportation methods must be considered. Providing secure transportation for you and your family to your retreat or safer area, before, during and after a threat requires planning. We have all seen the looting and riots that follow minor problems. It does not take a super computer to figure that a major event would provoke the same response, on a much greater scale. Ask the folks who tried to get out of LA when they had the last riots. Now magnify the effect with some terrorist and a nuclear device. It is not pretty.

Preparing For The Aftermath --- Well, we got you to your well-stocked retreat replete with manuals, plans and procedures and you survive. Now, what are you going to do? This is not a moot question; this is the true objective of your preparedness efforts. One must prepare for the "afterward" as thoughtfully and thoroughly as preparing for survival. This is where you must also assess your post-survival requirements so that you and your family can not only survive but also prosper. This effort will also impact all the goodies you can buy and the skills and knowledge you need. As an example, you have a wood stove for heating your retreat. If there is no source of gasoline and oil, how are you going to cut the firewood you need? Ever use an axe and bow saw to cut a season's worth of firewood? What about food when the "Year's Food Supply" is gone? What about your water supply? Your assessment must provide for the recommended skills, plans, procedures, equipment, and spare parts to these and a host of other "afterward" issues and questions. This is where "Murphy" will be there to mess up things. You must provide a large dose of "Murphy" repellent to insure your continued prosperity. There is a lot of information available on various parts of the preparedness equation. My point is that it must be integrated into the whole equation of your preparedness based on the threats with the prime objective of living well beyond bad times. People who are serious about survival must have a thorough, integrated and honest assessment of their preparedness. This assessment must include the probable threats, the materiel required, your and your family's needed skills and knowledge, and solid planning and procedures to meet and beat the threats and provide a prosperous future for you and your family. This assessment is not about feeling warm and fuzzy; it is about being truly prepared. Survival is not a game and losing is not an option.


2008 TEN YEARS OF AUSSURVIVALIST

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