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Normalcy bias? – Normalcy bias refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations. – Wikipedia

For 20 years I have advised families, corporations and governmental bodies on the topic of how to prepare for the unexpected, i.e., how to mitigate the risks associated with the technical infrastructure that underpins our society and the remarkably efficient supply chain that sustains us all.

I have learned a lot – a lot about the people, a lot about the stuff, a lot about the facilities, but, more importantly, a lot about human decision-making and the difficulty most people have in comprehending and recognizing the delicate threads from which our way of life and civil society tend to dangle. These are the very same threads that will likely break, if the encroaching Ebola pandemic fully manifests itself across the world.

I would encourage every reader to immediately familiarize themselves with the infrastructure and supply-chain issues to which I refer, as the world becomes poised to change, perhaps dramatically. I don’t wish to be an alarmist, and, yes, I might be wrong, but are you ready to bet your life on it?

Remarkably, and just this week, the folks on Wall Street finally figured out that if authorities squarely step up to the plate to address pandemic conditions (or move to avoid them), they will halt airline travel and thus annihilate airline stocks. This is only the beginning. The list of primary, secondary and tertiary economic impacts is lengthy and clearly not well understood. A pandemic will be catastrophic to our way of life.

The reality is that this did not have to happen. Risk mitigation experts have been watching this Ebola horror unfold since at least late 2013, but have been muzzled by political decision makers mired in, yes, politics. And here we are, facing an insidious virus that appears to have multiple mutations, a virus with a potential 42-day incubation that in some cases can infect others absent outward signs of host sickness, a virus with a lethality rate that can exceed 70 percent. Families, neighborhoods, schools and places of employment could be devastated due to a single initial infection.

I pray that in time I am proven wrong and that by some miracle a pandemic is averted. Perhaps there will be a vaccination, or perhaps the virus will burn itself out and suddenly disappear as the SARS threat did in 2003. But what happens if not? What happens if our key leaders continue to act negligently (e.g., allowing health-care providers to be needlessly exposed to Ebola, and to then allow them to circulate among the population freely), the border remains unsecured, international air travel remains unimpeded and the medical community remains untrained in pandemic response?

Here is what we do know: The fears and recommendations of many medical and risk mitigation professionals regarding the now-substantial Ebola threat are being ignored by decision makers due to political considerations and the approaching election.

How do we know that?

  • Air travel to and from the stricken African nations has not been restricted;
  • Borders have not been closed or more closely monitored;
  • None of the nation’s COG (Continuity of Government) resources are being accessed, activated or implemented, despite the enormity of the threat currently posed by Ebola: Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by the government since to construct over 100 classified facilities that can protect the nation’s political leaders and their families and staff from a myriad of threats; similarly, we have spent tens of thousands of tax-dollar-funded man-hours planning responses to protect the general public against biological warfare including, e.g., Russia’s store of weaponized smallpox; yet none of these plans, facilities or equipment developed at great cost appear to be in use.
  • USAMRID, the Department of Defense’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research, despite being co-located with the World Health Organization within the Ebola-infected African countries for the last decade, cannot – or has not – definitely told us: 1) the number of Ebola strains that we face, 2) the incubation period, 3) the latency period and 4) other critical data points, including details regarding airborne transmission. Does USAMRID know all of this? If so, why is the civilian medical community in the dark?

A few things to remember:

  • Much of what the media report is erroneous or at least incomplete;
  • There is a political agenda behind most everything the government does;
  • The political elite have secure places to go to protect and sustain themselves no matter the threat; no similar place has been prepared for the rest of us;
  • In a community overwhelmed by casualties, the civilian EMS system will break down, as the technicians will be busy taking care of their own;
  • Elasticity within the health-care system is virtually nonexistent, meaning there are not enough hospital beds to support communities overwhelmed by a pandemic;
  • Otherwise normal, rational people do things that are abnormal and irrational when they are not able to eat, drink, bathe and keep warm (or cool) in an environmentally controlled setting; remove one, or all, of these variables and human behavior becomes unpredictable;
  • It is nearly impossible for the average person to successfully isolate himself on top of the proverbial mountain and survive in a crisis; it takes a group of people working together;
  • The supply chain is extremely fragile, and, when shipments stop – for whatever reason – goods-on-hand are all you have, no matter the depth of your pocketbook;
  • One’s likelihood of survival diminishes dramatically if caught in a quarantine area once martial law is declared, or similar measures restricting travel are implemented by authorities;
  • It is a mistake to confuse economic success with preparation; a large check book, a private aircraft or even a black card will be of little use during a pandemic or other national emergency;
  • Adequate preparation can take years; like the design and construction of a new home, there is more to it than meets the eye; a true appreciation of the detail involved comes only with doing it.

A few actions for your consideration:

  • Lots of resources instruct on how to prepare for a pandemic; read as much as possible and figure out what best fits your family’s needs;
  • Be prepared to isolate yourself for an extended period of time;
  • Be ready to help others who are only partially prepared, or completely unprepared;
  • Preparation involves more than just food, water and air filtration: Be concerned also about power, fuel, communications, medical needs, spare parts and the myriad other items that comprise a complete preparedness solution;
  • Preparing properly is an inherently expensive proposition, so be sure to budget accordingly; consider skipping the vacation, new car or other luxury expense, as none of these will help in an emergency;
  • Preparation efforts should not be everyone else’s business; remember that human behavior can become unpredictable when food, water, sanitation and shelter are at stake;
  • If possible, identify a separate location to use in the event of an emergency; preposition provisions and equipment there if possible;
  • Most secondary or vacation homes are ill-suited as safe havens; while location is critical, duration, expected occupancy and the specific threat(s) to be mitigated will influence the cost and usefulness of any location;
  • Preparation is not strictly an economic issue; while financial resources can help, they are not the defining factor; I have seen clients with real courage, conviction and a work ethic build better solutions than members of the Forbes 400.

Lastly, inciting panic is not my aim. Consider this article, rather, as a call to action. The world faces a grave threat. While we might get lucky and dodge the proverbial bullet, can you afford to be unprepared if we don’t? The next six to eight weeks will tell us much about the severity of the unfolding Ebola crisis. However, if you don’t take steps now, there will be insufficient time to prepare later. Avoid becoming a victim of normalcy bias, and act now.

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