Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making it Through a Hypothetical Crisis

I'll start small and build from there.

First, let's imagine we have a local power outage. The thing about power outages is you have no idea how long they will last.
  • Maybe an hour or two.
  • Maybe all night.
  • Maybe several days.
  • Maybe longer.
And the real trick is being prepared for any of the above durations. Flashlights. Batteries. Alternative entertainment. Those will all last you for the first two of these four durations. But the latter two require more serious contingencies such as a backup generator. Loads of bottled water and food. Backup supplies of needed medications. Maybe even a wood burning fireplace and plenty of cord wood.

When a power outage finally ends --whether it was one of the whimpy hang-nail caliber, or the extended play-- most people will talk about it the next day. "Where were you? Did you manage? What kind of contingency did you have to fall back on?" And the people and the stories that stick out in our minds are always 1) the ones who somehow lucked out, or 2) the ones who really prepared well, or 3) the ones who truly got screwed. Those stories all haunt us and play into our fears and paranoias --possibly even our sense of embrassment and self-punishment where we scold ourselves for not being as prepared as we could have been. And that's all quite a lethal mix of emotions.

Okay ... let's move on to a more challenging crisis now: a snow storm.

Snow storms can reck your car. They can freeze your pipes. They can make you late for work. They pose the threat of actual death from freezing --even freezing in your very home. Snow storms can do all of the above AND cause power outages to boot. Being snowed in for several days is a frightening scenario involving food, shelter, medicine, and heat. So again the mettle of your makeshift, homemade contingency (if one even exists) gets tested. And then when it's all over, you again chat with your friends, family, and co-workers about how you each handled it. And when the story swapping is all done, you take with you the stories that really stood out, and you usually will modify your future contingencies accordingly --or at least worry about it.

The whole prospect of having to survive a crisis --especially a natural disaster-- is one that I am convinced always lingers in the back of most people's minds. Many a Hollywod movie has been centered around the whole "making it through a crisis" plotline, and it remains a popular sub-genre to this day. Several years back a small non-fiction book called "Worst Case Scenario" hit the best sellers list, and a TV reality show soon followed. The History Channel currently has a very popoular weekly show called "Mega Disasters" which uses lots of science and CGI to project hypothetical disasters ranging anywhere from Katrina-sized localization all the way up to dinosaur-anihilating meteor strikes. So there seems to be a how-to-survive-stuff chord that deeply resonates in our society with the entire concept.

We all surely think about it in varying degrees, some far more than others. The most lax among us might do little more than keep a spare can of franks and beans in the house and maybe a few loose batteries in the kitchen drawer. And at the other end of the spectrum we find the lunatic fringe who build cabins in the woods stocked with food and ammo as they await the impending apocolypse.

I'd be hard pressed to imagine any adult in modern society who has
  • lived on their own for more than 12 months,
  • maybe owns a house,
  • seen at least one of those movies,
and hasn't at least thought about it all, maybe worried about it, maybe even fantasized about it to some small degree. In fact, in my experience as a school teacher, I find that many children, starting around the age of 10 or 12, begin to fear such things (inspired largely by movies) and try to craft fatasized, sometimes elaborate (and often unrealistic) contingency plans in their heads.

The best laid plans of children and homeowners.

And this leads me to my ultimate point:

I think about it from time to time. My scriptwriting imagination enjoys the exercise, so my imaginings in this area can be very elabroate.

When I imagine how I might handle any number of scenarios (for a great selection, check out that book "Worst Case Scenario"), I always weight out in both hope and regret exactly how many of my contingency plans are do-able options versus how many are utterly out of reach products of fantasy. Am I silly? Paranoid? A schmuck?

"Be prepared," the Boy Scouts admonish us. But how much preparation is acceptable, advisable, and allowable? When is it overboard? When is it negligence?

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