Where You Live Matters: How to Assess Your Location and Develop Scenarios, by Brendan S.

A little foreknowledge will prevent you from becoming a victim. Most people don’t think about what they will actually do in the case of an emergency. One just has to see what happened after Hurricane Katrina to see how ill-informed the masses are. They simply expect the government to take care of everything. They meander like zombies to some location and wait to be fed and cleaned up after. Not me! I know what I’m going to do when any disaster strikes.

In this article I want to share with you my thoughts on how to:

•Assess the situation and your location.

•Assess your job location and commute.

•Assess any variables to your survival plans.

When disaster strikes where will you be? How well do you know the place where you live, work, or the space in between? Chances are that when a disaster occurs you will be either at home or at work or commuting in between. You may be ready to deal with things at home on a sunny afternoon, but what if you’re on the road in a downpour?

The main occupation of think tanks is to devise scenarios of whatever their specialty is; oil, food, military or political events. The same tactics can be done on an individual scale to find out what your reactions might be to disasters or events. You can plan out your reactions to events by knowing what your assets are at the time and how to be ready for any variables. Planning is simply about not being surprised. “When I am in situation 1, I will do X. When I am in situation 2 I will do Y.” Simple yet effective.


A scenario doesn’t need to be the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). Natural disasters are just as important and deadly. Not just in the initial disaster but also in the aftermath. Actually more people usually die after a disaster.

Living here in Northern California, earthquakes are an ever present fear and so ill prepared by people and neglected by the elected officials, city planners and developers. People’s houses might be able to take a moderate earthquake with little damage, but what about the roads, highways and overpasses? Chances are fire will spread unabated killing more people than the initial damage. Or, with the cops busy, looters will think it’s open season on home shopping.

So where does your house stand in the general theme of threats?

TASK #1: List the dangers that might affect your area.

Living where you do, you should already have some experience with some disaster inducing events. The United States has a very large variation in weather and its effects can be devastating. Floods near rivers, hurricanes near the coasts, blizzards up north, heat waves almost anywhere, earthquakes out west… the list goes on. You have probably dealt with something already.

Growing up in the Midwest we were always in danger of tornados cutting a swath through our neighborhood. Then in winter we had to worry about blizzards. But the situation doesn’t have to be devastating. What if a thunderstorm simply cut the power for several days? What if the basement floods? What if there’s an escape from a prison?

Could the effects be temporary or long lasting? Is it just power lines down or a blackout covering several states? Do striking rail workers mean food shortages? Is the riot from a basketball game or did Oakland finally collapse into chaos?


TASK#2: Know your city.

As a pilot I know a lot about terrain. All day long I see the land rolling underneath me. Here in Northern California, from the air, I can easily see how land is managed and how cities and towns are developed. I see how many roads go in and out of town centers, suburbs, business parks and so on.

The place I live in is a small town in a valley with only a few roads leading in and out. If there was an earthquake along the Hayward fault line like the “big one” that is due to happen here any time now, and most of Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco were apocalyptic hellscapes, the bridges might be knocked out and it would hopefully prevent refugees from setting up camp in our open land. We have a route to safety toward Sacramento if needed. And we have arable land that can be turned into farms quickly.

How dense is the population where you live?

Do you live in a dense populated city? A suburb? In the center or on the edge, close to farmland? If there was a disaster, where would most of those people head? You don’t need to fly over your area to assess it, Google Earth will do just fine. Take a good look at the main avenues of traffic and housing. Where is the most dense? Where do you not want to be? Where does the suburbs taper off finally into farmland? If Hurricane Katrina is any indication, people will congregate in a large open space like a stadium, park, school or the like. If you were a FEMA organizer, where would you tell people to go?

Where are the nearest hospitals?

When something happens these are most likely going to be the first place that people head for. There is medical attention, food, warmth and light. If you are uninjured, do you really need to go there? Would it be more dangerous? When the hospital gets overloaded after a disaster and turns into a triage; giving attention to the worst cases first, do you think that panicked people are going to simply wait calmly in the waiting room? Or will they start fights, demand attention maybe at gunpoint? Better to avoid it at all costs. (Or be the very first to show up through the emergency room doors!)

Is your home prepared?

Most time spent by people like us is in preparing our home for disaster, so this is well covered elsewhere and too vast to talk about here. But don’t just look at the stuff you have in your house. The wall of freeze-dried food will get you through the initial catastrophe, but then what? How adaptable is your house? Do you have a yard that can be turned into a garden with a little work? Where can you get more water? Are you near a stream or lake?

Is your neighborhood safe and secure?

You don’t have to live in a gated community to be safe, but how far off the main roads is your house or apartment? Would big city gang-bangers find it accessible and tempting? This fear goes up as the powered lights go out at night and all you can see is darkness out of your front door. Even temporary power outages cause hoodlums to go outside and behave like jackasses.

How well do you know your neighbors?

What would your kids do if you were stuck at work and they were home from school? Do they know your plan of action? Which neighbors could they trust? Which neighbors might want to come together but really are there to deplete your stockpile at twice the rate?


TASK #3: Know your place of work.

If you are stuck at work how long could you last there? You could always sleep at your desk overnight but what about food? Do you think your boss would be ready or willing to provide for you and the other employees? Probably not. It would probably turn into surviving out of your car, especially if your place of work is damaged.

What would you do if stuck on the highway?

The cars are stopped because of an earthquake, flood, jack-knifed chemical truck, etc. Could you pull off and hike on foot? Which way?

When I lived in Tokyo we had to have a plan ready for commuting by train and an earthquake happened. I carried a small street map book so I could walk back to my home when the roads and train lines were disrupted. (Even harder for a foreigner.) The Japanese are far better equipped for disasters from typhoons to earthquakes because of simple occurrence. They know it is just inevitable that something is going to happen. There they can trust their government and employers to help though.

Where are your loved ones and do they know what to do?

Does your spouse know what you might do? Don’t expect your cell phones to be working. I have an agreement with my wife not to come looking for me. I will either go to work or home and she will do the same.


TASK #4: Game out some variables.

Once you have a plan of action and know what you want to do, you have to be ready for any changes. The emergency situation probably won’t stay static, but either gets better with quick action from authorities or more likely get worse through inaction and incompetence from them.

If rising flood waters block the road that lies between you and your loved ones, do you know the alternate routes? Where is the higher terrain versus lower? Once you know what you want to do, head straight home for example, what variable might change that course of action? Snow too deep. Flooded bridge. Tremors sending rocks to the road below. Pinhead cop telling you the road is closed.

Are you ready for the extremes?

Are you ready to spend the night in your car? Or several nights? You can find lists of things to have to make your car into a temporary shelter, but the main thing is not to be surprised and get taken by panic. Simply be ready to tough it out for a while until the situation is to your advantage. If you plan to stay at work, how long until you want to head home?

In conclusion, being prepared for emergencies is not just about sitting on top of your stockpile of food with an AR-15 and waiting. You have to know the game plan and how to implement it and expect it to change. As a pilot, I am always ready for an emergency situation by being mentally prepared for it and never panicking when it doesn’t go the way I’ve practiced. You can do the same for any situation.