Both news media and social media have the ability to quickly spread information all throughout the world. When news of a disaster reaches preppers, we like to quickly find solutions to mitigate risk to ourselves and our loved ones. However, in their zeal to find solutions, many preppers get tunnel vision. They only focus on one or two kinds of disasters, failing to consider the unanticipated consequences that a disaster might have. It is interesting to note that many preppers stockpile food, water, and ammunition, yet underprepare for the second and third order effects of the disaster. In this essay I will show how to prepare for the unanticipated consequences of disasters, using the novel coronavirus response of 2019 in Wuhan, China and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 (pictured) as case studies.
While preparing for disasters has been immortalized in post-apocalyptic novels and movies, many preppers are influenced by the dramatic aspects of this literature. Trying to get enough food to feed one’s family, fighting off attackers, and finding a clean source of drinking water dominate the post-apocalyptic literature. It follows that some preppers stock up on food, water, and ammunition at the expense of other important preps. While it is extremely important to have enough sustenance and protection, it is also very important to consider what else you might need – the less dramatic, but equally important preps needed to survive.
Every event has a ripple effect. Disasters are the same way – they do not occur in a vacuum. As an example of this, consider the novel coronavirus. Coronavirus is not new; in fact, a type of coronavirus called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) became an epidemic in 2003. It quickly spread from Asia to North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak was contained. The novel strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) that is currently spreading throughout the world has spread more quickly and killed more people than the SARS virus of 2003. As it does not currently have a cure or vaccine, governments have been scrambling to prevent the further spread of this deadly virus, and people have reacted with panic. The ripple effect left by COVID-19 continues to bleed further into people’s everyday lives.
This kind of scenario – a viral pandemic – is one that many preppers are concerned about. The plights of those from Wuhan, the city in China where COVID-19 originated, provides some important details that many preppers have not previously considered. Firstly, the hospitals were packed. Unprepared for a new pandemic, hospitals in Wuhan did not have the staffing or space necessary to treat those who were sick. Many patients were turned away, told only to stay inside and minimize contact with those who were healthy. This kind of self-quarantine was doomed to fail, and the virus quickly spread as a result. In previous viral spreads, medical personnel were disproportionally affected by the viruses they were trying to prevent. Due to being in near-constant contact with infected patients, some doctors in Wuhan were unknowingly infected with COVID-19. This hit the news after a newborn baby tested positive for COVID-19, even though he only had contact with doctors.
Due to hospitals being under-prepared for a pandemic, they had a limited amount of personal protective equipment. This led to medical personnel having a higher risk of infection. The overwhelmed hospitals turned more patients away, and body bags were seen in hallways and dead bodies left in wheelchairs. While this was generally hidden from public view, the terrible conditions in the Wuhan hospitals caused more infection and illness than they helped. The people in Wuhan were not prepared for the lack of quality medical care available.
When the Chinese government built makeshift shelters and clinics, they only had enough space to quarantine those who tested positive for, and showed symptoms of, COVID-19. However, the virus is still contagious in infected people before they show symptoms. People who were not quickly identified as infected with COVID-19 could spread the virus to tens of people before they were quarantined. Termed as “super-spreaders,” they infected many more than anticipated. This led to a surge in demand for masks, hand sanitizer, and soap. Within days, masks were no longer available to the general public, and hand sanitizer became nearly impossible to obtain. The lack of protective equipment and anti-bacterial cleaning supplies available to the public increased the spread of COVID-19. The people in Wuhan did not think to stockpile masks that would have minimized the spread of disease. N95-rated masks, when fitted properly, will stop 95% of spittle particles that would otherwise enter your nose and mouth. In addition, razors (masks only seal when the wearer’s face is clean-shaven), hand sanitizer, soap, and gloves should have been stockpiled and stored properly to allow for clean and hygienic living – preventing the further spread of the virus.
This hygiene crisis continued when stores ran out of toilet paper, trash bags, and feminine hygiene products. Trash and the smell of fecal matter filled houses. What has resulted is bored and lonely people unable to leave their houses, slowly watching their houses fill with fecal matter and trash. Women from Wuhan are now at a much higher risk of toxic shock syndrome and infection because they have run out of feminine hygiene products. Female medical workers were told to “deal with it” when they expressed a need for sanitation during their periods while in their hazmat suits. People from Wuhan likely did not expect to be trapped in their homes for long periods of time without health and sanitation products or working plumbing systems, and doctors were under resourced in terms of personal protective equipment, feminine hygiene products, and staffing.
