Emergency Preparedness- Chapter 1 Excerpt

Do One Thing Today

The Most Potent Advice

Emergency preparedness. The phrase evokes images of calamity, of privation, of wheat in the basement and guns in the closet. It represents uncertainty; it causes fear. Many people avoid emergency preparedness because to acknowledge it makes disaster seem certain. Others avoid it because it is intimidating and overwhelming. There are so many things to be done, so much to be organized, so much to be learned. Where do you start?

The chapters in this book ends with the same phrase:
“Emergency preparedness: do one thing today.”
This is the most potent advice in the entire book. It is more potent

than telling you how much water to store or how to secure your water heater or why earthquakes do the damage they do. It is more potent than a 72-hour kit list or a first-aid kit description. Why is it such useful advice? Here are nine reasons:

1. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

—Lao Tse

“Do one thing today” restates a universal principle: by the yard it’s hard; by the inch it’s a cinch. Henry Ford said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” This universal principle enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary projects by doing a little bit at a time. It works for things other than emergency preparedness. It works for self-improvement. It works for engineering and construction projects. It works for writing books about emergency preparedness. It just works.

2. “Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.”

—Richard L. Evans

“Do one thing today” gives you a starting point. Complex tasks, like emergency preparedness, do not always have a clear beginning and end. The prospect of the task can be overwhelming and discouraging. But the principle of “do one thing today” gives you permission to start anywhere you are comfortable, just as long as you start.

3. “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

—Calvin Coolidge

“Do one thing today” breaks the paralysis of procrastination, gets you moving, gives you momentum. And once you are moving, for- ward progress is easier to sustain. Once you are moving, the things that intimidate you don’t seem so insurmountable. It’s easier to face the bear than to worry about facing the bear.

4. “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.”

—Salvador Dali

“Do one thing today” gives you permission to be imperfect and incomplete. You only have to be a little better than you were. This realization releases you from a potentially disabling obsession of perfection. You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone else or some imagined standard. You only need to do what you can immediately see to do. You can start with a single thing. And then, as you do the simple things, it will become clear to you what the next goals should be.

5. “Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little.”


Most worthwhile undertakings in this life are long-term projects where perseverance is more important than speed. “Do one thing today” is the mantra of the person who is in it for the long term. It acknowledges that emergency preparedness is not a fad of the week but an attitude for life.

6. “He is educated who knows how to find out what he doesn’t know.”

—Georg Simmel

“Do one thing today” is better than knowledge. If taken to heart, it supplies the motivation that will lead to knowledge.

7. “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

—Benjamin Franklin

“Do one thing today” is more effective than “do it all once and forget it.” Emergency preparedness requires regular attention. If you constantly review and improve your supplies, you’ll know what you have, and what you need. This knowledge will allow you to be resourceful instead of panicky. If you constantly review and improve your preparedness, it is easier to stay current on rotation and replacement schedules. As you continue to review and improve, you’ll naturally tailor your efforts to changing needs and risks.

8. “Willful waste brings woeful want.”

—Thomas Fuller

“Do one thing today” is cheaper than one-shot preparedness. You’ll tailor your purchases to your own needs better than a pre-packed kit would. You’ll be able to shop sales. You’ll be more aware of opportunities. You will be more organized and orderly. Panic-buying is never cheap.

9. “Do one thing today” really works.

Scheduled Disasters, Convenient Emergencies, and Other Myths

All right, let’s get started: everyone get out your calendar or daily planner and turn to the page that shows the next earthquake. What? It’s not on there? Okay then, how about the next tornado? Hmm. Does anyone’s calendar show a date for their next house fire? No? Hazardous material incident? No? What’s the problem here? Surely it makes sense to schedule disasters and emergencies so we can get ready for them. But we can’t predict the future; we cannot schedule disasters. Even worse, disasters occur when they occur, not when it is convenient for us.

