Two Letters Re: Lessons From the Tennessee Floods

First things first, please accept my heartfelt thank you for your excellent web site and all of the information you have helped disseminate to folks such as myself.

My heart goes out to the people of Nashville and the disaster they are facing from the flooding. However, the logical part of me is astounded by all of this as the media and government ( in Nashville have been repeatedly warning people to prepare for a major flood since 2005 and have held numerous public meetings in conjunction with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The warnings were not from a large rainfall in a short period of time, but for an even larger disaster which is the potential failure of the Wolf Creek Dam. The 80% earthen and 20% concrete dam is located on the Cumberland River 150 miles upstream of Nashville and the dam is on top of a large limestone formation which has continued to leech away causing a history of extensive, repeated dam repairs. The dam holds back the largest lake in the state of Kentucky , and prior to drawing down Lake Cumberland the USACE classified their remediation program to stabilize the dam as heroic/crisis with the dam having less than 5 years of useable life remaining. Numerous resources were made available to the public such as the Wolf Creek Dam Consensus Report, Engineering Risk and Reliability Analysis and flood inundation maps for both Kentucky and Tennessee. The inundation maps are a great resource for deciding whether to bug in or out, and if you bug out which route to take.

The purpose of writing was to offer a lesson in situational awareness. Preparing for the Wolf Creek dam failure should have left more people prepared for a smaller tragedy like what recently occurred in Nashville . Survivalblog readers, have you checked your local emergency management office for specific threats to your city or neighborhood and made plans and preparations based on those threats? – Todd B.

Mr. Rawles:
Thank you for your time, efforts and thought in providing all the survivalblog readers with an excellent resource. I have been a daily visitor to your site now for about a year after being introduced to it by my brother. I consider myself to be an amateur prepper, and am hoping to move into becoming more prepared in large part due to the information that I have been the beneficiary of through resources such as your site, others like it, as well as other resources both in print and through training and group participation. In any event, the letter re the “Lessons from Nashville, Tennessee” got me thinking and I wanted to send along three of the lessons that I have learned and/or had reinforced in my mind after this recent event. I apologize for the length of this email, but, as Mark Twain once said, I didn’t have time to write you a short one. Also, in order to understand the “lessons learned,” I think that a complete recitation of the underlying facts is necessary.

I live not far from Nashville, but far enough away that my area was not submersed like portions of the city were. However, as I work downtown, I know a multitude of folks who do live in Nashville. Unlike myself, they prefer to live close in rather than have to deal with a daily commute. I wanted to relate a story from one of my friends that underscored for me the importance of preparing in advance.

My friend is a working mother of two children. She is a highly paid professional, and her husband is a member of the group of folks that due to loss of employment have gone back to school. What those first two sentences mean is that neither she nor her husband have time to cook, and so their daily routine is to send their kids to day care where they are fed breakfast and lunch, and then they eat out as a family almost every night. In other words, they have limited food stores at their home.

She told me that when the rains came down and the floods came up she decided to leave work early and get her kids in order to try and avoid traffic at rush hour that would be made more infuriating due to the heavy rain. When they arrived at home she and her children sat and watched the rain fall, and fall, and fall. They live on a sort of hill so the water wasn’t collecting in their yard. She didn’t turn on the television or radio, and she and her children just sat there and looked out the window while the kids complained about not being able to go outside to play.

Finally, she received a call from her mother in another state who was watching the news and asked her daughter if she and the grandbabies were okay. My friend was surprised to get this call, and went and turned on the television. Or, at least she tried. At this point her power was out. She had no access to the television or radio. She hung up with her mother and accessed the web on her iPhone to learn that the river was heaving beyond its bounds and that Nashville was being soaked and flooded. She called her husband and asked him to come home immediately and to stop and buy some food and flashlights for the night as they didn’t have any in the house.

The husband left school and stopped at Wally World [Wal-Mart] and grabbed some flashlights and food and started to head home. However, he quickly discovered that although his neighborhood was not underwater, the roads that lead into his neighborhood were under water. About four feet, and thus impassable. He called his wife and let her know. She and the kids ate Doritos for dinner that night and went to bed early without flashlights or candles. The husband slept in his car.

The next day my friend and her children walked down to the entrance of their neighborhood with their neighbors who also stayed behind and were hungry and in search of food. They found that other neighbors had gathered canoes, john boats, inflatable tubes, etc. and were in the process of ferrying everyone over the newly formed mini-lake at the mouth of their subdivision to the other side where family members and friends waited to carry the stranded off to safety and, in all likelihood, [the] Cracker Barrel.

My friend, her husband, and her children were all reunited safely. No severe damage occurred at their home, and things seem back to normal for them.

However, for me, this was a great learning opportunity. Three of the take home lessons for me were:

1. Try your best to have your preps on hand before you need them. My friend was without things that most of us consider essential and likely have many of at our homes or retreats right now: food and flashlights/candles. She had none, and when she needed them, she couldn’t get them. I know I am a great procrastinator when it comes to securing some items that I know I “need.” I am not advocating spending more than we can or going into debt to acquire preps; not at all. Remember in my story that my friend makes a good salary ($100,000 plus). And yet, she didn’t have food or flashlights/candles. I learned to look at my own preps and determine what items I can realistically afford right now, but simply have been putting off. For me, it was nothing expensive or significant, and by way of example I’ll tell you what I purchased after speaking with her that was cheap, I’d just been putting it off: plastic sheets for window/ventilation coverings in the event that they break or I need to put up some sort of a “defense” against the outside air.

2. We don’t know when we’ll need our preps, and the need may literally fall out of the sky. Here, there was no real advance notice that Nashville would flood. In fact, my friend didn’t know until someone told her that it had already happened. For me, this was a wake up call. I guess I figured that TEOTWAWKI would somehow be a gradual thing that I would see coming from a mile away. As I saw with my friend, this is not necessarily the case. I was reminded of the parable of the 10 Virgins in the Book of Matthew. They were all waiting and waiting for the bride groom to come—like many of us wait, not necessarily with eager anticipation but often with trepidation, for TEOTWAWKI—but some had failed in their preparations. Then, when he came at midnight, half were shut out of the feast because they were absent, in search of oil (preps) they should have already had. We don’t know when, or if, it’s coming, so we must remain vigilant and prepared. This was a lesson for me about physical preparation, but more so about spiritual preparation.

3. There are many without preparations out there, even basic preparations, and we need to plan accordingly. I know that there are different theories about how preppers are to deal with friends, family, neighbors, and the Golden Horde post TEOTWAWKI, and I will not advocate any particular approach here. I myself am of the opinion—at least now—that I would rather share my food and shelter than fight over it barring threats to my family’s safety. Regardless of what one’s opinion is on this subject, the truth that my friend’s story offers is that there will be many, many people who are without even the most basic of preparations and part of our “prepping” should be preparing for that reality.

Thanks again, and God bless you and yours and may we all prepare with prudence for the future, – R.B.M. in Tennessee