Google “family preparedness,” and you will find 16,800,000 results. Family preparedness tips can be found on sites such as www.ready.gov, and www.dhs.gov, state and local government websites, and many non-governmental websites such as www.redcross.org and www.tulsapartners.org. While there have been great strides in training the public and private sectors in disaster preparedness, little attention has been paid to training people for the personal disasters that are certain to strike unexpectedly, such as death of a spouse or parent, divorce, or loss of a job .
Emergency Management principles can successfully be used to manage the events that most people would prefer never to consider. However, by taking the time to consider and prepare for them, we empower ourselves in circumstances where people usually feel they have little control.
Mitigation is the prevention of future disasters or the lessening of their impacts. It is a truth universal that bad things happen, often when we least expect it and when we are the least prepared. Mitigation often is the result of lessons learned, beginning at the moment the disaster occurs, when we say, “Next time, I’ll make sure to . . .”
A great example of mitigation is life insurance or a will. Taking out life insurance and drawing up a will are unpleasant experiences causing us to consider circumstances we hope we never have to face. As a result, many people never take the time to draw up a will or take out life insurance. When the loss of a spouse or parent occurs, this oversight often exacerbates the pain of the loss by causing financial complications, prolonging the recovery, and may be referred to as the “second disaster.” It increases the impact of what is already a tragedy, and is something that can so easily be prevented. In that situation, where there was no life insurance or will drawn up, mitigation begins immediately as the lesson learned becomes, “Tomorrow I am going to see my lawyer/insurance agent.”
Preparedness is taking action that will help you to prepare to meet a disaster. This may include the same actions we take to mitigate against the impacts of a disaster, such as taking out insurance, drawing up a will, taking out separate bank accounts, or drawing up a pre-nuptial agreement. Other examples would include keeping your resume updated, and maintaining your career marketability by taking courses and networking. Pre-disaster is also the best time to find a good attorney. During the disaster is not the time to be taking these actions.
Response is putting your preparedness activities into action, such as sending out your updated resumes, calling those contacts you acquired from your networking; calling your insurance agent when you need to file a claim, or immediately calling that attorney you took the time to find in advance so you wouldn’t have to be calling around looking for one when you are under the gun and emotionally stressed.
Recovery is any action taken to return to normal after the disaster. This is also the time we begin mitigating against the impacts of the next disaster, by taking note of lessons learned and acting on them. Learning to cope with a new set of life circumstances and with the emotional and mental impacts is an important part of recovery. Personal re-invention may become the order of the day. Learn to excitedly greet the new you as you daily make fresh self-discoveries about your strength, resilience and resourcefulness.
Personal disasters may often be heart-wrenching, but don’t have to destroy us. Through proper management (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery), our personal disasters can serve as a catalyst to unleash the smarter, stronger, resourceful and resilient person that was there all along.