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The Psychology of Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, Part 1: The Risks

I have always been a prepper; it’s in my blood.  I have also always been a gunsmith; I think I inherited those genes via a generational skip from my grandfather. But above all, I have always been a lover of the psychology of decisions.  I am fascinated by the driving force behind decisions based on stress and morals/ethics.  For me, the idea of emergency and disaster preparedness is a no-brainer—something we should already be doing and always looking to improve.  But many of my contemporaries, family, friends, and readers don’t feel the same way.  I feel it necessary to talk about the psychology of preparedness in an attempt to help everyone else see the reasons it makes sense to look at prepping.  If you are reading this, it isn’t necessarily my job to convince you of the merits of preparedness; rather, it is to help you understand the ways psychology plays a role in the act of preparation for major events.

First of all, consider some of the strife in the world:

  • Iran/Hormuz Strait/nuclear weapons development issue
  • The unstable North Korean landscape
  • Increasing tensions in Israel/Pakistan relations
  • Terrorists in opposition of “American Decadence”
  • A relatively passive and some might say “weak” president
  • A mandated $450+ billion decrease in defense budget spending for the next fourteen months
  • European currency is falling
  • Banking scandals in all of the major economies of the world

Add to that China outpacing our biggest growth rates of the last four decades by 1.5 times in certain sectors. While domestic markets are more stable than they have been in the recent past, there are more disappointments and revisions to the downside than expected with earnings coming in currently.

It’s easy to see a need for preparation as “average” U.S. citizens, especially from a military and foreign relations perspective. Also, regardless of whether or not America is the catalyst that supplies the growth of emerging countries onto the world stage, there is not an environment in place to allow our own growth to improve substantially.

The debt ceiling is being raised again and again, this time to $16 trillion, and we have no true sustainability in fossil fuels domestically.

The risk of a solar flare or weather event is at an all time high, not to mention the chance for a non-militarily driven EMP concern.  We live with a virtual target on our backs from many different angles, and it seems all of the risks have well-equipped sniper rifles aimed at the bulls-eye.

In times of economic concerns, social reform, pressure from outside nations, and military conflict potential, we as a country tend to become more introverted as individuals,and cut spending, social interaction, and other important variables needed to help improve the very situation that serves as its catalyst.

On top of these concerns, we are reportedly “exiting a decade of war” which along with it, brings its own concerns.  First it causes concern because as we remove troops from regions where we were the sole supporting force, we see regimes crumbling in days and weeks, rather than gaining momentum (i.e. Iraq in recent weeks). Secondly, it gives us pause and makes us reevaluate our own position in the world, as we take stock of commentary like this from government officials.  Left, right, or center (or even unaffiliated), no one wants to be fighting all the time; regardless of how capable we are of fighting two major wars at one time, it takes its toll on morale, resources, and foreign perception of us, opening our country up as a massive target, regardless of whether or not we are weak.

Pile on top of that a president that is tepid at best in foreign relations in high-pressure regions of the world, a war of words set to take stage in this election year, and a large amount of fundraising taking precedence over country leading, and whether you like the president or not, you must at least feel some concern for our place in the world.

Over the last three or four years, there has been a change in viewpoint from tough-talking military and political leaders from one of aggression at times (but overwhelmingly tough and forward) to one of passivity and making round-about assertions of our capabilities.  Defense Heads Dempsey and Panneta went on TV last week talking about the Iran conflict as though we really didn’t want to upset the delicate situation, and yet, making it somewhat clear that we would attack if the Strait of Hormuz was closed.  Hopefully this is the case of the dog’s bite being bigger than its bark, as Iran’s military leader has come out to tell us they “won’t warn us twice about removing our carrier from the area.”  Not only would it be unfortunate to have to destroy half of a country because its leadership got too bold for their own good, it could also be the catalyst for outside aggression against us.  What is North Korea going to do if we take out Iranian nuclear sites?  What will China do if we then react to a North Korea movement?  What about Russia?  How will other oil exporting countries further drain our economy, or put foreign relations pressure on us as a country?

What does any of this have to do with the psychology of preparedness?

Everything.

The more that pressure builds from all different directions, the more we as a people become reclusive and introspective, the more need we have to prepare, and the less we are likely to make sound decisions.

It’s simple: When we are under pressure like the above paragraphs lay out, we worry more about ourselves, not others. We also should be preparing for the risks involved, but we are less likely to think about realistic expectations or outcomes, and therefore we don’t prepare properly.

I live in one of the most expensive counties in the world, make more money than 99 percent of the world per year, and have the ability to travel around the world, and yet, these things affect me more than one might think.  Regardless of my living in San Diego, making a decent income, and seeing other countries as they develop and how they react to various issues and influences, I realize the state of the world is at a cusp of change.  There are wheels turning and forces at work that will impact our communities in the near future.  This is not a scare tactic; it is hopefully a reality check for those of you in a similar situation – in other words, Americans.

Pressure is everywhere. The risk of an EMP seems to be one of the biggest concerns right now (which I actually agree with personally), but some four or five years ago, we were worried about a ground invasion by China. In the 80s (and 70s and 60s), we were worried about a nuclear war and an invasion by Russia/U.S.S.R., but none of those things ever came to fruition.  It’s almost as if people don’t realize that print media, video, the internet, and word of mouth can’t be archived to relive our ridiculous fears and assumptions.  Now don’t get me wrong, no one is saying these aren’t or weren’t legitimate concerns, but just like we worried about bird and swine flu, and media plays out the concern for humans posed by terrorist anthrax (and other) attacks, we sometimes prepare hastily and with a single view in mind.

It’s important to remember that the psychology of preparedness should never inhibit the basic fundamental themes of such a concept.  That is, preparedness should never be seen as a single item or a single risk aversion, but rather as a holistic approach to being prepared for anything.

It might be a job loss, a weather event, a death in the family, a military conflict, or an economic downturn.  It could be anything, and that’s the point.  In a time where everything is a risk to the American people, we should be preparing for anything.

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