Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ask Dr. Helen: Preparing for Disaster--Prudent or Paranoid?

My column is up at PJM:

So when does preparing for the worst shade over from prudence into paranoia? That’s a question that often comes up when people talk about preparing for disasters, financial meltdowns, or confrontation with criminals. How much is enough, and how much is too much?

Read the column and let me know, is preparing for disaster or crime prudent or paranoid?



Blogger Trust said...

Prudent to an extent.

We keep at least 3 months emergency expenses in savings, which is also handy when we buy new cars or if there is a layoff.

My wife is bottled water paranoid, but we keep a couple extra cases of it (and rotate it into the fridge) not just for disaster, but in case we are without power or water for a few days, which ocassionally happens. I don't keep more than this as I could use what is in our hot water tank for hygiene and the bottled for drinking.

It's not overboard. Just a bit extra of the things we already have. We've found them to be convenient when life happens sometimes, and we're covered if something severe happened. It really doesn't take a lot to be able to make it for a week if soemthing happened.

8:30 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Robert the Biker said...

A difficult one this....
I'm neither paranoid nor inclined to stock up to the gunwales just in case, but, 'stock up to the gunwales' is the operative phrase.
I live on a boat you see, 41 feet of ocean going ketch, with large fuel and water tanks and built in storage and wind driven power generation. I am also fully equipped to 'repel boarders'.
So, I guess I'm fairly well prepared without meaning to be.

8:39 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Danny said...

2 points:
Since I belong to the Mormon Church ( the "real" Church headquartered in Salt lake City), Emergency Preparedness is a big part of our community's lifestyle. I and my landlady have a big stash of food , water, and other emergency supplies like tents, batteries, flashlighhts, camping stoves and other stuff like that.
I guess this emphasis on being prepared comes from the days when the Mormons were being persecuted and chased out of the Eastern US,and until they ended up in Utah.
However, people in my town, ie , my politically correct, leftist, friends think I am "paranoid". :):)

And secondly, Helen, I tried to email your article to friends from the PajamasMedia site,and again, this operation failed. Could you ask the PJM folks to fix the problem? TIA
Danny in Ann Arbor

9:39 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger I R A Darth Aggie said...

I live in Florida. I'll give you three guesses as to if I have some disaster contingencies mapped in my head.

Right now I'm slowly building up a stock of canned goods. I bottle my own water - filtered tap water into used bottles. I have a good sized cooler that will keep ice for 5 days, and lay aside additional charcoal for the grill. As long as my roof doesn't disappear, I'll have food, water and shelter for up to a week.

10:01 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's a risk calculation and you are optimizing for expected outcome. Benefit is uncertain, cost is certain. It's really a question of how far you want to take it.

Smoke detectors are easy. You aren't being paranoid, you are being prepared. Batteries, flashlights, etc, all good investments. Why? Because the cost is reasonable and the benefit is high.

You need to consider the cost of being prepared. You want to get the things that have the biggest benefit/cost ratio, and continue down the list until you cross some personal threshold.

Paranoids are basically people who are more "risk adverse" than we are. When someone else crosses our personal benefit/cost threshold, we call them paranoid. We ourselves are never paranoid - paranoid is something other people are.

10:09 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Thom said...

How many people by term life insurance, even though their chances of dying during that period are rather low? Are they paranoid?

As someone else has mentioned, it's all risk management. It's all a function of the probability of X occuring, the impact of X should it occur, and the cost of mitigating X. Term insurance is popular because the death of a wage-earner in a family could be near-catastrophic, even if the probability is low, and the cost of mitigation is also relatively low.

Disaster preparedness is a good idea, depending on the extent one wishes to go. Just remember that not all "disasters" are natural ones. Someone who has six months of food stored up against the event of massive global catastrophies may be just as happy to have that food if they lose their job instead.

My wife and I have three months of savings and are working toward six. This is partly based on experience, as I was laid off several years ago and needed about five months to find another job. We also have about 4-6 months of basic food supplies as well. We probably won't get much more than that because we simply don't have the room to store more than that.

Put the two of those together and we could possibly hang on for a year or more should something happen to disrupt normal food distribution for an extended period of time. If you think THAT can't happen, just ask any Bosnian or Sudanese.

10:53 AM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Danny,

Sorry you are having trouble with the PJM site, I will let them know about the problem. Thanks.

