When Disaster Strikes
Have you been watching the news recently? You’ve probably seen the horrifying flooding and destruction happening in parts of Texas and the Caribbean.
Natural disasters like this are no laughing matter. These aren’t small towns in the middle of nowhere either — Houston alone has a metro population of over 6 million people. You might even know people impacted by these storms.
We have friends that live in Houston, and when the storm hit we contacted them to make sure they were OK. Thankfully our friends were above the flood waters, and had plenty of stored food and water. Enough to last a few weeks at least. They were prepared, but also fairly lucky.
As I write this, another hurricane is headed towards Florida. Most storm projections say Miami is going to get hit — a city of 5.5 million people.
Combine the populations of those two large cities together, and you’ve got some simple math that says the financial impact of these storms is going to be incredible.
Many people have lost (or will lose) every material possession they own as a result of these storms. Think about that for a moment — everything you own suddenly gone.
On top of the physical destruction and accompanying mental anguish from a natural disaster, there is also significant income disruption to deal with. The economic “money train” (which most people take for granted), suddenly stops.
Many businesses close for repairs (and some even close permanently). For the businesses that do manage to stay open, many employees might be employed in a reduced capacity (fewer hours), leading to lower incomes levels.
It’s true — job income can disappear or be disrupted for months after a natural disaster. The people who depend on getting a paycheck every two weeks might be in serious trouble when this happens.
Yes, unemployment benefits might still available, but those benefits are not nearly enough to rebuild a home or replace lost belongings.
The financial impact on real people with real families is staggering to think about. If these families had hopes of saving for financial independence, those plans might have just seen a major setback.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, financially independent or job dependent — everyone is affected by natural disasters.
You often hear on the news these disasters are a “once in a 100 years ” or a “once in a lifetime” event, but in my experience they seem to happen every couple years. That’s common enough I think people should take them seriously.
On the West coast we have earthquakes, tsunami’s, volcanoes, and forest fires. In the Midwest they have tornadoes and blizzards. The Gulf Coast and the East coast have hurricanes. No place is immune from natural disasters.
While much of the United States is thanking their lucky stars they don’t live on the gulf coast right now, I like to take moments like these to reflect on my own disaster preparedness.
That’s right — I have a plan in place for when a natural disaster happens to us.
Sooner or later the region in which I live will be hit by some form of disaster. Maybe an earthquake, or maybe excessive flooding — who knows! Whatever happens, it pays to have a plan and resources prepared BEFORE a disaster strikes.
One of the first things to disappear when a major disaster hits is food. You probably saw pictures of those empty store shelves in Houston. That’s no joke — People go into “horde mode” and buy-up everything in sight at the last minute.
Instead of fighting for that last can of beans when a natural disaster happens, I’m going to calmly open the door to my garage and pick a can of beans off the shelf. Canned food I bought on-sale and in bulk. We generally keep about a month (or two) worth of food on-hand that doesn’t require refrigeration.
For cooking, we have a couple butane camping stoves (also in the garage) and our propane grill.
When it comes to our chest freezer however, we have a bigger problem. Chest freezers are generally good for a day or two without power (if they have enough thermal mass), but in natural disasters it can take weeks before power is restored. In the event of an extended power outage we can do two things:
- Potentially buy or borrow a generator.
- Buy dry-ice to keep the freezer cold.
In the past, we opted to go with option #2 (buying dry ice) when a extended power outage happened. Eventually the power came back on and everything in our freezer survived. After that, the dry ice was all fun and games.
If neither of those options are available, we’ll simply eat what we can out of the freezer before it spoils.
Water is less of a problem in the Pacific Northwest than other regions of the world. Nine months of the year it rains, so it’s relatively easy to collect fresh water here. Our house has a rainwater collection system (which we usually use for the garden in summer months). The biggest problem for us is purification and storage.
Thankfully, we have approximately 100 gallons of available water storage, and a water purification filter from my camping days. We can also use our camp stoves to boil water if the filter dies.
In my opinion, every family should have a first-aid kit on-hand at all times. My family is no exception — we keep one stocked in the house at all times, right next to the fire extinguisher.
Having a first-aid kit available is prudent even if you aren’t planning for a natural disaster. That said, it’s especially important when you don’t have quick access to medical aid.
While financial independence allows me freedom from a job, none of that really matters after a natural disaster. Why?
The problem is getting the money after a disaster. Don’t kid yourself — When the power goes out and the phone lines are down you won’t be able to use credit cards. Banks won’t be open and ATM’s won’t be working either. That’s when having cash in-hand is useful.
While we typically don’t keep more than a couple hundred dollars in cash for security reasons, having at least that much available in times of need has proven useful more than once.
Thinking about natural disasters is absolutely no fun. Most people try to avoid thinking about it. Natural disasters are terrible events that can destroy homes, and people’s livelihoods. It’s a whole lot of negative stuff to think about, so I can understand why people avoid the subject.
But disasters do happen, and fairly frequently at that. Money can’t change that fact, but it can help you prepare for the worst. Don’t bury your head in the sand and try to ignore low frequency but high severity events like these.
Instead, take the time to come up with a disaster plan. Discuss it with your family. Buy supplies if necessary.
Will you be prepared when the next one hits?
[Image Credit: Flickr/NOAA,Flickr2]
19 thoughts on “When Disaster Strikes”
These are great ways to prepare for a natural disaster. I used to live in a city in the South where the grocery stores went almost empty whenever it was going to snow. Everyone went into a panic mode and bought anything they could to prepare for the worst. Buying in bulk like you said will help save lots of money instead.
