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Life Off-the-Grid

What We Can Learn from the Earthquake in Haiti

by Cam Mather

The devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti is hard to watch (and much harder to live through, no doubt). It seems particularly unfair that it struck a nation that was so impoverished to begin with and you would think that a natural disaster in an American city would be handled with so many more resources. But then you remember Hurricane Katrina. There was lots of warning and America is a rich country with lots of resources, but the ability of the various authorities to deliver the help that was needed was unimpressive.

A great article in the September 2009 edition of “The Atlantic” magazine is entitled “FEMA’s new administrator has a message for Americans: get in touch with your survival instinct.” Craig Fugate, the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, suggests that you’ve got to stop assuming that the government is going to be there quickly to help you out. He wants to restore a sense of independence that our grandparents had. He asks “Who is going to be the fastest responder when your house falls on your head?” and his response is “Your neighbor.”

So take that suggestion and consider it as you think about information from the Southern California Earthquake Center where the 2007 Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities, a multi-disciplinary group of scientists and engineers forecasted that California has a 99.7% chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake during the next 30 years. The Haitian earthquake was a magnitude 7. They suggest that the likelihood of an even more powerful quake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years is 46%. Yikes! This is scary stuff.

At the same time that we face increased threats to our well being with climate change increasing the severity of storms coupled with the ongoing risk of earthquakes and other natural disasters, and you have the government telling you that you’re on your own, for a while anyway.

This is not a good thing because too many of us have traded away our independence and have become reliant on others for all of our basic necessities such as heat, food, light, electricity, and water. Most of us have been fortunate enough to have not suffered any great disruptions in the provision of these services, but that’s not to suggest it wouldn’t be a good idea to start giving it some thought.

In Canada the Federal Government has been running an advertising program telling Canadians they need to put together an Emergency Kit. They suggest that you should strive to be able to survive for 72 hours without any help during an emergency. No power or electricity from the outside. You’re on your own. When the government is telling us something as basic as this, you’ve got to think we have an awful lot of people who will be very helpless very quickly under difficult circumstances.

I think what you should do is make a donation of let’s say $50 (or whatever you can afford) to the Haitian relief efforts and then take another $50 and start putting your own emergency kit together. Food, water, sleeping bags, and anything else that could help you through the initial stages of an emergency. Then start taking a bigger picture look at how well your family will do in a time of an extended emergency in terms of heating your home, where you will get water, how you’ll cook food, what food you’ll have, etc. This might seem like an unlikely occurrence but during the workshops on “Thriving During Challenging Times” that I’ve presented across Ontario, I have asked participants if they’ve ever had to deal with such an event. A number of people in my workshops have said that they were without power during the Ice storm of 1998 for weeks, not days. Life suddenly went from being pretty good to being focused on getting through each day, and it was a very uncomfortable time for many.

Now is the time to come up with a strategy. The earthquake in Haiti reminds us that natural disasters strike without warning. My book “Thriving During Challenging Times” is a great resource to scope out potential problems and provides strategies to deal with them.


1 Comment

  1. ellen

    Great advice Cam – we take it so for granted that everything is available 24/7.

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