Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Be prepared…..a phrase that echoed in my head throughout my childhood as a result of spending many formative years as a girl guide. It has stood me in good stead in both my personal and professional life – for the most part I feel that I am a good planner, pretty resourceful and fairly resilient in my approach to most things, managing to navigate mostly unscathed through life’s little ups and downs. However, as we are now in September and I am reminded that, in both the UK and the US, it is the ‘month of preparedness’, I have been reflecting on this whole area –
· What exactly is preparedness?
· What am I supposed to be preparing for?
· How do I prepare
· How prepared am I ?!
One thing is clear – I am going to have to add the titles ‘chief planner’ and ‘risk manager’ to all of the other roles (ie mum, wife, family CEO, logistics manager, director of finance etc) that I play in the home!
My reflections on the whole challenge of ‘preparedness’ has led me to develop what I consider to be quite an elegant solution for the home - but, dear reader, more on that a little later….in the meantime, let’s figure out exactly what preparedness is all about……
What is ‘Preparedness’?
One dictionary definition offers that preparedness is “the state of being prepared for a particular situation” whilst another defines it as “the state of being ready for something to happen, especially for war or a disaster”. Well, I don’t know about you but I’m not really expecting to be directly affected by war or disaster in the near future. However, given our current global predicament, perhaps I need to check myself as, let’s be honest, only eight months ago I probably would have laughed out loud if you'd have told me that the whole world was about to grind to a halt as a result of a global pandemic. Yet here we are with every nook and cranny of our vast world being touched by the relentless virus that is COVID-19 with millions of people across the world tragically losing loved ones and livelihoods – an unexpected disaster has hit us all and, clearly, we were not prepared. Sadly this is graphic but tragic evidence of the premise that disaster does not wait for you to be prepared.
It should be said that we generally live in a state of preparedness…. what’s that, you don’t believe me? Well, let’s see now….do you ever pop an umbrella in your car or in your bag when you suspect rain? Do you have a first aid kit in your home?
Do you stock painkillers in a medicine cabinet in anticipation of a headache? Do you buy after-sun lotion in case of sunburn? When you are planning a journey do you allow extra time in case you hit a delay? When it was apparent that lockdown was descending, did you purchase anything in addition to your normal weekly shopping list - perhaps some additional toilet rolls or bags of pasta?!? So, although these may seem like trivial measures, our actions prove that we are naturally prone – often subconsciously - to make decisions that prepare us to avoid situations that may cause discomfort or stress, thus mitigating against any such painful circumstances. So give yourself a pat on the back – you do prepare and you are well versed in preparedness. At least to some extent!
The world of business is laden and, it must be said, quite preoccupied with preparedness in all forms, ranging from a plethora of health and safety processes and risk assessment models to designing contingency measures and serious disaster planning. Indeed business preparedness has become an industry in its own right with risk experts across the world supporting organisations in the assessment, management and recovery from every type of disaster that could be imagined. It is said that emergency planning can mean the difference between staying in business and losing everything, and, let’s face it, you currently have to look no further than the end of your street and the growing number of boarded-up businesses to see evidence of this fact.
So this all leaves me pondering - if preparedness for potential disasters is so important in the business world, why does this not flow naturally into our personal lives? A survey undertaken by YouGov suggests that concern about natural disasters in the US does not necessarily result in population preparedness with 41% of those surveyed saying that they are not prepared in any way. The UK picture is much worse with a recent British Red Cross survey indicating that 70% of households have made no preparation for disaster. Why might this be the case? Well, I suspect that the answer lies in preparedness being in the ‘too hard’ pile for many of us – when a business is in the throes of disaster planning, the focus is on anonymous entities – documents, files, customers, the workforce, productivity, buildings, resources etc.. However, thinking about what might happen in our own homes and to our own families becomes, well, literally a little too close to home for comfort. Or perhaps it’s simply a slippage into the whole ‘it won’t happen to me’ mindset – a psychological phenomenon called Normalcy Bias that basically persuades us that nothing bad will ever happen. Or perhaps some of us believe that merely speaking of a disastrous event will trigger it. However, let’s face it – talking about babies doesn’t make you pregnant, does it?!
What should we prepare for?
Of course the types of disaster that you may need to prepare for will be influenced, to some extent, by where in the world you live and the resulting likelihood of a natural disaster. For example, the inhabitants of California will, no doubt, have earthquakes and wildfires on their list of potential/likely disasters. Hurricanes will undoubtedly be a higher priority for Floridians. Closer to home, it may be said that us Brits are less susceptible to such ferocious natural disasters but we have had our fair share of what might be described as localised disasters - ask anybody living near to one of the UK’s many swollen rivers about the misery and devastation of flooding. The political persuasion of your country may also dictate whether you need to consider, as extreme examples, the likelihood of war or serious terrorist attack.
Although I don’t want to sound complacent, as a resident of the UK living in a semi-rural area and nowhere near one of the aforementioned swollen rivers, I know that I am incredibly lucky and grateful to be able to say that I do not consider any of the above events as high risk to me or my family. However, this is not the end of the story. If I choose to look closer to home, beyond such potential major geographical or political disasters, I begin to focus directly on me and my family and it leaves me with the question - what disasters could befall us as a unit and therefore, I guess, any other family across the globe?