The Chinese government is infamous for its controlling philosophy on governance. While government officials initially denied the existence of a virus quickly spreading throughout its population, they quickly their approach and put Wuhan on lockdown. The government used COVID-19 to justify forced quarantine, with police dragging people out of cars and tranquilizing them, as well as dragging screaming children out of their homes and throwing them in the back of a truck. Videos on YouTube show civilians being forcibly taken and quarantined by Chinese police in protective gear.
The lockdown in Wuhan caused many people from other cities throughout China to be wary and afraid of people from Wuhan. For those that evacuated Wuhan before the government lockdown, they now faced the prospects of being a refugee in another city. Xenophobic crimes and fear-motivated assaults occurred, and those from Wuhan struggled to find shelter, jobs, or protection from others. While they could reasonably expect the Chinese government to intrude on their lives and arrest them, people from Wuhan likely did not expect to become refugees in their own country. When they attempted to bug out, they were unable to provide for their needs or protect themselves from the residents of other cities.
Preppers can learn a lot from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as it is a great example of a TEOTWAWKI situation. Unanticipated consequences of the pandemic are all around us. While food storage and clean water supplies are important, there are plenty examples of second and third order effects of the pandemic that are not usually prepared for. The hospitals becoming largely contaminated with COVID-19 shows that preppers must prepare to be without formal medical care for long periods of time. Many preppers have first aid kits oriented towards heavy bleeding and trauma, but how many prepare for not having access to prescription drugs or birth control, or prepare to handle joint dislocations or concussions? While many preppers have large supplies of masks, gloves, and soap, few think to store hand sanitizer, razors, toilet paper, trash bags, or feminine hygiene products. Even fewer think to have games and books on hand to prevent boredom and misery while waiting out a pandemic. Mental health is so important, even more so in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Those that bug out usually do not believe that they will become refugees, feared and hated as they find their new lives in a different place. The key to successful prepping is to think of the unanticipated consequence of an emergency – the crises within the original crisis.
This may seem overwhelming; one cannot possibly prepare for every eventuality! Indeed, no one can truly prepare for TEOTWAWKI, but preppers can find relatively inexpensive and simple solutions to often overlooked problems. For example, a potential lack of medical care can be solved by a network of preppers. If someone in the network is a trained and competent nurse, PA, or doctor, he or she can solve the majority of medical issues that may come from a disaster. Other members of the network can also be trained to handle minor medical issues under his or her supervision. Another unanticipated consequence is a hygiene crisis, which can contribute to a third order effect of increased vulnerability to disease and low morale. This can be solved by stockpiling value packs of essential items such as trash bags, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products before the crisis emerges. Waste can be quickly and efficiently disposed of underground, preventing the filling of living places with smelly waste. This will enable people to live healthier, happier lives when SHTF.
Yet another unanticipated consequence of the pandemic was the prejudice faced when attempting to bug out. Few, if any, are prepared to become refugees. Having close social connections with others in the chosen bugout location will minimize the impact – and danger – that comes with bugging out in a new location. Preppers and their families will be less likely to be stranded without a job or essential supplies after their initial store runs out, as well as have some basic protection from xenophobic residents. Think through a typical month: what would you need to keep a similar standard of living when SHTF? Start by slowly stocking up on essential items you need. Then add the supplies, training, or connections to your network. In this way, preppers can prepare for the majority of unanticipated consequences that may occur during TEOTWAWKI.
The Big One in 1906
Historical case studies can be used to help identify common unanticipated consequences of disasters. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was one such disaster, and residents today still fear such an earthquake. On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake ruptured the San Andreas fault to the north and south of San Francisco, and it could be felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles to central Nevada. The city that felt the worst effects of the earthquake – which had an estimated moment magnitude of 7.9 – was San Francisco. The quake ended in less than a minute after it started, having left destroyed buildings and creating panic in its wake.
While the most memorable effects of the earthquake were the toppled buildings and rubble, the real disasters occurred after the earthquake. The final results from the earthquake and subsequent destruction by fire were over 28,000 buildings destroyed, over 3,000 people dead, and 250,000 people homeless. The post-quake consequences show possible unanticipated consequences of a modern disaster
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)