Fundamentals of Preparedness
By Brett A. Fernau
Be Prepared! That is the Boy Scout motto. But what do those words mean to you? Does being prepared mean that you have set aside supplies of water, food, bandages, fuel, tools, weapons and ammunition in case you are faced with a disaster where you would need those things to survive? Does it mean that you have acquired a library of books on how to stay warm, administer first aid, camp out, cook, tie knots, make campfires, harvest wild game, forage for food, plant a garden and other survival subjects? If you answered “Yes,” then you are partially correct.
Being prepared is not entirely about what you have, though the things you have will certainly help you. Being prepared is more about what you know and what you can do with that knowledge, than it is about what you have. Yes, it is a very good idea to have a reference library of books that contain information on how to survive when the city water and electricity are shut off. And, yes, it is good to have had the foresight to set aside supplies of water and food to get you through those chaotic days that will follow a disaster. Even more important, though, will be knowing what is in those books and having the ability to apply that knowledge.
I talk a lot about fundamentals. “Fundamental” is another word which we need to define. Fundamentals are those basic rules and concepts upon which any body of knowledge is based. In any subject you can think of, there are a simple set of basic concepts which you need to know in order be become an expert in that subject. You have to know the rules to play the game; and you first have to master the basic skills to become an expert player. Preparedness is a very broad subject comprised of a large number of more specific subjects. If you learn the fundamentals of each element of preparedness and practice the required skills to become expert at each one, you will eventually acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to survive in almost any situation. As an expert in survival, you will be able to use whatever materials you find around you to help you handle that situation. As an expert in survival, you will be able to deal with a disaster calmly and competently. You will be able to direct and instruct those around you so that they can help themselves and other victims. Instead of having the people around you panic because they don’t know what to do, you can give them tasks that they can do and, thus, control and mitigate the effects of the disaster. Instead of being a problem, people who are doing something are helping to solve the problem. If you are able to control the disaster scene by setting people to tasks that help those around them, you, yourself, will have a much better chance of surviving; and you will have enhanced the chances for survival of everyone on the scene.
Knowing the fundamentals of such survival skills as first aid, search and rescue, camping, cooking, map and compass navigation, radio communications, and other subjects lets you innovate and create solutions on the scene using whatever materials and resources you have available to you. When you know the fundamentals of how things work, you can more easily evaluate problems and solve them.
One of the fundamental skills you should develop is the ability to look. “Oh, come on,” you say. “I know how to do that.” Do you really? Unless you know something of the world around you, some fundamentals of how things work, you may be looking at something that has the potential of being quite dangerous to you and not be aware of the hazard inherent in that thing. If you look at something and assume that it is the same as every other thing that is similar to it, you are not looking at it at all. Instead you are looking at what you believe is there and not what is actually there. You need to develop an ability to look and see what is actually there in front of you. Without that ability, you will miss critical factors that will give you information that may be vital to handing a situation you are in. You can train yourself to do this and you should.
Try this exercise: Have a look at some object in your environment. Okay. Now, look at that object again and find something about it that you didn’t see the first time. Okay, look at it again and find something else about it that you hadn’t seen before. Repeat the last step until you are fairly sure you sure you’ve seen everything there is to see about that object. Now, find another object and do the whole exercise on that one. Did you learn anything? Were you able to see things you hadn’t previously noticed? If you were, you are doing it right. Practice looking.
You can do similar exercises with your other senses. You can increase your awareness of the world around you. By doing so, you enhance your ability to survive in any situation. If you see what is actually there in front of you, instead of assuming that what you are looking at is the same as some other similar thing, you will be able to correctly assess the situation you are in and act in a way that improves your chances of survival. Complacency is your enemy. Awareness is your friend.
There are fundamentals in all areas of expertise. If you know that fire requires air, fuel and heat to burn, you can more easily figure out how to get your campfire going. If you also know that the finer your fuel is cut up the more surface area there will be for your heat and air to work with and the easier it will be to get your fire going. Many things will burn if you reduce them to the smallest of particles. 0000 grade steel wool will burn nice and hot if you strike a spark into a nest of it. Know the fundamentals and you can keep yourself warm, cook a meal, purify water and smoke meat over the fire you just made.
Know the fundamentals of each of the survival skills and you will be able to improvise with what you have on hand. There won’t be time to look-up in the first-aid manual how to control bleeding or handle a restricted airway when your co-worker has a severed artery and her life’s blood is rapidly pumping out onto the floor; or your dinner partner is choking and can’t breathe from something stuck in his throat. If you know that a technique called “direct pressure” will slow or stop most bleeding, then you can spring into action and save a life. If you know the Heimlich maneuver, you can clear your partner’s airway and get him breathing again. There are fundamental skills and techniques for first-aid.
If you know the fundamentals of how search and rescue operations work you can save lives that would otherwise be lost while you wondered what to do next. Fundamentals give you the confidence to forge ahead in an emergency and bring calm and order to the chaos. Knowing why things need to be done and how and in what sequence to do them puts you in charge of the situation.
Disasters happen. They don’t always happen to someone else. The next one could happen right where you are. Prepare yourself to be among those who are helping to solve the problem by acquiring the knowledge and practicing the skills you will need to survive and help others do the same. In a major disaster, the usual sources of help, your first responders, the police and fire departments, are going to be very, very busy. Maybe too busy to come and help you. You need to be prepared to handle things on your own and to instruct those around you on how to help. If you possess the fundamental knowledge and have practiced your skills, you will be prepared. If you don’t, you will be just another victim.