Bad things happen, as we’ve demonstrated. Some of these bad things happen more frequently than others. Additionally, some of the bad things are merely slightly bad, while some of them are truly catastrophic. For you. For your family. For your city. For the world. To really be smart about how we prepare, we need to understand the severity of potential emergencies.
Now that we’ve seen how likely something is to occur, we’re ready to evaluate the severity of its occurrence. Severity is basically how bad it will / could impact you.
When I look at the list of potential bad things above, the following categories of impacts come to mind. Note that these are also the ways in which we suffer and die. Suffering and dying are things that we should strive to avoid.
- We can get too cold or too hot (shelter).
- We can run out of water.
- We can run out of food.
- We can get sick or injured (health)
- We can come under attack, or be at increased risk of physical danger.
- We can get stuck somewhere we don’t want to be (transportation).
- We can lose the convenience of gas, electric, and water utilities (grid).
- We can lose contact with the world (communications / comms).
- We can lose the ability to financial maintain our current lifestyle (finances).
- We can get bored and/or lose hope (mental).
These 10 ways in which we suffer and die relate to our human needs during a catastrophe or survival situation. The ways in which we suffer and die in NORMAL times (from the CDC) is much more mundane:
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
- Influenza / Peumonia
- Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, and Nephrosis (Kidney Failure)
Note that we have a few items on both lists. Specifically, getting sick covers several items on the CDC’s list. Also, accidents are represented on both lists. Finally, I would present that boredom and hopelessness could lead to suicide.
But generally speaking, you only have to do a few simple things to avoid falling prey to the items on the CDC’s list:
- Eat right
- Lose weight
- Don’t smoke
- Get plenty of sleep
- Go to the doctor, and do what the doctor says
Let’s pause here for a minute. If you aren’t physically fit then you need to make that a top priority. No point in stocking up on beans, batteries, and bullets if your heart is going to explode as soon as something bad happens.
This is taking my whole risk-based approach to another level. As you can see from the CDC list, you are MUCH more likely to die from being overweight, having high blood pressure, smoking, etc. than from any of the bad things we’re talking about.
Also, being physically fit INCREASES your likelihood of surviving any of the bad things we’re talking about. So, get after it. Get some cardio. Eat right. Get strong. Be flexible and balanced. Take care of your health issues.
Back to the lecture at hand – how could the bad things (events) impact our lives (consequences / suffering and death)? My assessment follows.
My scale goes from:
- 10 = Extreme impact / Complete loss of capability.
- 5 = Meaningful impact / Capability is no longer reliable.
- 0 = No impact.
I’m thinking about the impacts in terms of capabilities. My shelter (my house) is fully capable of protecting me from the elements in normal circumstances. In normal circumstances, the capability of the food production and distribution system works perfectly.
Note that I looked at it both short-term and long-term, where long-term was applicable. A power outage from a a storm won’t last a year. But a power outage from an EMP or solar flare might last forever.
For short-term, I’m thinking in terms of days or weeks.
For long-term, I”m thinking 6 months to multiple years. In other words, my long-term thought process is, “If this endures for six or more months, what is the impact?”
Long-Term Impacts of Selected Emergencies
Some of the thought processes that went into my Long-Term Impact Assessment of the severity of emergencies:
- I have a lake behind my house. It has lots of water in it. I have many options for purification of lake-water (chemical, filtration, and boiling). Water is not typically a big concern for me.
- When I think about Shelter impacts, I consider things that might make staying in my house uncomfortable or dangerous.
- When I think about Food impacts, I consider how this thing might make it harder to get the foods I’m accustomed to. That’s a 5. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were (actually, ARE) impacts to the meat supply. I like meat, so I grade that as a minimum 5 likelihood.
- Health has to do with specific threats to my health (like disease) AND my access to medical help. If I can’t go to the doctor, then that capability becomes unreliable.
- Danger gets higher as some of the systems we rely upon become unreliable. If people get hungry, they become unpredictable.
- All of my automobiles use gasoline, and therefore depend on the grid for distribution of fuel. So anything that impacts the grid long-term also impacts my ability to get where I’m going.
- Most of my income depends upon reliable communications and transportation. Anything that impacts those, as well as any catastrophe that causes general economic harm, is a threat to me.
- My mental health is pretty resilient, but I try to imagine how different events might impact my psyche. It would suck if a terror attack impacted my community. But I realize that the loss of a job NOT associated with a catastrophe can have an even more profound impact on my mental wellbeing.
- It should be clear that these events are not mutually exclusive. A long-term internet outage can cause long-term employment disruption, impacts to the food supply, and potentially lead to unrest. This is just a simple model for evaluating risk. It’s a means to an end. For the purpose of this exercise, it’s fine that some of these events bleed together. In fact, it’s a good thought process to consider the long-term effect of these events.
Short-Term Impacts of Selected Emergencies
As we move on to short-term consequences, I also want to shift our focus to assumptions about the events themselves:
- Power Outages, as we experience them, are typically short-term events, and the impacts are pretty low.
- A short-term personal financial crisis, while disruptive, isn’t a huge impact. Long-term unemployment, on the other hand, IS impactful.
- There’s hardly any such thing as a short-term pandemic. Based on what I’ve learned in the last few years, I would equate this to a localized hotspot that leads to a local shutdown. (As we speak, this is what Hong Kong is facing for it’s Wave 5 in March of 2022.
- The Internet outage, like many other scenarios, have a wide range of impacts based on the duration of the problem. If it bounces back quickly, then it’s really a nonevent.
- Similarly, a short-term food disruption isn’t a huge impact if you have some extra food. Which we’ll get to that…
- Short-term insurrection or civic unrest, on the other hand, can get bad quick.
- I almost put N/A on the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical attack, HAZMAT, Meteor Strike, EMP / Solar Flare, and Supervolcano. But I guess these events have a wide range of scenarios, and the LOCAL short-term impact may vary quite a bit. So depending on where you are you may have a scenario where one or more of these things can be short-term.
OK, So What Should I Care About in the Short-Term?
We have evaluated the likelihood and the short-term and long-term impacts of a group of possible bad events. There are a lot of factors in the impact tables, which can make it complicated. What I’m doing next is just using those granular impacts to assess the overall impact of the event on a short-term and long-term basis. To keep myself honest, I am force-ranking the short-term and long-term impacts. This means that they can’t all be HIGH or LOW, There’s going to be a first place, a last place, and everything in-between.
If you want to get sophisticated, you can weight your impacts by what is most important to you and come up with a precise score for each scenario. I’m not going to be that scientific, because I realize that it’s all very speculative. The problem with applying sophisticated math to guesses is that you fool yourself into thinking you’re right. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do something a little simpler:
I’m adding up all of the granular impacts and ranking them based on that. So, in my example, Short-Term Power Outage got a total of 11 impact points. (Adding up shelter, water, food, etc.). I added up each row to get the “Total Short-Term Impact Points” and the “Total Long-Term Impact Points.” Then I ranked them highest to lowest.
And What do I Care About in the Long-Term?
Again, for our definition, ‘Long Term’ means greater than 6 months. If this bad thing happens, how much would it impact me?
Same process here. I add up the total long-term impact points and then force-rank them to find the biggest long-term impacts.
With our next post, we’ll bring it all together…
Featured Image: Photo credited to the firm Levy & fils by this site. (It is credited to a photographer “Kuhn” by another publisher .), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons