AUSTEN’S RULE OF LIFE #4: BE PREPARED

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It’s more than just the Boy Scout marching song. (Old reference, kids.)

I always try to travel places with my camera with me, in case a photo opportunity presents itself. I always double-back when leaving my hotel room to verify that I haven’t left something behind. I always try to make sure that the iron is turned off, the tea kettle is removed from the burner, the doors are locked and the dogs where they can’t get into any mischief. (Never has stopped them before, sadly.) And I do my level best to bring a book with me to read should their be times where I have nothing else to do. I am not one of those people who fiddle with their cell phones constantly, and would rather charge my brain than use my phone apps to excess. (Not that you needed to know that much, but… there it is.) 

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I am an Eagle Scout, and proud to call myself as such. I worked long and hard to get that badge, and am not ashamed to say that I am still a Scout. Yes, the Boy Scouts have had issues of late, and I don’t agree with all their stated ideas/positions. But, that’s what working towards changing attitudes are all about: either work with a system and try to change it, or throw the baby out with the bathwater completely and never try again. 

My point for this posting is easy: you can try to get prepared for what life has in store for you, assuming not the worst to be dour and defeatist, but to make sure you are able to make things better, being a part of the solution and not part of the problem. Not taking the time to plan things out (at least a little bit anyway) can cause you a maximum amount of headaches and irritation down the line. 

Before we have a round of severe weather in the Mid-South, if it is for me or the other WREG-TV forecasters, I try to make sure the entire weather center is ready to go and set for possible action: paper in the printers, as well as full ink cartridges, new batteries in our earpieces and microphones, computers restarted/re-booted and ready to go, letting the assignment desk editor know that if I go on the air I will require them to call our head people as I will be unable to, reminding the director of the shift that we may have to go wall-to-wall with coverage, calling the people in charge to let them know that all bases are covered. This, done well ahead of time, saves me (or anyone else at the station) from walking into a buzzsaw and helps cut down on mistakes and smooths out operations, all due to a decent amount of preparation before-hand. 

Before a campout or hike, our Scout troop at Faith Lutheran in Topeka, KS, would examine our patrol cooking boxes – large, sturdy, bright red boxes about the size of a foot locker that opened on either side with cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, spare matches, various small tools that would be useful/handy when necessary. ALL of our patrols had to do this and re-stock the box before we left the following weekend. Doing this beforehand meant we could leave on time, not having to worry about what we might have left behind, or worrying about running back/around having to replace items when we were at our site in the outdoors. Some people groused about this constantly: why was it necessary, what was the point, why do I have to do this, et mindbending cetera? The reasons became clear when other Scout troops were in the field with us and having to constantly borrow supplies off of us because they didn’t do what we did beforehand. 

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Many people that I’ve spoken to over the years, especially when it comes to emergency preparedness, are a bit queasy when I talk about disaster; they just plain don’t want to hear about it. “Everything is fine! Nothing is wrong now, so why worry about later?” Are you the type of person who doesn’t wear a seatbelt because “nothing like that ever happens to me”? 

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I gave a presentation at a seminar sponsored and organized by a small Methodist church just south of Memphis in north Mississippi last year that dealt with emergency preparation, especially when it came to weather emergencies, and what could be done at home/work/school/etc. in easy steps over time. I was informed thusly by some of the attendees that I should not be going around frightening people, and that I was – for all intents and purposes – a fearmonger. As with all critics/critical statements, I did my best to thank them for feeling able to speak to me on the situation as they saw fit and they went on their way satisfied that they had spoken their piece. On the other hand: I can’t let one or two people divert me from the main question here: What are you prepared for? Even more importantly: what are you NOT prepared for? Being prepared for different events is a necessity, even if it makes you uncomfortable in its preparation. My kids didn’t like hearing about possible kidnapping, and what they could do to prevent it, but my wife and I had to let them know what to do in a calm and reasonable manner to help them be prepared. 

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One of my favorite programs growing up was “MacGyver”, and how he was able to face most situations with a minimum of fear and panic, because he was able to have the knowledge and brain power (and the ever-present Swiss Army knife) to tackle everything from terrorists to oil well explosions to fixing a bicycle. He was a great inspiration to those who, like me, wanted to help and make things better, save a life, improve a situation. Whatever it was, Mac always was able to get things fixed somehow. Well, almost always. At the very least: he never gave up. Having the knife and the know-how was one of the main reasons I never missed a show while it was on the air. Even though it was a pre-written TV show, it was at least an exercise in science, learning, experience and preparation. One of the best that I ever knew of in my youth, long ago. 

What aren’t you ready for? If your kids are at home while you’re running errands and something happens (pick your crisis here), do they know how to respond? If you are at work, and your kids are at home, and the Big One strikes the New Madrid Fault, and you can’t get home in the usual time, do your kids know to open up a can of peaches to eat, but also to drink the syrup when the water lines are damaged? Do they know how to turn off the gas line should it become necessary? Do they know that 911 is for emergencies only, and what kind of an emergency precipitates a 911 call? If an earthquake or weather disaster complicates your arrival, do they know what to do in your absence? 

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Right after I arrived in the Memphis area back in the late 1990’s (wow… has it been that long?!?) I was invited to give a severe weather safety presentation at the Delta Amateur Radio Club’s monthly meeting. After the meeting was over, I was told a story by one of the operators about a crisis management / “war games” meeting held recently by local, county and state officials, in which a handful of amateur radio operators (or “hams”) were invited to the show. They went thinking they would be part of the operation, acting in tandem with the exercise to help seal up gaps in communication, helping to be a part of the chain of command when it came to helping their community. Apparently, they couldn’t have been more wrong, as they were invited almost as an afterthought. No participation from the hams was asked for in any way for the entire exercise. When the drill was over, the operator who was speaking to me told me that he asked one of the commanders what – in their opinion – would happen if communications ever went down to the point of needing a group like the operators in the field to help pass information along as necessary to replace the regular communication system. The response: if things get that bad (which they won’t) we’ll just pick up the phone and issue orders as usual.  Don’t know about you, but that answer does not fill me with a great deal of hope or calm when it comes to how bad things could possibly get in a major disaster. 

We are a reactive society. We are not as good as being a pro-active society as we could or should be. We need to think about those things that could happen to reduce damage or injury or worse. Not to the point of being depressed. But, if we can prepare and don’t, how much worse off will we be if and when something does happen and we chose, deliberately, not to prepare? 

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Be Prepared is much more than just the Boy Scout Marching Song. It needs to be everyone’s concern everywhere. Maybe we can’t be prepared for everything at all times, but we can reduce the chance that we will be less prepared, or not prepared at all, for the things that life throws at us. And, just maybe, be just a bit wiser for the experience in the process. 

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