Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Preparedness Interview

I often get requests to do interviews about the preparedness community.  I tend to happily grant these request, with very few exceptions.  For the most part, these are news agencies looking to exploit a situation or event that has happened, or in some circumstances, has been foretold to happen.  A good example of this would be the number of requests I got leading up to and on the subject of Dec 12, 2012.
However, from time to time the subject just seems to pop up for no reason.  One such interview was for a journalism student in BC.  Although the article was an academic endeavor and will never be shared on the open media, I thought it was well conducted and offered a very realistic view.  I have published it below with the author's permission, having changed my name for privacy concernes...

Prepping For the Worst
Community is Key to Disaster Preparation

The big one. Are you prepared? On Vancouver Island, we face the reality of earthquakes every day, but most of us are not as prepared as we’d like to be. With Emergency Preparedness Week running May 1st to 7th nation-wide, members of the disaster preparation community are hard at work helping people to stay informed, ready, and most of all, safe. For Montreal-based Denob, the owner and administrator of the Canadian Preppers Network Blog and Forum, community is key to staying prepared, and companies like Total Prepare Inc., located in Victoria, are an important part of that community. Through discourse and the forming of bonds, the preparation community tackles fear and anxiety by staying informed and connected.

The Community

Total Prepare looks like a small residential home from the outside. It is difficult to imagine, while standing on the doorstep, that behind the door with its push-button bell and number “48”  is “Canada’s #1 Source For Emergency Preparedness” — a centre for distribution all over the country, but also a well organized and surprisingly colourful showroom. Two desks greet walk-in customers, and there are a couple of bedroom-sized offices tucked away. When you walk through the building, it becomes clear that what the company lacks in physical size, it more than makes up for in online distribution. A massive storeroom lined with tubs of dehydrated food and 250 gallon water tankers opens out to the back road, where a truck loads and unloads product on a regular basis.

The range in clientele is huge. “We have a lot of schools that are interested in having all their supplies replenished because they’re going to be taking care of kids for three days. Schools and then businesses. It’s a mandate of a lot of businesses that they have preparedness gear,” Sheila Tolsma explains. Her title at Total Prepare is in flux, as she covers the departments of sales, events managing, social media, and reception. “We wear many hats around here,” she says of the seven-person staff. A community within themselves, but also a community that branches across Vancouver Island through participation in events like Emergency Preparedness Week, for which they attend both the Sydney and West Shore events. On top of their involvement with the Vancouver Island community, Total Prepare makes preparation easy for the national community, shipping everywhere from Alberta to Quebec and beyond.

Total Prepare is one of many companies that help to bring prepared or soon-to-be prepared Canadians together. Denob is among them. He has worked to create an online community for Canadian preppers since 2011. But don’t get caught on the reputation of the word prepper”, which to some evokes the National Geographic show Doomsday Preppers. Denob explains, To me, being a prepper is no different than someone who buys insurance for their home. One doesn’t do so because they believe that their home will burn down, but does so because the possibility exists.” His main goal is safety, and the community he is part of helps him stay on top of new survival gear and tips.

The Canadian Preppers Network attempts to tackle preparedness for unknowable situations. Visitors are able to share new information on the forum, or read the product reviews and helpful information on the blog, and experience the network of information that Nobes has worked so hard to create. Without structure, disaster preparation would be near-impossible to tackle on your own, especially on the internet. Central to the sharing of information is the forming of community and communication channels, another important survival tool. And the community within the Canadian Preppers Network is as diverse as a Canadian city. With farmers, doctors, businessmen and teenagers all taking part, the group is able to flourish with information coming from all over the country, with many perspectives being represented.