I am, on the whole, a ‘glass half full’ kind o’ gal so it isn’t particularly natural or comfortable for me to think about any of this, but perhaps the old adage ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst’ provides us with a very helpful guiding principle. So, here goes - let’s think of some potential disaster scenarios that any of us could be subject to.
The hubster and I plan to live very long lives…..but what if we don’t? What if either of us develops a terminal disease or is taken, suddenly, through a road-traffic accident? What would that mean for our family? How would they cope? What would they have to do in the immediate aftermath? How can we make it easier for them?
As a family we have had (touch wood) very few mishaps in terms of health and safety issues – but what if we suffered a devastating house fire, perhaps as a result of a gas leak, that resulted in us escaping with our lives but losing everything that we own? Where would we start in terms of rebuilding our lives? What would we need access within those first few hours and days following the fire to start a recovery plan?
We take home security very seriously – but what if we were subject to a significant burglary? What would we need to help us to assess the situation? Would we easily know what had been taken and what damage had been done?
Cyber crime seems to be increasingly prevalent as our reliance on the digital world grows by the day – so what if we were victims of serious cybercrime? When speed would be of the essence, how quickly could we move to assess the damage and prevent further loss?
It isn’t all about money
Of course the list potential disasters could go on and on and, naturally, because I have previously thought about many of these risks, we already have insurance policies in place that would compensate us financially in the event of any such disaster. However, if you also think about preparedness in terms of an ability to recover swiftly, money isn’t always the answer and, unless you are highly organised, even gaining access to any such compensation may be challenging. Take, for example, the catastrophe of the infamous Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005.
Tragically many lost their lives but for the lucky survivors there were many lingering tales to be told of prolonged misery and suffering. Countless citizens literally lost all of their possessions, bar the clothes that they were stood up in and, unfortunately, the loss of their possessions went hand in hand with the equally devastating loss of their identities. Imagine the sheer frustration and deep stress of being left with literally nothing and needing to rebuild your life from the ground up, but being unable to prove who you are as the first critical step – no documentation of any type, no passports, no birth certificates, no driving licenses, no bank cards or credit cards and no way to access the critical details held within any of these items to unlock the long road to any type of recovery. Ok, so this is an extreme example – but, if you found yourself in a similar position, where would you even start?
So how do we prepare?
Indeed, that’s a very good question and can feel a little overwhelming. How do you prepare for the unforeseen, the unexpected and, hopefully, the highly unlikely? As we’ve already ascertained, the location in which you live will, in many respects, define the detail of what type of preparation you make and there will be plenty of advice and guidance available to you locally (eg via your local council or government office) to guide you according to your particular location. However, I think that perhaps a better way to approach this challenge is not to attempt to pre-empt what the disaster might be and prepare accordingly but to consider what the worst case outcomes could be, irrespective of the type of disaster. In thinking about this issue I have boiled it down to two questions to be answered, regardless of where you live and what disaster you may be subject to:
1. Worst-case scenario: if you and/or your partner died, how would those left behind access the detail of your lives that they would require in order to lay you, and your affairs, to rest and continue with their lives?
2. Next worst-case scenario: If you lost absolutely everything, where would you start in terms of rebuilding your life?
In my mind, the answer to both of these questions lies in swift and easy access to all of our critical personal and family information. In mulling over the two questions above, I have spent many, many hours thinking about what type of information would need to be collated to provide a solution to each of these worse case scenarios and have created a very simple but effective solution – a spreadsheet that I’ve called ‘The Life Stash’ that collects details about every aspect of our lives –
personal details, medical information, financial details, information about our property and possessions, our digital lives and our wishes if we pass away – that can be easily shared with trusted friends or family. If disaster strikes, resulting in the loss of everything that we own, then our rebuild strategy will begin with accessing our Life Stash, containing all of the critical information that is needed to get up and running swiftly and (relatively) stress-free. If the disaster results in the loss of our lives then we have entrusted all of this information to our nearest and dearest so that, in their time of grief, they have everything available to them – including our final wishes - to lay us, and our affairs, to rest. In terms of preparedness it perhaps wouldn’t fulfil the full expectations of government bodies. However, I see The Life Stash as a fundamental and critical first step in the preparedness of me and my family, a solid foundation upon which we can build further plans.
All doom and gloom?
Well no – it's important to retain perspective throughout all of this - disasters, whether global, national, local or personal – are thankfully rare and we shouldn’t become too preoccupied with preparedness for events that, touch wood, will hopefully never happen. However, to bury one’s head in the sand and presume that disaster will never strike is, at best naïve and, at worst irresponsible and reckless. Remember that we are all naturally prone to preparedness so this may be simply a case of recognising what you currently do and ramping up your approach to address the more serious threats that could be waiting in the future for you and your family. If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole prospect of preparedness then simply draw a deep breath and decide where to begin - if you need inspiration then perhaps take a closer look at what I offer through The Life Stash - it might just help in taking that first important step.
The month of September – Preparedness Month - highlights to us that disaster doesn’t wait for us to be prepared and reminds us that it is worth investing at least some time and energy in thinking about personal and family preparedness – if the worst ever happens then this time and energy could prove to be the best investment that you have ever made.
Until the next time,
If you would be interested in finding out more about The Life Stash then simply visit www.thelifestash.