“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem. ” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Nepal, along with Tibet, were in my “travel list” when I was young…they still are, but now, instead of dreaming on travelling there, I work with Nepalies and Tibetants, among other many amazing cultures and peoples…
One of the things I do when I’m not working is teaching First Aid and Disaster Preparedness to communities. I’m a certified trainer (by the Canadian Red Cross) and also hold certificates on Disaster Preparedness from the University of Pittsburgh and on Emergency management from the Justice Institute of BC.
I am also a Permaculturist, so I work hard to include its ethics and principles in all I do and that includes DP training.
Because of my training and work, I know how things work at the institutional level: I know how hierarchical, top-down and flawed the systems are. With all the good intentions, excellent training and amazing people, I know where the blind spots and weaknesses are.
People have also all kinds of excuses for not to prepare or not to support or give priority to DP training: many (in the “developed world” and this has permeated to the “developing” world) think that DP consists in buying a First Aid and an Emergency Preparedness kit and maybe taking a first Aid course.
This is way far of the truth…
According to this article (in Spanish) Nepali people were well “prepared”: because they had a huge precedent with the 1934 earthquake that killed ~ 12,000 people and are aware of being in an earthquake prone area, one of their everyday conversation topics was “the expected big one” and how prepared they were: if I belief the above article, they had drills at schools and work and most people knew what to expect and what to do. Some may have had supplies tucked at home (those who could achieve buying the stuff) and many institutions would have annual “preparedness week” (similar to next EP week in Canada) where different institutions and groups would have workshops, drills and announcements to raise awareness.
In spite of all the above, casualties have already crossed 5,000 and may reach 10,000. This is very common as earthquakes, as many other disasters, continue to take victims far beyond the first “news”: not only rescuers discover more bodies, but “secondary disasters” such as lack of drinkable water, food, medical treatment for injuries, violence and insecurity, challenges with waste (humanure and other waste) systems, fires and other factors create situations where people get sick and injured easily.
The recovery phase of any disaster is usually much more frustrating and traumatic than the 40 first seconds of the disaster itself.
I’ve lived in the Vancouver area (BC, Canada) for almost 11 years. I’ve heard of the “big one” year after year: BC has a website (ShakeOutBC) with lots of information, there is a national EP week and the “official” ShakeOutBC date where we are supposed to have an earthquake drill and check supplies at schools and workplace levels.
I have also read year after year articles about how unprepared hospitals and other services are and how many old buildings and even new structures won’t resist or will post a threat if “the big one” ever hits this area. (more info here).
I also happen to live in the real world: many (if not most) buildings in Vancouver and Surrey areas have huge glass windows. Many of these windows don’t open (that’s the case for the building where I work). Many workplaces are embarrassingly unprepared: we ignore the drills or,(when we do pay attention) they consist on people doing all the wrong things: going under door frames, trying to fit under desks and tables or using the infamous “life triangle”. Fire drills (when done) almost never include feedback such as informing people how long it took for them to evacuate or whether they did it in the right way. Most people take drills as an opportunity to chat, grab a coffee or disappear into the washroom.
In my own workplace, “Emergency supplies” were tucked under an untethered shelf and behind a door that most likely would shut down if an earthquake hits us. When asked beyond the obvious (drop, cover and hold) people show no clue of what else to do if there are no tables or they are in their beds, cars or a mall.
Readying the reasons why Nepal and so many other places were/are not ready for an earthquake or any other big disaster, and experiencing in my own bones the frustration of trying to convince those who should know better that DP should be a priority when we talk about community resilience, community building, People-Care and climate change and resource depletion topics, I can safely say that our “un-preparedness” shows similar signs as those of climate change denial: even among those of us who “know” climate change and resource depletion are real, we continue to play as if they are not…
I could even dig into whether “sustainable development” is the way to go for impoverished countries (that strange thought that says that it is justifiable to deepen climate change and resource depletion so those living in developing countries can access the tools and “quality of life” that will allow them to figure out how to be “safe” in a world destroyed by climate change and resource depletion. Uh?)
I can also dig into the wide spread idea that all goes back to irresponsible governments, corruption and robbery from the elites that make creating a safe place impossible in impoverished countries such as Nepal
But I won’t. Because I don’t believe in either: I’m tired of people complaining about governments and institutions and judging things they don’t know. And I’m tired of the nonsense and completely lack of common sense when it comes to “solutions”.
