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If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

My World's on Fire
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #114 • View online
Welcome to My World’s on Fire, a newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you’re seeing this newsletter for the first time, let’s make this a regular thing—subscribe to receive disaster deep-dives, Q&As, and context in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

Last week, I asked for your questions about evacuations for the next edition of Demystifying Disasters and a number of you responded. While I’m still conducting interviews and research for that explainer, I did want to address a common theme I noticed in your questions, some of which were less about the ins-and-outs of evacuations and more about general preparedness. 
Like—should you have a “go bag”? And if so, what should be in it? Or is it worth just picking up one of those pre-made kits?
It felt like a particularly appropriate topic to dig into since today is the Great ShakeOut, an annual, international earthquake safety drill. This morning, I joined millions of people practicing how to drop, cover, and hold on, just as I would if I started to feel an earthquake. Admittedly, it felt a little funny to do alone, and it left my dog pretty confused, but it also served as a good reminder of small ways I can up my preparedness without investing a ton of money or time. So, after the drill, I stashed some extra water in my car and put on LAist’s fantastic “The Big One” podcast to refresh my memory about other best practices for earthquake preparedness. 
Drop, cover, hold on graphic courtesy of The Great ShakeOut
Drop, cover, hold on graphic courtesy of The Great ShakeOut
Now, as I wrote in my first newsletter post about preparedness two years ago, there is no one-size-fits all option to prepare for disasters. Ultimately, a lot of it is personal and depends on individual details. That said, since it’s clearly top of mind for many of you, I wanted to revisit the topic and share some basic advice I’ve picked up from experts over the years. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but I hope it can serve as a starting point for your personal preparedness path.
Figure out your risks
Do you live in a place prone to flooding or wildfires? Earthquakes or tornadoes? 
 Having a general idea of the hazards in your area is key to putting together your plan. For example, packing a “go bag"—a bag ready with the supplies you need if you have to evacuate—won’t necessarily make sense if you’re more likely to find yourself needing to shelter in place. In that case, having larger quantities of food and water stashed somewhere safe in your home might be more useful. 
If you’re not sure, you can use this site to find your state’s emergency management agency website, which will have more information about your state’s risk profile. Headwaters Economics also has a great tool for assessing neighborhood vulnerability. 
From there, you can start putting together a plan that takes into account things like your transportation options, building safety, medical concerns, and your financial situation. has a whole bunch of resources for this step (which are available in multiple languages)! 
Disaster kit considerations
By now, you can probably guess my answer to the question of: “Wait, what should I buy?”
Again, it depends on your specific situation. 
If you have the funds and want to buy a pre-packaged kit with basic items like flashlights and first aid materials, there are a number of options out there. But, as I previously explained for Vox, just don’t assume the purchase means you’re all set. As the makers of such kits have told me, you still need to put in the work educating yourself and creating a plan, plus you need to acquaint yourself with what’s actually inside that box before it starts collecting dust under your bed. You’ll also want to add important documents and other personal items, such as medications.
While those pre-made options tend to be pricey, you don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars into preparedness supplies—in a 2020 newsletter, one expert detailed their $46 homemade kit for MWOF readers. It included a lot of items you might already have, like a manual can opener, hand sanitizer, masks, and bleach. I also appreciated this MPB News article, which shares the go bags a handful of New Orleanians put together ahead of hurricane season. 
Start small
So, maybe you aren’t ready to start planning or making purchases today, but you would like to do something
How about: saying hi to your neighbor?
Experts widely agree that community connections make a significant difference in the resilience of neighborhoods.
“Social scientists have been able to demonstrate that communities with a high level of social capital, where people are connected to one another, recover more quickly and more completely after disasters,” seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones explained in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, adding:
“So before you think about supplies, go talk to your neighbor. Make the meaningful connections that mean you will help each other after the earthquake and be part of keeping Southern California a place we want to live. The relationships you form and your sense of belonging will be the driver to our hastened recovery.”
For some readers, you might need to start even closer to home, taking to loved ones or roommates about how you might approach different hazards and how you can help each other. 
Or, if you’re feeling a bit antisocial, let’s make your first step super easy: take a break from reading this newsletter, grab your cell phone, and take some photos of the room you’re in. Just like that, you’ve started creating a record that could make it easier in the future for you to file any damage claims—and now, you’ve at least a bit more prepared than you were at the start of this read.
Mark your calendars
Once a month, I host a live Q&A on Twitter Spaces instead of sending your regularly-scheduled weekly newsletter. This month’s will take place next Tuesday, October 25 at 4:30pm Pacific (7:30pm Eastern). I’m very excited to have journalist Alex Lubben joining me to speak about his in-depth reporting on climate and disaster-related buyouts in the US, which you can find in Vice and Public Integrity. You can also learn more about his process of investigating buyouts here and here!
It will definitely be an interesting conversation, so be sure to click the link below to set a reminder for the Space. If you join live, you’ll have a chance to submit your own questions and participate in the conversation.
Can’t make it? Members will receive some highlights from the chat in their exclusive monthly edition, so be sure to sign up now if you’re worried about missing out!
As always...
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Kate Hutton
I've worked and interacted with lots of reporters on emergency management topics over the years. Some awesome, some... 🤷‍♀️
Colleen is one of the good ones and has been in the trenches of these topics. Strongly recommended follow/subscribe if you're interested #EMGTwitter
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end (and you’ll want to watch this one to the end).
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