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Emergency Preparation: Maintaining Wellness During Disasters

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” — Thomas Payne

As I am sitting to write, the news is on in the background, and Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the Caribbean. It wasn’t that many days ago I was watching Texas with the empathy of a survivor, feeling like we had dodged a bullet. Now, here we are, just days later, looking at one of the biggest storms on record.

Having lived most of my life in South Florida, I have seen some powerful storms bluster through town, but this is a whole different beast. Normally, my friends around Naples scoff at approaching storms with macho disdain (present company included), but this time is different. The grocery shelves are already empty. The generators are already sold out at the hardware stores. People who usually like to ride out hurricanes are packing their cars to head north. I’m seriously keeping myself open to the possibility of heading out of town. I’ll decide in the next couple of days.

As for the this week’s Fundamental Foods Dinner, we’ve elected to cancel it and wait until the October dinner. As disappointing as it is, I have to err on the side of caution in a situation like this.

Emergency Preparation

With that in mind, I want to talk to you this week about preparing for disaster from a wellness perspective. Not everyone who reads this blog deals with hurricanes, but everyone has to be ready for natural disasters. Whether it’s the wildfires of Montana, the ice storms of New England, or flooding anywhere, you need to know what to do when the environment becomes the enemy.

Be Aware Of Stress

First, remember that everyone is on edge during a storm. Even the “tough guys” who roll their eyes at the weather are still operating at a higher level of adrenaline, cortisol, and all the other neurotransmitters. They might be manifesting it as excitement instead of fear (that’s a “Think Right” blog for another time!), but they are still dealing with a ramped up internal dialogue.

I remember watching the news reports around Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. I didn’t feel anxious — in fact, I was having fun with it — but I realized later that my arms were sore. Throughout the evening, I had clenched my hands into tight fists with excitement and wasn’t even aware of it until later.

Realize that some people are going to approach the stress of the approaching danger in the form of excitement, and some in the form of fear. Whichever way you tend to lean, be aware of your emotions. You can be enjoying the rush of neurotransmitters and still turn and scream at someone. That’s why you need to be aware of the emotions of people around you. While joking and scoffing (and even screaming) might be a healthy release mechanism for you, it could really damage someone who is truly afraid.

Keep Calm

This is especially true if you’re in a leadership position, where you are responsible for the safety of a group of people (like your family). Make sure you are as calm as possible so that when you need to be able to make sudden decisions, you can make a good decision on the spot and keep your anxious family members peaceful. I realize that’s easier said than done, but that’s why it’s so important to practice rest. Take a few deep breaths. Pray. Think about someone you admire and consider what they might do in that moment. Speak firmly but gently. You can walk in your God-given authority and still be gentle — in fact, it’s easier for people to follow a leader who can be gently firm than someone who barks out orders.

Give people as much grace as you can, realizing that they may be panicking inside.

Be Consistent

Nothing throws off routines like a storm. Even a little storm can change your plans for the evening; a major storm that knocks out the power or forces an evacuation can upset the whole apple cart for weeks or months. Trauma can knock people off their routines in a way from which they never fully recover.

People thrive on routines — especially children. The closer you can keep your life to normal, the easier it will be to handle transitions. This is true when you travel for pleasure, for business, or for an emergency. Your body has “Circadian rhythms” that manage your normal functions — if you have lunch at the same time every day and suddenly miss one, you know what I’m talking about. Any change in your environment can scramble the structures we put in place in our lives, and that can be upsetting to people.

As much as it is in your power to do so, protect your daily routines. If you go to bed and get up at a certain time every day, continue doing so, and keep your bathroom routines. Eat at your normal meal times. Keep whatever habits you and your kids have throughout the day. I realize that there are some extenuating circumstances that may prevent you from keeping all your routines (i.e., spending time in a shelter or extended power outages), but those are the times you need to make an extra effort to cling to normalcy. It will take some of the shock out of the whole experience.

Eat Right

For a moment, let’s imagine that you are stuck at home with no electricity and no way to get to whatever grocery stores are operating. I don’t mean for you to get into fear, but it can be helpful to envision a worst-case scenario and develop a plan (at least in your mind) to cope with it.

Foods that require refrigeration or freezing are probably going to be lost (note: the longer you can keep from opening the freezer, the longer your frozen food will stay frozen), so it’s important to keep a stash of foods that don’t require refrigeration.

Most people hoard bread. It’s the craziest thing. I realize that most people make themselves sandwiches, and if that’s all you have to go with, knock yourself out. People stockpile chips, cookies, crackers, and non-perishables, but with a little forethought and preparation, you can eat healthily. Here is a list of healthy foods that can be kept good for several days without electricity:

  • Avocado – great source of healthy fat that will keep you feeling satiated longer
  • Bananas – excellent source of potassium, which is great for energy and feeling good
  • Hard-boiled eggs – Good fat, some protein.
  • Apples and pears – great source of fiber
  • Coconut oil – one spoonful can keep you feeling full longer without the carb crashes
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Fresh citrus – Vitamin C and D.
  • Melons – excellent source of vitamins, fructose for energy, and water.
  • Nuts and seeds – Another simple and satisfying snack.
  • Beans – excellent for protein and fiber. Cook them in advance and store them in glass jars in the fridge as long as you can. They won’t last forever, but they will provide a good protein source for several days.
  • Dark chocolate – you have to be careful with chocolate, but organic dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids and no sugar is not only delicious, it’s high in antioxidants.
  • Tuna is a mixed bag, so you need to be selective (if you can even find it in the stores before a hurricane), but it’s also a good source of protein and omega-3 that doesn’t have to be cooked.

The advantage goes to anyone who can successfully grow their own food. I realize that it’s too late to start a garden before Irma comes to town, but keep it in mind as an option for future storms.

Now, if you load up on bread and crackers and junk food, I won’t come to your house and judge you. You gotta do what you gotta do under the circumstances.

Make Your Own Water

This is another one where it might be a little late to think about this in the face of Hurricane Irma, but I recommend you have a water distiller and some half-gallon Mason jars in your home. Counter-top water distillers are usually about $200 – $350, but they are a great investment as long as you have power. When you consider that the first thing to run out when people panic is bottled water, this will save you a lot of stress and frustration. Water is crucial for survival, and people will fight over it when it gets scarce.

A water distiller works like this: you boil a pot of water and capture the steam into a cooling tube. Steam is pure H2O with no toxins or bacteria. As it cools, it condenses and drips into a clean pot or pitcher. That is the cleanest, purest water available for drinking, although most people don’t like the taste (it has no minerals). There are YouTube videos that explain how to cobble together your own homemade distillation system that will work over your stove top or even fire, but they are a lot of work. I recommend you buy one that has been properly engineered, like this one from WaterWise.

Distillation is a slow process (it takes up to four hours to process a gallon of water), but if you have a few days to prepare, its a great way to stock up on your own clean drinking water for free.

Stay Safe

There are no medals for braving a hurricane, a forest fire or any other disaster. There may be bragging rights in some situations, but you have to take serious inventory of your life to determine if it’s worth it to talk smack afterwards, especially if it’s going right over your town.

If you have a family, safety is your first consideration, followed by provision. Take the danger seriously. There is no pain in life like the regret that comes when you make a decision that puts a family member in the hospital (or worse).

If you have extra resources and you realize that you have a friend or neighbor that doesn’t have reliable transportation or money for food and shelter (in the case of an evacuation), do something about it. If you don’t have to evacuate and you have the resources, make sure your neighbors have something to eat. You might save their lives. But just like the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others, your first consideration is for your family.

Pray

God is real and prayer works. He loves you. We live in a world where bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean He causes those bad things. I hate that my insurance agent calls hurricanes “acts of God.” I serve a good God that loves people and wants to be involved in their lives to the extent that they allow Him to be. He never turns His back on you or abandons you, but He doesn’t normally act in lives where He is not invited. God’s protection is available for those who call on Him. Make that call, and never give up hope.

Advanced Prep Is A Win

Again, I tell you all this not to frighten you, but to give you an objective list of things to think about when everything around you wants you to panic. When you’re under pressure is not the time to make decisions and plans. Anything you can do to prepare in advance is a strategic victory for you.

Having said that, I will be praying for you, wherever you are and whatever disaster you may be facing. I believe you are going to come out of this trial stronger than you went in.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE” — Eric Thomas

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