Mother nature can be kind but also dangerously powerful. There’s no way to prevent for natural disasters. The best we can do is brace ourselves for them. >_<
Well said Ms. FAF!
Hey! This is a great reminder to stock up and really get our contingency plans in order. Most of us take things for granted which is why you see last-minute store-runs. I’ve been thinking about alternative power, too.
I’m not advocating for “prepping” but I kind of like the idea of get-out-of-dodge bags that the family grabs and goes if we need to evacuate in a hurry.
Have you done anything like that?
We don’t keep a bag packed, but mainly because we don’t live in an area where we might need to evacuate (under normal circumstances) on short notice.
For many families in other parts of the world, this makes a lot of sense.
We went through the big earthquake in Sendai here. For us the most important thing is being able to get out of the affected area. Having gasonline in your car (look at the lines at gas stations) is important.
Now when we get to 1/2 full we fill up as soon as possible.
Also cash. No ATMs or banks of course. We have about a million yen in cash (~$10,000) as a reserve.
Water. Food. Transport. Heat? With no electricity and no gas it’s hard to keep warm… we had some old (non-electrical) kerosene heaters -and lots of blankets.
Stay safe out there.
Wow, you went through that Sendaiben? That earthquake and accompanying tsunami were horrific. So many people died.
To my understanding, the Japanese early warning system gave people about a minute before the quake, and about 30 minutes before the accompanying tsunami hit. That’s not a lot of time, and not nearly enough to evacuate millions of people.
Glad your OK. I think you must now understand the importance of being prepared even better than I do.
This is all great advice. It is very important to be prepared, and I can’t honestly say that we always have been, particularly with water, which is probably most important, and cash. Hopefully your post and these storms will serve as a reminder to many of us to do a little more to get ready in advance.
You are correct that the impact on people’s lives and finances can be measured in months and years following one of these disasters, even though after a few days or weeks most of the world has moved on to the latest news of the day. In many cases, the impact is permanent. You can eventually move on, but some things will never be the same.
We have family in the Florida Keys. They are out and safe, which is most important, but are preparing themselves psychologically for a potential total loss on their home and possessions in the coming days from Irma.
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Hope you family’s home survives. Best of luck, and I’m glad everyone is safe.
Great tips. One thing I emphasize is buying insurance well before the hurricane season, including flood insurance. I live in Miami, and only pay ~$750 per year for the flood policy. I was really saddenned to find out that many in Houston lacked a flood policy because their mortgage lender did not require it.
Yes, that is quite sad. I wonder if people in Houston believed the infrequency of flooding events made it not worth the cost.
If someone owns properly, insuring against catastrophic risks that are high in severity is very important.
Thanks for sharing your post! I have an earthquake emergency bag packed near the front door of my home but need to update it for a family of three.. also didn’t think about having cash on hand, I should definitely do that.
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We live in a more rural area so even with a major disaster power outages and difficulty getting arround are more common. We do what you have listed. I am contemplating buying a generator though the minute I buy it the power will never go out again. Water is only an issue so much as power is since we live on well water. I’m most worried about heat if something happens in winter here.
Ah yes, heating in the winter. That can be a big issue in some places.
The environment in my area is mild enough that we can get bye for quite some time without heat. A few years back we had to do this for a couple weeks, and got to test our fortitude. It was uncomfortable, but we did OK.
This is super important. Folks should consider the disaster they are most likely to experience and plan for that. I’m on the East Coast in a city. The longest I’ve gone without power in my current home is a few hours. They have done a great job updating the power and water infrastructure in the past few years. I keep enough water for me for five days and enough food for much longer. Since I don’t have a car and rely on public transportation, I keep in good running shape. I know that I can run for hours if necessity dictates. I don’t know if that will prove necessary, but it helps me to rest assured that I am as ready as I can be.
We are woefully under-prepared. My plan is to get in the car and drive down to California, but that might not work when the big one strikes. The freeway might not even be derivable. We live in a concrete tower that was built in the 60s so the odd of collapsing is pretty high. It’s going to be bad for sure.
We don’t have space for storage either. It’s not good..
I just hope the big one doesn’t strike until RB40Jr is done with high school. I’d be roaming the earth then…
My understanding is that it’s not “if” but “when” Joe. Let’s hope we get a series of small earthquakes instead of a big one.
I’m sure you saw what happened as part of the last big earthquake in Japan… a country far more prepared for such things. Frightening stuff.
Way to be prepared, Mr. Tako! Our preparation is our mobility. If shit hits the fan, we just leave. I guess that’s one of the biggest advantages of being nomadic and flexible.
It always pays to have a backup plan for all scenarios but you just never know. I think as FIRE people we naturally have a risk mitigation mindset. After all, the whole point of becoming FI is to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on companies or pensions to support you in retirement.
That *is* one big advantage to living out of a suitcase I guess!
You’re absolutely correct about risk mitigation — by our very nature FIRE people tend to consider a whole range of possible outcomes, both positive and negative. It’s partly how we got to FIRE in the first place.
Honestly, we have not prepared at all for catastrophic natural disasters. The main reason being that Finland doesn’t suffer from any of them at all. Our bed rock is very thick and solid, weather is mild… Probably the most probable disaster would be a large scale forest fire, but cold weather and educated populace makes it very unlikely.
I lived in Tokyo during the Tohoku earthquake, but now safely in Finland.
I guess the only natural “disaster” is the lack of sunlight during the winter, but luckily it’s not lethal.