December 8th, 2007

What If It Happened Today?

photo credit: rodrick.reidsma

Part of preparation entails speculating about future events. One efficient way of preparing for what’s to come is by creating a list of “what if” scenarios. For example:

  • What if there was an 8.0 earthquake in your city?
  • What if the power went out for a week?
  • What if your city’s water source was contaminated?
  • What if a pandemic broke out?
  • What if a nuclear strike occurred within a 20 mile radius of your home?
  • What if the transportation system was disrupted?

Being prepared for the worst allows one to be at peace and act, instead of being acted upon. So the question then becomes, what if it happened today? The “it” in this case is, of course, ambiguous. Not knowing the future, we must plan for all possibilities.

True preparation requires independence from government or third-party support. It is naïve to assume that the government will be in any position to aid the individual, as the FEMA/Katrina experience showed us all. Further proof was recently given by the Utah Department of Health’s deputy director, after conducting a mock flu crisis in Utah:

At the end of it, one thing was abundantly clear: Utahns must rely on themselves, not the government, to survive a serious public health crisis, said A. Richard Melton, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health.

“The less they expect to have the government and system take care of them, the better the state will deal with the pandemic,” he said.

At my CERT training we were instructed that the government’s average response time in a community-wide crisis is eight to nine days. Clearly, one cannot sit around and wait for the “authorities” to arrive.

Thus we see that preparation for “it” requires individual action and planning. If you’re at work when an earthquake strikes, what will you do? If your car runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, who will help? If the grocery store shelves are emptied in a crisis, what will you eat?

Last year, Bishop McMullin counseled us in Priesthood session regarding how best we might prepare:

Priesthood bearers are led by these promises to prepare themselves and their families for the Lord’s appearing. There is no need to be anxious about events leading up to the Second Coming. Let us instead be filled with gratitude for our understanding of what lies ahead. Let us appreciate that we are in charge of our own world, being the Lord’s agents over that which He has entrusted to us. The formula is simple: Be faithful. Unencumber your life. Lay up in store. (Keith B. McMullin, via Quoty)

An unencumbered life entails being debt-free and able to “act” when necessary. Laying up in store entails having the resources necessary to sustain life and aid others (food, water, medicine, sanitation equipment, shelter, fuel, etc.). But being faithful is a key component, given that we must not rely on the arm of flesh, despite the many temporal preparations we must make.

Long ago I heard the phrase “It’s easier to prepare and prevent, than to repair and repent.” As I observe world events, natural disasters, and personal trials, I have realized the truth of this lesson. Similiarly, Thomas Fuller once said that “a danger foreseen is half avoided.”

But to be prepared, to prevent disaster, and to foresee potential dangers, we must plan ahead, lay up in store, and account for the various disasters or situations that may confront us.

The question each of us should ask ourselves, then, is: If “it” happened today, would I be ready?

8 Responses to “What If It Happened Today?”

  1. rmwarnick
    December 9, 2007 at 10:11 am #

    “It is naïve to assume that the government will be in any position to aid the individual, as the FEMA/Katrina experience showed us all.”

    Tell that to the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army, the National Guard and the U.S. Navy. They saved many lives. FEMA failed, but that was the fault of Bush for gutting the agency that President Clinton built up.

    When a major city is almost wiped out by disaster, self-help isn’t going to fix the problem. It’s one of the reasons we have a federal government in the first place.

  2. Frank Staheli
    December 9, 2007 at 10:39 am #


    The difference between the military organizations you describe and FEMA is that the former provide a collective defense. It is not logical to assume that FEMA can provide aid to the individual, especially when we consider that localities are (should be, used to be?) much better suited to understand how to provide that help.

    FEMA is the quintessential example of what happens when FedGov gets involved where it (a) ought not and (b) is not Constitutionally authorized to do so–it takes away the incentives and the ingenuity for localities to take care of themselves, and it fails miserably in the replacement task for which is was ostensibly designed. Perhaps New Orleans could not have been in a position to take care of itself in the wake of Katrina, but in a correctly functioning federal system, Louisiana certainly should have been able to.

  3. Connor
    December 9, 2007 at 12:14 pm #


    I agree with Frank on this one. The organizations you listed aim to secure the common defense and general welfare, not that of individuals.

    One exception might have been the National Guard, but not any longer, for to reasons.

    1. After Katrina, the National Guard was sent in to confiscate the personal, legally owned weapons of citizens. At a time when self-defense was crucial, the government swooped in to disarm the citizenry completely.

    2. Last year, Bush signed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, federalizing the national guard. No longer under complete control and direction of state governors, the Guard has now become another federal military unit to be used at the President’s discretion.

    When a major city is almost wiped out by disaster, self-help isn’t going to fix the problem.

    This depends what problem you are referring to. Will “self-help” keep me and my family fed and sheltered? Absolutely. Will government be efficient in responding to the needs of individuals, especially senior citizens, single mothers, and disabled persons? Hardly.

    Witness what happened during the recent fires in San Diego. It was the response of individuals—donating food, water, medicine, and opening their homes to neighbors—that was most useful. While the governor flew over in a helicopter to assess the damage, individuals (not the government) were responding to the needs of neighbors and friends.

  4. rmwarnick
    December 9, 2007 at 1:45 pm #

    There are 22,000 people rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard in the aftermath of Katrina who might disagree with the thesis that the government has no business saving people in an emergency.

    Obviously, everyone should try to be prepared for an emergency. But let’s face it, preparedness is a function of wealth. Rich people in San Diego signed up with private firefighting companies, and their less wealthy neighbors had to rely on the overwhelmed public fire departments.

    I know the ideological argument, I’m a former Libertarian. But what you are saying takes it to an extreme, like Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” approach to the role of government. It’s like the Bush administration’s absurd argument that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prevented helicopters from bring bottled water to desperate people in New Orleans. It could have been done, maybe it would have been if Bush had watched CNN for five minutes.

  5. Connor
    December 9, 2007 at 10:07 pm #

    Thanks for the links. A couple thoughts…

    Why did 22,000 people need rescuing? The calls had been issued for people to leave. These people were not only living in a hurricane zone of their own volition, but they ignored repeated warnings to evacuate the city. This, then, requires government intervention to save people from themselves.

    The same thing was an issue in the San Diego fires. Firefighters were having to mount rescue missions to evacuate families instead of spending their time putting out fires.

    Lesson to be learned: dumb people tax the system. Any prepared person would have long been gone, taking with them necessary equipment and resources, valuing their lives more than their property. Again we see the need for being prepared and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

  6. rmwarnick
    December 10, 2007 at 8:32 am #

    I think the people who had the means to evacuate did so. The rest didn’t have that option so they had cake with Marie Antoinette.

  7. J. D'Avignon
    December 10, 2007 at 9:04 am #

    I think the people who had the means to evacuate did so. The rest didn’t have that option so they had cake with Marie Antoinette.

    By the far the best summary of the evactuation I’ve seen.

  8. Todd
    February 1, 2008 at 12:20 pm #

    The mistake that has been drilled into though, is a “Cowboy Westerner” attitude in just stockpiling and arming for uncertainty. If civilization collapses, or just a very sustained local emergency happens – you will run out of food, somebody else will have a bigger gun and be hungry! To have a sustainable future, you must have community and ways of *growing* all the food you need, creating all the heat you need, etc.

    Two hands working accomplish more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

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