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Introduction to Disasters:

Mankind has faced many disasters throughout time. We all pray to avoid disasters, as none of them are particularly "fun" things to live through, however, we have all felt the sting of a disaster at some point in our lives. Some are small disasters; going through a change in relationship between friends, smashing your finger with a hammer, etc. Some are medium scale disasters; losing out on a promotion at work, being in a fender-bender, etc. Hopefully, few of us will ever really experience a large scale disaster; tornado takes our house/block/community/loved ones away, wildfire burns everything we've worked hard for in life to ash, ice storm leaves us stuck in our house with one candy bar and no way out.

Regardless of the scope of a disaster, several things can be said to be common for all disasters. Preparing for a generic disaster can help lessen its impact on our lives immeasurably. This is the heart of "Disaster Preparedness" and is what this and the following pages are all about. Much as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently presented on their Zombie Preparedness web page, there are important things that you as an individual can do to "help yourself" prior to a disaster, regardless of what kind of disaster you are facing.

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Disaster Facts and Terms

Each time we as humans have been faced with a disaster, regardless of scope, we have always endeavoured to survive. In looking back at several of the more recent disasters, those that survive (and sometimes even thrive through) a disaster, typically have prepared for a generic disaster and have been better prepared to experience the distinct stages of a disaster, namely:

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Disaster Preparations

Things you can do to help yourself recover from a disaster prior to the disaster.

The Disaster Itself.
Several of the ones more common in our area are:
  • Single family home fire
  • Tornado
  • Ice storm
  • Wild fire/Grass fire
Disaster Response
In many cases, this is help from outside the disaster zone brought in through various charities, etc., to assist those who've experienced the disaster recover from the disaster.
Disaster Legacy
This is typically more of a mental scar
  • Survivors Guilt - "Why did I survive and others did not?"
  • Survivors Handicaps - Sometimes survivors are handicapped by the disaster (lose an arm, leg, sight, etc.).
  • How do I rebuild? It's just so overwhelming?

Seldom are these stages lived in this order. However, given time to think about such things, we should all prepare for a disaster prior to having to live through one. As most people know, a disaster can have a profound impact on your life. To not prepare for one is tantamount to "sticking your head in the sand" and thinking happy thoughts.

Regardless of the type of disaster, there are several common themes that research has shown:

  • All disasters are local.
    • They affect a local group of people (even if the group is large, such as in Hurricane Katrina).
    • They affect a certain physical area.
    • Most disasters totally overwhelm that communities ability to "fix the problem" by themselves.
  • The majority of victims are ill-prepared to deal with the disaster
    • They seldom have the prerequisite documentation
      • Of what they lost (pictures of the items, serial numbers, purchased when, cost, etc.)
      • Of what major property they own (titles, deeds, etc.)
      • Of who they are (birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, etc.)
      • Of their financial existence (credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc.)
    • People seldom have enough food, water, and other critical supplies at hand to survive until outside resources can reach them.
    • Seldom are people prepared to deal with the red tape associated with a disaster relief effort
    • Many people do not have the money to actually prepare fully for those disasters that are most common in their areas
      • A storm shelter to ride out a tornado in may cost from $2500-$5000 dollars.
      • A fire break around one's home can be a time intensive and expensive thing to install/maintain
      • Putting utilities underground to avoid power outages during ice storms is extremely expensive
    • Few are prepared for the mental strain a disaster can put on their lives
  • Lives will be changed
    • Change in living condition (moving from a house to a tent/FEMA trailer/different town/etc.)
    • Changes in family structure due to death and/or impairment
    • Change in your wealth/indebtedness
    • While waiting for businesses to rebuild, there is little or no income. Bills tend to stack up.

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Disaster Preparations

To be prepared for a disaster typically takes lessons from other similar disasters and attempts to use those to help us prepare for similar things in our own lives. No two disasters of any given type are identical, but in many cases, the responses to a disaster of a given type are similar. Knowing this fact in advance, we can prepare for the needs of the response prior to going through the disaster and there by save ourselves some grief.

The types of things to have available prior to a disaster, the documentation, and how to get it from your starting point to your shelter will be covered in a later page.

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The Disaster Itself

Each year, we see people caught "in" disasters. Stubborn folks who will not leave their beach front homes "because they've seen this before"...only to be counted among the missing later. Folks who hide in their bathtubs during a tornado because they didn't have any other option/plan worked out in advance. People who are seen using garden hoses to water down their houses, trying to keep the shake shingles from catching fire.

These are the sorts of stories we would like you to not be a part of.

If you have a plan, you have a strategy to get yourself (and those you love) AWAY FROM the disaster, you are head and shoulders above those CAUGHT IN the disaster. So, what are you going to do? Are you going to be in the disaster, or out?

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Disaster Response

In the aftermath of a disaster, the "Disaster Response" process can be very important to many people. Every time a disaster hits, many people feel the need to assist those in trouble. You cannot really watch news reports of such events and not feel the need to do something. The spirit of helping people in need is written deeply in many a human heart.

Many different groups respond differently:

  • Neighbors help neighbors in ways that only a disaster can bring out.
  • The government sends in national guard troops to help maintain the peace.
  • Utilities send in crews to get basic infrastructure elements back in place.
  • Many church groups send in volunteers, money, and/or other disaster clean up or relief.
  • Insurance companies owe their existence to the effort to mitigate disasters by giving people a way to start over.

Regardless of which group you are looking at, it takes time for them to mobilize. This is typically on the order of 72 hours to two weeks (as seen in Hurricane Katrina) and is typically related to the amount of devastation and how much of a response is needed.

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Disaster Legacies

The emotional toll that disasters leave behind can be, by far, worse than the financial devastation. Lost loved ones, injuries, the loss of "things."

All of these can only be dealt with via courage, faith, and love. Courage to face the new reality as it is...not as we'd like it to be. Faith that our heavenly Father is with us, every step of the way. Love for one another, as we are all human...we are all loved children of God...we all need the love of those around us.

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Links of Interest

What follows is a list of links that cover a great number of topics related to disasters. Each of these links will open in a new browser window, and although chosen from a vast array of web sites on this topic on the web, none of them are, strictly speaking, Catholic. Please be aware that not all people with good ideas on how to deal with disasters necessarily present themselves "politely." Nor are all web pages going to exist for ever (some of these links may well be dead before we get this web page up ourselves).

In short, we take no responsibility for these links. You are warned.

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Instructor - Roland Stolfa

Roland Stolfa Roland Stolfa grew up here in Ardmore and attended St. Mary as a child. His diverse skill set has enabled him to fill in many different roles within the church. He is a communion minister, a disaster preparation planner, ham radio operator (KC5UNL), manager of St. Mary's Cemetary, as well serving as the Director of Social Outreach, managing the web site, as well as being the Physical Plant manager for all St. Mary properties.


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