Prepare for the Worst: A Camper's Creed
Updated: Feb 24
For nearly a week, my great State of Texas family has been tested by fire...well, by ice actually. Texas just experienced the coldest Artic air mass we've seen in quite some time. Several waves of it to be exact, pounding us with subzero temperatures, ice, and snow. For whatever reasons (and there are many), my fellow Texans were also subjected to a power grid failure on a massive scale as well, leaving hundreds of thousands without the basic necessity of heat for days. Now, we're being told to boil our drinking water too. Of course, we (and the power grid folks) had several day's warning of the impending deep freeze to prepare. Yet, as I watched the local news channel during the height of the storm, it became painfully apparent that not everyone took the warning to heart. Not only were people calling emergency numbers for heating assistance, but when able to venture out, they headed to the grocery store for supplies. As I watched this activity, I couldn't help but wonder why folks were so unprepared.
My mom grew up during the Great Depression era, losing her mom at aged three and was "fostered out" at around 10 years old to provide farming support to an elderly childless couple. Those experiences, which shaped her into a resourceful and resilient person, came in very handy when she became a single parent to a three-year-old daughter of her own. Somehow, my mom managed to scrape up enough on a waitress' salary to buy us a little 12 foot camper. It wasn't in the best of shape, but she renovated it all by herself without the use of power tools. It was quite nice, but basic. Instead of a refrigerator, it had an small ice box that relied on periodic block ice deliveries to cool our food. It had a toilet, artfully concealed under the dining table seat, but no bathtub or shower. We took our baths in a 35 gallon washtub with water heated on our two-burner stove. Summers were spent outdoors as air conditioning was non-existent. For many years, we were basically camping every day. So, the thought of being without power just transported me back to my childhood and all of my camping experiences since then.
Successful camping depends a lot on a pioneer-like mind set. It requires a level of living with "less," but in a positive way. When truly camping, you forgo the luxuries of home and rely more on the basics. You look for ways to streamline processes and incorporate items that do double-duty. You have to prepare for your trip, planning meals and activities based on your environment. Sometimes, you have to improvise, and you must always plan for contingencies and adapt as necessary. True. There are some folks who take camping to a whole new level of luxury. But, for the most part, campers and anyone looking to spend long periods of time outdoors must be resourceful and prepared.
As I watched my fellow city dwellers struggle and line up in the cold for blocks to get food at their local grocery store, I couldn't help but think that some basic outdoor education may have helped many of them. Of course I understand that the scope of some events can be beyond someone's ability to adequately prepare, especially if you live in an urban setting. There are people who have special needs like the elderly, infirmed, or homeless, and people who don't have the luxury of making a fire in a fireplace to keep warm. But even in those instances, there are small preparations that can ease the difficulty, i.e. having no-cook meals, bottled water, and blankets on hand; knowing the location of flashlights and batteries; ensuring there's adequate propane for the cooker, if you have one, and knowing how to safely operate it; having some coolers on standby incase the fridge is unusable, etc. Preparation is always key. Unfortunately, we've been lulled into a false sense of security believing that someone will always be there to rescue us. There's nothing wrong in expecting that basic services be there for us when we need them, After all, our tax dollars have paid for them. And, it's not unreasonable to hope that neighbors will step up to help neighbors in times of need. However, it's important to always have a backup plan, especially if you're able-bodied and have advanced notice. The first question on our minds should always be "What if?" What if the power goes out? What if there's no water? What if I'm unable to cook? What if no one can come for me for a period of time? You may not be prepared for every scenario, but you must try. As Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail." That sentiment could most certainly apply to the actions of our power grid folks, but that's a discussion for another day.
When my husband and I were stationed in southern Florida, I remember the PSAs every year at the beginning of hurricane season. We had an emergency box filled with things like candles, a weather radio, bottled water, canned foods, first aid kit, etc. We knew that a time might come when the contents of that box would be insufficient for our survival, but we still prepared. We understood the limitations of our public services and took steps to buy us some time in case we needed it before their arrival or our ability to get to a shelter. Inevitably, there were people who didn't heed the warnings and waited until the last moment to secure supplies - usually unsuccessfully. I remembered those people as I saw the lines of people standing out in the cold waiting to go into the local grocery store.
Some people have characterized this weather event as "once-in-a-lifetime." I believe that's a dangerous point of view. If anything, it should be characterized as a wake up call and an opportunity for a safety (reality) check among our family members and fellow citizens. I certainly hope that it will initiate some serious discussions among our government officials about public safety and preparation. However, more so, I hope that the public will see that, up to a point, they're responsible for their own well-being and should be proactive in their preparations for "just in case."
If you've yet to do so, I hope you'll take the time to do a thorough assessment of your family's emergency preparations. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money, but it does require some effort to get and stay current. There are lots of good videos online that discuss such things as well as local resources - think American Red Cross, AARP, REI, etc. Amazon also has some great books. It may take some time to put together resources that fit you and your families' specific needs, and the best time to get started is before you need it! If you're a fellow camper, you probably already have a lot of the necessary supplies on hand. If not, you can find great learning resources online. A pretty thorough resource is The Prepared – Get prepared for emergencies the right way. You don't have to be a full-fledged "prepper" to find value in prepping resources.
Today, the sun is shining, and we're digging out from under the snow and ice. We have a lot of work to do and need to have some serious conversations. Texans are a strong and resilient bunch. I've already heard some amazing stories of neighbors helping neighbors during this tragedy. The pioneer spirit was on full display, and I'm betting a lot of those folks were fellow campers.
2021 is turning out to be just as full of surprises (and challenges) as 2020. Pandemic. Check. Wayward polar vortex. Check. I'm afraid to ask, "What next?" Um, please excuse me while I go work on my ark.
"It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." - Howard Ruff