*A Survivalist's Primer:
Chapter 1 - What Is A Disaster?*

By: Haumana
5 March 2005

The official name of this website is Alpha Disaster Contingencies, so we should know about disasters. The purpose of the article is to help the reader define the word "disaster", so that they can approach planning for disasters with an organized mindset.

When asked "What is a disaster? most people will begin naming various events that have the potential for bad outcomes. You'll hear things like earthquakes, fires, terrorist attacks, et cetera, but are these events in and of themselves disasters? Under definitions of disasters that have been developed over the past few decades, the answer would be not exactly.

For an event to become a disaster it must effect human populations in an adverse manner. For example, an earthquake with an epicenter in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile that causes a 6-inch wave on the east coast of Australia that goes unnoticed by all, except for a handful of scientists, is not a disaster. A much smaller earthquake, with its epicenter in Turkey that destroys entire villages and kills thousands is a disaster.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, a movement started with the purpose of looking at disasters, disaster planning, and disaster response in a more structured and rigorous manner than had been done in the civilian community (civil defense and military specialists had already paved the road for this, albeit a narrowly focused pathway). In 1992, Gunn and Masellis offered a definition for "disaster" that has been modified, but rarely improved upon:

A disaster is "the result of a vast ecological breakdown in the relations between man and his environment, a serious and sudden event (or slow, as in drought) on such a scale that the stricken community needs extraordinary efforts to cope with it, often with outside help or international aid."

The definition makes it clear that disasters are "destabilizing" situations. It does not distinguish between natural and human-made events, nor should we, as survivalists, make such limiting artificial classification EXCEPT when it helps us organize our thinking and preparedness and helps for us to train for our responses to disasters. These events caused the result...the disaster.

There is a word in the above definition that should be given due emphasis...community. Far too often, self-styled survivalists envision themselves as lone islands and feel that they are without the need for and immune to the inevitable contact with their surrounding community. The above definition and a bit of thought should make it clear that it will be the rare survivalist who will avoid contact with other elements of humanity in a disaster. Therefore, such contact must become an integral part of disaster planning.

What should survivalists do with this definition of disaster? How should it affect us?

First, although it is very intuitive, we must explicitly realize that the better prepared we are to face destabilizing situations, the better our chances of survival. Such preparedness can and, in countries where it is politically possible, should extend to preventing disasters.

No two disasters are alike, but there are categories of disasters (most of us think of disasters in such a manner) and these disaster scenarios have profiles that lend themselves to our developing risk assessments, mindsets, preparations, and training to deal with these situations.

By recognizing that a disaster effects a community of persons (let's leave personal and family tragedies aside in this discussion), the prudent survivalist will be proactive and involved in their community, at such levels as they are capable of sustaining. Community involvement can begin by developing a good relationship with those neighbors who are worthy of your time and efforts and keeping a low-profile among those neighbors that you consider being a risk to you. Let's be very clear about one thing: initiating and maintaining a good relationship with one's neighbors does NOT mean that you should discuss your survival beliefs, preparations, or training with these people.

Since one person or family has no outside support system, developing close associations for mutual aid in disasters is of major importance. This can be accomplished by taking more steps to involve yourself in your community and developing alliances there and it can also follow the more formal approach of developing a team of survivalists. Both efforts are lots of work and both, by their requiring that you open yourself to other persons and rely on their morality; place you at risk, because the more that is known about you, the more that information can be used to exploit your weaknesses. Still, based on the definition of disasters, survivalists must learn to trust. This process, ideally, should be slowly and deliberately accomplished.

Learn from disasters in other communities. What was done correctly before, during and in the recovery phase and what went wrong? Take this knowledge and put it to use in your disaster planning.

To summarize, disasters are situations that affect people by significantly destabilizing their community. They may be local, regional, national, multi-national, or even global situations. Categorizing them allows for better profiling, planning, and preparedness. Survivalists must accept that interactions with others in their community will occur during a disaster situation and should be prepared for a variety of scenarios, remembering that preparing for these interactions before a disaster occurs should be part of their planing and preparation. Lastly, it cannot be emphasized too often or too strongly that risk assessment, evaluation of the risks, estimation of the effects of one's intervention, and a study of the post-disaster situation are essential, if a "survivalist" is to survive--never stop learning and evolving into a better survivalist.

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