*What Will You Do FIRST?*
By: LizW
09 May 2010

I’ve been thinking about emergency preparedness most of my adult life, and actively working on it for over a decade. I have food, water, medical supplies, tools, skills, plans. But all those are insufficient without psychological preparedness as well. This was borne home to me when the acute care facility where my husband is a patient called to say he’d suffered a probable heart attack. He was being transferred, the doctor told me, to a nearby emergency room for evaluation. I would have said I was prepared psychologically and emotionally for such a call, considering my husband’s fragile health. But I found my brain fluttering wildly from one possibility to another. Should I jump in the car and go up there immediately (it’s a four-hour drive, so that was not a trivial question). Should I call the children, or wait to see if the diagnosis was confirmed, to avoid worrying them unnecessarily? Should I call a friend to care for the pets, or wait to see whether I’d need to be away overnight? What about a looming work deadline—should I take the work along with me, or contact someone else to handle it for me?

Once the crisis was over, I began to think about my near inability to function effectively. If I had reacted this badly to a mere family emergency, how would I handle a larger one? Specifically, what would I do first? How should I prioritize my actions to make sure essential steps weren’t overlooked or mishandled in the first anxiety-loaded moments?

No one can answer that question for someone else, and this article isn’t intended to do that. Your first actions will be dictated by the type of emergency, the location and scope of the problem, where the family members are when it happens—a host of variables that can’t be analyzed for anyone but yourself and your family. What I hope is that everyone reading this will think about the most likely scenarios you might face, and determine the best first reaction to each of those.

Can you anticipate everything? Of course not. But the mental discipline of working out your response to the ones you _can _ envision will help sort out which steps are truly essential, which could be postponed and which aren’t worth wasting your energy on, regardless of what type of disaster may actually materialize. As an example, making sure you know where everyone is would be a fundamental early step in your response to any catastrophe. But it might not be the right FIRST step even if it was the natural first reaction (think cell phone system overload).

Another advantage of working out the best first response to disaster is that you can communicate this to the rest of your family in a calm, authoritative manner. “I’ve been thinking about it, and if such and such happens, this is what you need to do first.” Your certainty of the best initial steps gives your family the confidence that you’re able to lead them. And if your whole family is on board with emergency preparedness, including them in this first-response analysis can be a way to draw on everyone’s strengths.

And finally, do some role-playing, even if you have to do it by yourself. “What will I do _first _ if I’m at work, and the kids are in school, and X happens?” If you can do it with the rest of the family, even better, but having just one mentally prepared person in the family is better than none. Overall planning is important as well, but you can’t get to the second, third and fourth phases of your planning until you’ve taken the first step. Taking the best first step can mean the difference between managing a crisis effectively, and thrashing around wasting time, energy and perhaps valuable resources.

And yes, I decided on the best first step if I get another of those phone calls from the hospital. In this case, it was to make sure I always have someone available to take care of the mousers, and then go straight to my husband.

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