Today, a strange paradox exists. The threat of terrorism has escalated, rogue nations are developing the bomb, weather patterns are behaving irregularly and gateways through biotechnology could unleash upon earth pestilence of biblical proportions. People around the world feel uneasy about what tomorrow might bring.

Yet many people, especially in America, are indifferent to the need to prepare for the unexpected.

One reason some neglect preparedness is a peculiar defeatism that says, “If bad things are going to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.” In a word – dumb.

A second, more likely reason for failing to prepare has to do with how well off we are in the United States. We trust in our bank accounts to sustain us. Unfortunately, money sitting in savings and investments are useless if one becomes stuck in a landslide or other crisis.

Perhaps the greatest reason why some people never plan for disaster is that they view the need to prepare for the unexpected as too complicated and costly. They imagine the back yard being dug up for construction of a massive bomb shelter and the basement crammed with row after row of dry grains and large containers filled with backup water.

The truth is survival preparation is modestly affordable. Under most circumstances, the ability for individuals to remain mobile for a few days to a couple weeks by simply grabbing an inexpensive “survival kit” and heading out is more important than silos filled with long-term storage foods.

Even when we envision a worst-case scenario – such as a terrorist nuke or ICBM exchange – low-cost shelters, that can be built at home and combined with a minimal amount of Potassium Iodide, would help keep as much as 99 percent of the population alive, according to one synopsis by the Department of Homeland Security, which envisioned a 10-kiloton bomb going off in Washington, D.C. Simple designs for building practical radiation shelters are available free online at places like

While having to try to endure radioactive fallout is a growing possibility, the fact is that most people are more likely to face disaster as a result of things like nature.

Just this week searchers found a climber’s body in a snow cave near the summit of Mount Hood in Oregon, nine days after three mountaineers became lost. Almost every year we hear of people getting stranded on this mountain, a popular ski and hiking area located about 50 miles southeast of Portland.

Weeks before that a journalist became lost in a snowstorm on his way to the Oregon coast, and died of exposure and hypothermia as he sought help for his snowbound wife and children.

Who can forget the initial and post-hurricane struggle to survive by victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late August and early September 2005. These were some of the deadliest hurricanes in United States history and cost billions of dollars in damage.

Yet, many people and businesses did survive due to disaster preparedness. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers showed how having a business-disaster plan in place helped them focus on employee and community needs. UPS, APL Logistics, DrugMax and Imperial Industries are just a few of the companies whose preparedness plans became key to their survival and ongoing service to the public.

The same was true on a personal level. One woman had a small emergency supplies kit in her attic that kept her and her two cats alive until help arrived days later. A local doctor had followed the advice of a preparedness manual and had food and equipment properly stored in his house. In the aftermath of the storm, his place became a local center for neighbors where they stayed until other arrangements could be made. These and similar stories do not reflect blind luck. Preparedness paid off with survival.

For reasons such as these, my wife and I recently provided each of our children with the basics of emergency preparedness, including a go-bag or “walk out kit” for the trunks of each of their cars. These emergency bags contain enough food, water, shelter, first aid, lighting and communication supplies to keep them alive for days in the case of a vehicle malfunction or other situation where they might need to abandon their automobile or walk out of a storm.

Many of the items vital for a good survival kit can be found at your local shopping center: an inexpensive poncho, a basic first aid assortment, nylon cord, canvas for temporary shelter, duck tape, a whistle.

Other items necessary for an effective emergency kit are a bit trickier to find and may need to be acquired from one of many online emergency preparedness companies. These include five-year-shelf-life food bars, five-year-shelf-life water boxes or pouches, paper-thin thermal blankets designed by NASA to retain body heat, special hand-crank combination flashlights with radios and emergency signals built in, and so on. My personal favorite is the “Transformer 4 in 1 Radio Flashlight,” which requires no maintenance, no batteries, no bulb replacements, and can even power your cell phone.

Pre-made emergency kits containing items such as those above can be acquired online at costs of $30 and up, depending on the number of people and the number of days they are designed to sustain.

And there is more good news. Hundreds of pages from reports and booklets on how to perform first aid, prepare temporary shelters, build bomb shelters, defend against terrorism and chemical contamination, shield against nuclear fallout, survive earthquakes, storms, floods, and dozens of other emergency situations are available free at places like

Anybody can download these booklets and reports, print them out and place them on a table in a church foyer, hand them to neighbors, give them out during classes, or better yet teach a community class on preparedness. If nothing else, everybody can forward this article to the people they know with a recommendation that they do what is right to protect themselves as well as those under their care.

Remember the Nike slogan “Just Do It”? When it comes to preparedness, this is good advice. All of us must take personal responsibility for preparedness in an age of growing uncertainty. Dramatic lessons over the last few years have proven that we cannot depend on government agencies such as FEMA to save us if we need them. In fact, a report last month found that five years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the government still isn’t fully prepared to respond to a major public health emergency such as bioterrorism or a pandemic flu outbreak.

So … how do you get your personal preparedness plan started?

  1. If you haven’t made or purchased an emergency survival kit, do that right away. If you build your own go-bag or survival kit, make sure to include five-year-shelf-life food and water (most store products will spoil over time or require refrigeration), thermal blankets, and a radio-flashlight combination that does not require batteries. Look at one of the pre-made kits at and copy what you see there. You should include enough of the basic survival products stored in a single safe place at home to cover each member of your family for at least one week. I also suggest you place a “walk-out kit” in each vehicle that you or family members might use for long trips. If you do nothing else, at least do this.

  2. Consider your particular situation. Do you live in the country or city? In a home or apartment? Do you have kids? Pets? Specific medical needs or prescription drugs? Think about what it would take for each member of your family to have the things they need besides food, water and shelter, to stay healthy. Create a list of these items and where they are located in your home. Place that list in several safe places as well as each survival bag and the glove box of every vehicle.

  3. Finally:

  • Place copies of your important documents in a waterproof and portable container (insurance cards, birth certificates, deeds, photo IDs, etc.).

  • Have an extra set of car and house keys.

  • Think about credit and ATM cards and cash. Have small denominations on hand as banks may be closed or not functional during disaster.

  • Medication for each member of your household for at least one week and other essential personal items. Keep a list of their dosages or copies of prescription slips.

  • Child care supplies or other special care items.

  • Personal care items and hygiene supplies.

  • Contact and meeting place information for your household if you should become separated, and a small regional map with several routes out of your area by vehicle or on foot.

  • Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, bandanas, sweatpants and shirts, spare coats.

For greater details on disaster preparedness, including checklists, forms, important contact information, and even building designs, businesses and individuals are invited to download the free books and brochures created by the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and others at

Together, we can face the future with confidence and take the lead for our family and communities in disaster preparedness.

Thomas Horn is the CEO of, an online wholesaler of emergency supplies and survival products for disaster preparedness.

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