Disasters Can Change People’s Lives Forever
Back in 2005, natural disasters killed over 25,000 people and caused $57.7 billion in damage worldwide. Besides the obvious, direct impact of natural disasters (such as a tornado destroying a house), there are usually many indirect effects. Although these effects may be less obvious, they are often times more costly and can add years on to the recovery time from a disaster. As people who live in communities that have been devastated by a natural disaster will often say, “there is no such thing as a complete recovery, disasters can change people’s lives forever”.
Disaster Mitigation is the first link in the chain of disaster survival. Mitigation is the process of reducing the severity of the impact of natural hazards through planning. Each hazard requires a specific type of mitigation. In some cases, we can use engineering solutions. Earthquake-resistant construction and devices to hold objects in place such as earthquake straps could at least reduce the impact of a natural hazard. In other cases, the only form of mitigation that is guaranteed to be successful is to limit or not allow human activities where the hazard occurs, such as floodplains, volcanoes and high fire risk areas.
But unfortunately, in some cases such as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami, the fact that there was little or no planning or mitigation took its toll on human life. These types of disasters have a profound impact on us all. Prediction of natural disasters has improved greatly but more work needs to be done. Protection against manmade disasters must continue in a logical, controlled and decisive manner.
The second link in the chain of disaster survival is personal preparation. Making plans for evacuation, having the correct survival supplies such as water and food that has a five-year shelf life, a flashlight that doesn’t need batteries and a radio to stay connected to the outside world, is essential to us all. It is suggested that each person have at least 72 hours of supplies. Statistically, the citizens of the United States are not prepared. Less than 40% of the population has a plan and even less have supplies. The list of items is overwhelming to some people and just knowing where to start can be a conundrum.
Disasters do come in all forms and change our lives. We have seen it first hand in recent years. Mitigation, preparation and prediction will decrease loss of life and property. Every one of us must participate in disaster preparation. Some people say “expect the unexpected” but in reality we must anticipate the expected and prepare.
With the various types of natural disasters that have taken place in recent years, many people have started to realize that they may not be prepared for such events to take place. While no one wants to think it can happen to them, we have all seen the footage of Hurricane Katrina and it was a reality that this type of natural disaster is something that does happen to real people. Even the fires spreading out of control in California remind us of the types of natural disasters that can take place.
It is important to pay close attention to the warnings that hopefully will be broadcast on TV and the internet if a natural disaster is possible. It is unbelievable the number of people that ignore this information. If you are asked to evacuate the area do so as quickly and calmly as you can. Rescue efforts may not be available for those that remain behind. It is a good idea to have a battery powered radio that you can carry with you to continue listening to the instructions as you are travelling.
You should have an emergency supply kit on hand at all times just in case you do happen to be in a location where a natural disaster occurs. Bottled water and canned foods can be stored for long periods of time. You want enough for each family member for at least five days.
Should you have to remain on your own for a few days until rescue teams can reach you these items will help you to survive? The food in your refrigerator can spoil if the power goes down which is common after a natural disaster. Make sure you keep medications on hand for those that need them on a regular basis.
If you have small children in the home make sure you have the necessary supplies on hand for them. Stocking up on personal items such as diapers, toilet paper, and toothpaste can help you to stay healthy during a natural disaster. Since you may be without power for several days you will want to have lanterns and flashlights readily available.
A small first aid kit with essential items can be useful because you never know when someone will be injured as a result of a natural disaster. Do your best to clean the injury and prevent infection until proper medical care can be received for the individual. Many people worry about their pets during a natural disaster but you may not be able to keep them with you during that time. If possible though store food for them as well so that you won’t be sharing the food you stored for your family with them.
Natural disasters can be very scary for everyone, but especially for children. Make sure that everyone is able to get plenty of rest and that children are allowed to openly share their feelings. Too many parents think it is best not to tell them what is going on but that tends to make them more afraid as they definitely know something is taking place around them.
Hopefully you will never have to experience a natural disaster but it is wise to be prepared. Having the essential items in place that you will need can make the difference between your survivals after the event takes place. It is a good idea to practice emergency procedures for natural disasters with your family as well.
When we see real and unavoidable suffering all around us—on television and even within our own communities and families—we may experience helplessness or guilt. We know that these two responses do not serve others yet we don’t know what else to do sometimes.
It may seem particularly indulgent and selfish to focus on ourselves when others are struggling with basic survival. How can we let ourselves get wrapped up in figuring out whether we should go back to school, start a new career, or even what to do about a problematic relationship while others are worried about having enough food or shelter or medicine?
The answer I offer is that it is an illusion to think in such either/or terms. The truth is that we don’t have to and shouldn’t choose between helping others and helping ourselves simultaneously. Why? Because the more we do to alleviate our own unnecessary suffering, the more we are available to help serve others who’s suffering is unavoidable.
We naturally feel compassion for those who suffer from pain, illness, poverty, natural disasters, or political repression and we are drawn to seeking ways to help, such as donating money or even our blood. But our ability to help will be limited by the amount of our self-inflicted suffering. What is the source of this unnecessary suffering?
There is an old Buddhist saying that our worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our own thoughts. The truth is that our self-imposed suffering is caused by our self-judgments. When we tell ourselves that we are unworthy in any way, such as convincing ourselves we don’t deserve a loving relationship or a great job because we’re too fat/old/stupid/bad, we not only are likely to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy, we will not be able to offer others hope either. We may even surround ourselves with people who have the same limiting belief, which will simply reinforce our unworthiness.
If you have ever had “a bad hair day,” then you know exactly what I mean. You wake up in the morning and for whatever reason, you don’t feel good about yourself. You go out into the world and what happens? No one flirts with you. Or you feel invisible. Or someone is rude to you, as though your feelings don’t matter. The world mirrors back to you in a myriad of ways that you don’t look or feel good about yourself.
When we judge ourselves, the world will mirror back this judgment on us. So if we think we are unworthy in any way, we will get this reinforced, not because the world or the universe is cruel, but because we exude an energy that invites this feedback. If we are mired in self-judgments, we are limited in our capacity to be of any real help to others.
Think for a moment about the last time you were in need of some moral support. Where did you turn to? Probably not to someone who you knew was also having a hard time in that moment, someone who was equally, if not more, stressed. We turn to those who are capable in that moment of picking up the slack, those who are not enduring to the same degree or at least not in the same way as we are. Natural disasters can bring out the best of humanity and being able to lend a hand of offer support is a very valuable gift you can give to anyone in need.
So if we want to help others, it is crucial that we alleviate our self-imposed suffering.
We stop being are our own judge, jury, and executioner. We recognize that we are all students learning through making mistakes, practicing, and taking risks. We don’t have to defend ourselves. Instead, we take responsibility for our errors, make amends (including to ourselves), forgive ourselves, and move on. We practice new behaviors, ones that are in alignment with who we wish to become, not who we have always judged ourselves to be.
Because we truly want to be helpful and alleviate others’ suffering whenever possible, and because we deserve alleviation from our own suffering, we must make a decision to choose our thoughts wisely and compassionately. Whatever self-judgment you have been carrying around for years—yes, that one, the one that never goes away and you continue to find new evidence for—let it go.
Be willing to see something better in yourself. Be willing to let others see something better in you. You will not only free yourself from unnecessary suffering, you will be of greater service to your loved ones and to your community. The natural disaster can be a dividing experience if we allow it to be, however by simply looking out for each other in a time of crisis is without doubt the best experience of all.