Preparedness, like life, is about taking responsibility for yourself and your loved ones as well as providing a voice for those who may not be able to speak out. But providing a voice is not make them mute: it is also empowering them so they eventually may also speak out and take care of themselves. It is about pro-activeness but also about acceptance of what’s inevitable. It is about creating a different relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants and with each other among us.
Preparedness is not about buying stuff: what would you do with 4 litres of water per person per day or tons of canned food, blankets, radios and flashlights if you are away from home (where they are tucked somewhere unreachable) as most people are these days? What would you do with your First Aid kit if no ambulance comes in 5-10 minutes because “disasters” by definition overwhelm the capacity of local systems to respond? What would you do with your 72-hour nice shelter-in-place supplies if the drama lasts (as it is the usual) two or more weeks and there is no running water, no electricity or gas, no pipes to drain your waste away and you are surrounded by injured or dead people and animals? What would you do with all your skills and preparedness if the buildings and structures where you usually work, play and live are not seismic proof? What would you do with a grab-and-go backpack if your grandma, your disabled neighbour, your baby or your loved pet can’t carry one themselves?
People don’t ask these questions because they hurt and shake their worldviews and paradigms much more than a real disaster will. But the reality is that ONLY when we are brave enough to face these things that we start in the path of being truly prepared.
“Preparedness” is not about making a neat plan: but you have to have a plan A and also a plan B and probably a C because disasters are, by definition, unexpected and overwhelming: then think ahead and take it as a game: brainstorm with your family and friends or in your head: “what i?” and play different possible (and impossible) scenarios…reality has shown that those who “imagine” things beforehand “train” their minds and emotions and are much better prepared…
“Preparedness” is not about getting skills training (only) but you need to get trained: exercise, walk, carry things, get used to hard work and long distances and care for your health, but also take First Aid training and practice (a two-day training won’t do much if you forget all you learned in a week); if possible, get involved in rescue or emergency social service local teams or better off: create one with your neighbours, family and friends! There is an excellent model developed by the Washington state called “Map Your Neighbourhood” which I use (adapted) for my workshops.
“Preparedness” is not about supplies, but you need to think both short-term and long-term disasters and all potential situations: at work, at school , at home, in the car and when you are out there on your own: what are the basic needs you NEED and how would you get them if something big happens? There are many lists of suggested supplies in the Internet you can check, but I also suggest to look into your own individual and family situation and think “needs” first, then accessibility, quality, rotation, duration and cost. Be creative, not all needs to be specially designed for or bought.
“Preparedness” is not about building codes and policies, but you need to be proactive: I opened all the packages at work and distributed the supplies among our team, so everybody can access them no matter where they are: everybody now has access to work-globes to prevent hand injuries, masks, flashlights, candles and matches, blankets, water and emergency food. Be also proactive in your own neighbourhood and bring your neighbours aboard, ask for a check on structures, advocate for better building codes and DP workshops on the community, create a newsletter so people get the word out and feel safe…it is well known that neighbours, family members, friends and co-workers are usually the first (and sometimes the only) respondents in case of emergencies and disasters. Authorities and rescuers may be overwhelmed or unable to access you. It is not their responsibility but yours to be truly prepared.
Finally, “Preparedness” not only involves all of the above, but also is about ATTITUDE. You can have the skills and supplies, the plan and all the drills and policies on your side, but if you have a “victim” attitude or if you are so scared that you can’t face reality, you will probably not survive or not be able to help others or yourself if you do.
Reality is that disasters are many times unavoidable: death and injuries are part of life as so are earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, storms and the like.
There will always be people who no matter what they do, will still die. So be also prepared to live with dignity, joy and compassion…
How we live is what counts: may all Nepali souls be in peace and may those who survived have the strength and solidarity to rebuild, as I know they will.
“All things are ready, if our mind be so.” ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V
All this reminds me of the need for awareness and building of resilience, two passions in my life.
If you want to dig more into these topics, I suggest exploring (auditing if you don’t want to pay or work on all the assignments and projects) the following MOOCs I’m currently taking:
- Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided (yes, it is funded and created by the World Bank Group and it is an excellent course!)
- Making Sense of Climate Science Denial (University of Queensland
- Reclaiming Broken Places: Introduction to Civic Ecology (Cornell University)
- Closed but materials still accessible: Resilience in Children Exposed to Trauma, Disaster and War: Global Perspectives (University of Minnesota)
All pictures in this post come from: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/