Some might say, “Well, we can read conditions and determine that disasters are going to come. We pay attention to the news; we’ll get some warning of social problems and wars and things like that.” Okay, but earthquakes, tornados, hazardous material spills, dam failures, floods, avalanches, power outages, and so on all occur without having the common courtesy to warn us first, on local news stations or otherwise. Even in those cases when we get some advance notice, like hurricanes, droughts, volcanic activity, and social disorder, by the time the situation becomes clear, it is often too late to do serious preparing. Others might say, “The Bible gives us signs of impending calamities. The faithful will have warning.” But this is the same Bible that gives us the parable of the ten virgins and the message that when the bridegroom comes, those without oil in their lamps will be left behind. Some might even say, “Oh, the Government will take care of me, and the schools will take care of my children,” or, “My church or neighbors will take care of me.”

If you haven’t realized it yet, realize it now: preparedness is about taking personal responsibility for yourself and your family. While many people can help in small ways, no one else will take care of your family if you don’t. The lesson is clear: we have to prepare before the disasters strike. We have to remain prepared all of the time.

What does it mean to be prepared all of the time? It means having the right knowledge, gear, and attitude on hand. It means everyone in your household must know what to do, since some of them may have to face an emergency alone. It means:

1. You learn—knowledge is the most versatile commodity, infinitely updatable, never out of style. Learn what emergencies you can expect in your area. Learn what they can do. Learn how to protect yourself from them. Learn fire safety, learn how to store water and food, and learn first aid. Learn basic skills like safely starting a fire, cooking over a fire, cooking one-pot meals, cleaning up with a minimum of water, and so on.

  1. Having some concrete plans for what you’ll do in an emergency reduces the chances for panic. It also gives you the survivor’s attitude that experts say is so important in weathering a crisis.

  2. You establish a core of preparedness supplies. The best first step here is a basic 72-hour kit, including some water. A kit that contains supplies enabling your family to be self-sufficient for up to three days will get you through anything that requires an evacuation and through the first days of most other emergencies as well. There are any number of pre-assembled kits that can be quite complete, but you should always familiarize yourself with the contents and adapt them to your own specific needs.

  3. Once you have a solid core of supplies, you can add items that are useful for your specific hazards. You could add an alternate source of heat if you live in a colder climate. You could add special kits for your kids’ backpacks, your office, or your car. You could begin a program of long-term food storage to carry you through emergencies like unemployment or long-term recovery from an area devastation.

  4. Finally, always being prepared means that you regularly update your preparedness: replace stored clothes as you outgrow them, rotate and replenish food and water to make sure they’re ready when you need them, replace stored fuels and batteries as they become outdated, and so on. Updating is something that should become a low-key, but constant, part of your life.


People who have alternate types of lighting and heating won’t be paralyzed by a power outage. People who have emergency gear and food on hand don’t have to risk the mob scene at the stores. People who have emergency heating may be able to avoid frozen and broken pipes in an extended cold snap. People who have 72-hour kits assembled can evacuate more quickly, assured that they have the most important things. People who have some water and water purification stored can keep their families healthy if the water supply becomes contaminated or unavailable.

The short and painful truth is this: we don’t know when our lives will be shaken up by a disaster. Although this seems to be a disadvantage about the way the world works, there are actually a number of positives associated with the unknowability of trouble:

  • If everyone knew exactly when the next disaster was going to hit, many would still postpone their preparation until it was too late. Then, in addition to the disaster, we would have runs on stores, riots, and chaos. At least we’re spared that roller-coaster ride.

  • Not knowing when an emergency will occur requires that we be ready all of the time. Those who are prepared can live in this world with less fear of it.

  • Being prepared, especially with some sort of food storage, can be a less expensive way to live.

  • The lifestyle of preparation provides the perspective that life is more than just this instant. A longer view of life can enable the weathering of all of life’s ups and downs with equanimity.

  • The lifestyle of preparation is full of life-lessons for children. Frugality, saving for a rainy day, anticipating consequences of decisions—these are valuable lessons of maturity.

  • If you are prepared yourself, you can assist friends, family, and neighbors. If not, you’ll be so busy keeping your own family going that you won’t be able to help anyone else who might need it.

    Does constantly being prepared mean that you have to become a raving fanatic or camouflage-wearing bunker-builder? No, it just means thinking ahead and visualizing living your life after a disaster. And it means doing a little bit all of the time rather than a lot all at once and then nothing.

Emergency preparedness: Do one thing today.

(Then do another thing tomorrow.)