Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Be Prepared (Part 1): Building Family Resilience

As parents we know that we need to be prepared for many events. We carry nappies, a snack and a change of clothes for our kids when we go out. We take our driving license and a spare tyre when we drive. Us women need to have sanitary items (and a few other essentials: chocolate, lipstick, a pack of tissues, last year's petrol receipts...) stashed in our bags, just in case. So that if and when something comes up we can deal with the situation and carry on with our day, rather than have to cancel our plans and have a cold, wet, hungry crying child for good measure.

So it is with family preparedness. A resilient family is one that is prepared, can sustain itself, can maintain its own inner functioning and stability as a place of nurturing care, food, warmth and shelter, regardless of the external knocks and bumps it might receive. It is one that can, on a deeply practical level, ride out the storm.

There are many who seem to take pleasure in the act of scaring others, in the adrenaline of impending Armageddon, and their upcoming role as Rambo. They will be survivors! Let me be clear, I am not talking about buying guns, a nuclear bunker or heading for the woods. I am not trying to be alarmist. Although I am personally pretty sure that uncertainty lies ahead, there are a large number of frequently occurring scenarios where having a prepared household will stand you in good stead:

Adverse weather conditions which might isolate your house: snow and ice or flooding.
Power outages.
An illness which lays the whole family down or larger epidemic such as last year's swine flu, where you would prefer to go out as little as possible.
General strikes which may affect shops or petrol or the transportation of goods.
Devaluation of currency or some other major economic shock.

Over this coming week I am going to be covering family preparedness or resilience.

My step grandmother was a refugee from the Vietnamese war and she kept everything, every last napkin that came free in a restaurant or plastic cutlery from an airplane. When she came into the main house from her granny flat she always brought her wallet, glasses, medication and phone in a plastic bag. When she died we found fully stocked store cupboards with tinned goods twenty years past their sell-by-date. Years of living carefully,  prudently, and needing to escape at a moment's notice had carved themselves into her habits. She was a survivor, and she knew what was needed to survive. We who came from a culture of plenty, a nation which had not recently been shaken by war, starvation or national emergency found her quaintly amusing.

The fuel blockades in England in 2000, brought to the government's attention the dangers of short termism. To save storage space, shops now only carry three days supply of food. There was a run on bread, milk and other fresh items as people tried to save on petrol. There were queues hours long outside more petrol stations. In ordinary circumstances our "just in time" way of managing our lives works fine, but if there is a blip in the overall system, and a rush on the shops, because people suddenly need to stock up, they run out very quickly.

In the past households were far more self reliant. People knew that life came in cycles of plenty and scarcity, and that preparedness was key to survival. They grew and preserved their own food, they had store cupboards, quite an old fashioned concept now. They also had neighbourhood resilience. No family, after all is an island.

A prepared family should have:
Food, water, warmth, shelter, light, a power source, washing facilities, communications, and transportation.

Dried, frozen and tinned foods -  that your family will eat, that you know how to cook and that will provide a reasonably balanced diet. Keep the supplies topped up and in use, so that you don't get out of date supplies.
Liquid - plenty of water, juice, alcohol both for sterilisation, medical needs and keeping spirits up!
Water for washing and household needs - get a water butt.
Fuel - vegetable oil to mix with your diesel, full oil tank, wood for fires, gas canister for cooking/ a gas heater, petrol generator and petrol.
Warm clothes and blankets.
First aid and well stocked medicine cabinet - handbook and supplies.
Radio and batteries.
Matches, torches, candles, soap, sewing kit, toilet roll!
Contact numbers and a charged mobile phone.
Alternative mode of transport.
Money: hard cash, cheque book and perhaps other tradeable items.

Be thoughtful, look around your house and analyze: how much are you reliant on electricity? If you have a phone/ can opener/ cooker that is reliant on electricity be sure to 1) have a generator or 2) an alternative. The same goes with gas, oil, petrol/diesel and water. How resilient is your household if one, or more, of these is unavailable?

The key is to have a number of alternatives, so that if one box of matches is lost/ soggy/ half finished, you're not stuck, because you have another box, and a torch, and a hurricane lamp.

Step one: Breathe. Step two: Look around your home analytically. Step three: Take a small step to prepare. And then another.

Remember the words on the cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: DON'T PANIC!

Part 2 follows later in the week: Skills for resilient families and Part 3: Instead of money...


  1. John Dolan (who initiated the community supported agriculture scheme in Bantry in 2009) gave me the figures once for the typical ratio of living space to food storage space in rural Ireland 100 years ago when a family would store potatoes, oats perhaps, animal fodder through the winter. It was one of those factoids that I've found even more interesting in hindsight and wish I'd made a better note of it... Whatever it was, it was in glaring contrast with today's huge houses and small cupboards.

    Times, needs and systems change obviously but nonetheless it's a massive swing from one extreme to the other. It really highlights how we do live in blind faith that the shop will always provide.

  2. i think that living in a city makes this difficult to take on board. now that we're up a mountain we have had to think about such things. we have 3 fuel supplies, a generator, a large store cupboard, first aid, etc.

    but even when we lived in the city i liked to have full cupboards and freezer.
    i know that in UK the day before xmas everyone goes nuts, just because the shops will be closed for 24hrs. crazy. nevermind when there are snow bloacks such as at the moment.

    no need to panic or be paranoid, just common sense. great post.

  3. thanks PT and Mon. great responses. Both aspects I hadn't considered and v pertinent additions to the discussion.



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