11:27 AM, August 05, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live on the middle atlantic coast, and have experienced some nor'easters and hurricanes. So, being prepared is a good idea. People in extreme weather locations can be without power for quite some time. If I lived where huge snow storms occur, I would surely have a wood stove and plenty of firewood for the season.

I don't know how to prepare for Obama. Canned goods, candles, sterno, batteries and firewood won't help.

6:07 PM, August 05, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

I live in earthquake country, so I keep water and retort-pack foods in stock, along with charcoal,flashlights, foil blankets, band aids etc. We drink the water and eat the food as expiration comes up (sekihan, or red bean rice and things like that, mostly) and I restock. We lived on bags of Kit-kat bars for a few days the last time, when that was all we could get in our local supermarket, after people bought just about everything on the shelves in about 3 hours. Water and red bean rice sounds better! :-)

7:02 AM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I'm an avid backpacker, this afternoon I leave for 2 weeks in the mountains. So there is always a supply of dried food, headlamps, stoves, fuel, sleeping bags, chlorine tablets, water filters, tents or whatever else I need at my house and in the car at all times. We had a hurricane come through here a few years back which took out electric for a week, I was fine with working with all my gear except I quickly got bored with talking to my neighbors for entertainment and was glad when I finally got my cable back.

9:18 AM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger J. Bowen said...

How about this: buying and holding gold and silver to prepare for the inevitable collapse? My younger brother has more than half of his assets in gold and silver. He's one of the gloom-and-doomers who believes that the economic crisis that we're facing is too big for the federal government to handle and that foreign investors will abandon the dollar, allowing for uncontrollable hyperinflation.

I'm of the opinion that if there is an actual economic crisis followed by a complete collapse of the dollar that having gold and silver won't do any good. After all, the government has confiscated property before when it mismanaged the currency or caused a disaster.

12:16 PM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

I thought you article located the divider between prudent and paranoid pretty well "keep an open mind, maintain a balance in your life, and don’t get too extreme one way or another." Not doing that is where paranoia starts.

Partly anyway. I think the other way to fall into paranoid traps is to maybe overprepare and over focus on the wrong threat. It's possible to get so fixated on the burglar coming into the house that you trap yourself if there's a fire.

Over committing on one threat shuts off consideration and appreciation of the other. A historical or institutional analogy might be the Army's focus in December 1941 on protecting its aircraft in Hawaii from sabotage. The possibility of sabotage was very real -- but overprotecting against it left the airplanes parked in the middle of their airfields where they were sitting ducks for another threat -- air attack.

Still, as Henry Kissinger supposedly said, "even paranoids have enemies." It's just that being paranoid makes it harder to see when they're actually coming for you.

12:20 PM, August 06, 2008  
Blogger Cappy said...

It's a good idea to have emergency water, canned goods, dry food, etc. Of course if the big one does hit, this runs out eventually.

I know a some who have been waiting for 1929 to happen again. Congratulated 'em on the 75th anniversary of 1929 four years ago. They were not amused. They're still waiting, patiently. Some threaten to move into the woods and live off the land. This will last until they realize there's no place to store food long term and would actually have to hunt game. Also, no gas either.

OTOH, the 2003 Northeast blackout here was no picnic either. Some guys at work never did realize what "no frikkin' power" meant in terms of their projects. I learned fast what it meant in terms of no water at the house.

Anticipating criminal confrontation is trickier. It never hurts to know what to do about it, but nobody knows what they would actually do if it happened.

12:36 PM, August 08, 2008  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: cappy
RE: The Mormons...

"It's a good idea to have emergency water, canned goods, dry food, etc. Of course if the big one does hit, this runs out eventually." -- cappy

...have a better approach, i.e., two years supply, but if the REALY BIG ONE hits, i.e., some cometary impact as we seem to have determined has knocked Earth civilization on its proverbial knees for four years (on average), three months, as someone suggested above, is not going to be enough.

The way the tree-ring analysis looks, the average duration of famine in four years. And THAT is the 'average'.

Apparently, such events have happened in the past on FIVE occasions. The first being Early Bronze Age and equating to the Biblical Great Flood. The last being the onset of the Dark Ages.

Oddly enough....

...the mean time between such events is 720+ years. And it's been almost TWICE THAT since the last such event.



6:47 PM, August 08, 2008  
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