Every week I receive emails from readers with questions regarding being prepared for disaster. This week I received a request from a reader that went like this: My friend just lost his home to the fires in Southern California, he was totally unprepared and lost everything. What advice would I give to someone who is in the recovery process?
This is a bit of a paradigm shift for me as I always deal with the preparedness aspect of disasters. It is my hope that readers will take the message seriously, make some sort of preparations which will lessen the trauma (and drama) of a disaster. Human nature being what it is, there are always those who put off prepping or for one reason or another, blow it off altogether. I’m going to resist the “I told you so speech,” and instead give some advice on how to cope with your loss.
Having never suffered a major loss from disaster, I contacted a friend who, some years back, lost their home to an early morning house fire. They found themselves standing out in the street in bathrobes in 30 degree weather while all their precious possessions went up in smoke. House fires are the most common disasters in the U.S. so some of you can identify with such a loss.
My friend first offered that the recovery experience was a process. Not unlike dealing with the death of a loved one. Very similar to the five stages of grief offered by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.” A bereaved survivor is known to experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, usually in that order. Losing your home to fire can trigger those same responses. That helpless feeling of being unfairly violated when a home is lost is akin to the feelings of being ripped off, sexually violated or somehow abused by someone more powerful than you.
My friend doesn’t recommend engaging in the “anger” phase of the process when a home is lost as it is a waste of time, energy and emotional investment.
In most cases of widespread natural disaster, insurance companies will set up special field offices to process claims more efficiently. Take full advantage of those facilities and get your claim going as soon as possible. Get on a first name basis with the agent handling your claim and respond promptly to their requests for information.
Finally, fly the plane. Some years back when I was taking flying lessons, my instructor would create situations to teach me how to respond in an emergency. For example we would be flying along on a beautiful Oregon day and he would reach over and cut the power to the engine. “What you gonna do?” he’d ask. Resisting an impulse to smack him (not recommended) I’d start through the checklist. First is to establish an angle of glide. That is, point the airplane downhill just enough maintain sufficient airspeed to keep the thing in the air. In other words, fly the plane. Then you can go through the checklist to get that big fan turning again. When we encounter disaster, sometimes we forget the basics. We neglect some of the things that are otherwise routine. Things like eating, sleeping, showering or taking our daily pills. Keep some semblance of a normal schedule. In short, don’t forget to fly the plane.
As always, send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns are on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is a retired Postmaster and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us,” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.