Coping with Anxiety

When you live day-to-day with the reality of natural disaster, fear becomes an unavoidable element of your life. “I often look at an approaching thunderstorm and wonder if it will develop a tornado, or if a winter storm will end up knocking out the power for days or even weeks,” says Denob. “However, knowing that I have a plan to mitigate these situations gives me a sense of calm about it all.” Tolsma echoes this mentality. “Working here has made me feel like I’m more empowered with the tools that I need. Our logo is ‘be prepared, not scared’. People in Victoria know that there’s going to be an earthquake but they’re complacent or think it’s not going to happen in their lifetime.” The December 29th earthquake that was felt across Vancouver Island was a wake-up call to many, and Total Prepare experienced a surge of business as people realized that something more destructive could have occurred.

Every city faces challenges, whether it’s flooding in the Prairies or winter storms that knock the power out on the East Coast. For Jennifer Traynor, an EMT who spent time working in Calgary, she knows that there’s a community system in place when times of crisis arise, wherever she is. “All systems have Critical Incident Stress Management which gives responders a chance to vent in the event of a disaster, and provides psychological first aid to meet the emotional needs of the responder,” says Traynor. Knowing that others will be there to help her keeps anxiety down in the event of a disaster.

The current draft of the Official Community Plan for Victoria, adopted in 2012, states that there is a 32 percent likelihood of a damaging earthquake event in the city before 2054,” which is a fact most people don’t want to think about too closely. Trending headlines such as the CBC News article “B.C. megathrust earthquake will rip earth open like a zipper, expert says” attempt to catch attention, but are swiftly pushed back in favour of fluffier, more kitten-centric online content. When it comes to disaster, we tend to take the “it’s not real if I don’t see it” approach. For those in the business of survival, it’s not something you can look away from. Tolsma rationalizes the risks that Victoria faces with the beauty of living here. “It’s the chance you take living in such a beautiful city. You just know that I don’t want to give this up, so get prepared instead!”

How to Prepare

Tolsma shows me around the Total Prepare showroom and points out a selection of the products, which include the LifeStraw — a water filtration system that comes in an array of sizes, from tank to water bottle. “You can live without food but you can’t live very long without water,” she explains. There is a wall of flavoured freeze dried foods, including refried beans and pancake mix. Tolsma recommends the potato soup and the freeze-dried berries. She then moves to her favourite product: an all in one gadget which functions as a radio, flashlight, cell phone charger, and bottle opener. There are a few variations on the product, with various colours and shapes available. When you stand in the middle of the showroom, preparation feels so easy.

“Doing anything is better than doing nothing,” says Denob. He spends time reviewing various products on the forum, and knows well of the complexity of choice. He opts for the simpler — but critical — advice. “Start by buying some extra canned food that does not require cooking such as canned meats, ready to eat soups or stews, or even freeze dried meals. Be aware that your home may become un-livable due to structural damage.” He suggests communicating a backup plan with a friend or relative in a different location.

“Disaster preparation for us is all about the organization and flow of people working together,” says Traynor. In an instant, many teams must come together and keep communication as clear as possible. “Each system has a disaster plan for catastrophes that can overwhelm available resources. It is coordinated by a central location. We are also considering disaster management which includes responsibilities like mitigation, planning, response, and recovery.” She agrees that the best way to prepare is to have your own plan. “We have to go where we’re most needed,” she says. The more people who can sustain themselves, the more time EMTs can spend helping those who are injured.

Helping Others

For the people who think about disaster all the time, it always comes back to the community. Choosing to look disaster straight on each day is done for a reason, and that reason is the safety of others. When asked about his mission statement, Denob says, “I would love to reach every household in Canada and somehow influence them to prepare, to even the smallest degree.”

Traynor went into emergency medical services in order to help others, and learned to compartmentalize her experiences. “Even when you’re looking at something that your brain can’t understand, something that’s too much, there is a part of you that knows this person is going to get help, and you are a part of that help.”

For Tolsma, Total Prepare has customers that range from campers to businesses with preparedness mandates to those living in fear of the end. “We get a lot of people coming in who are more fearful than I am, people who think the world is going to end, and need to stockpile because the government’s not going to take care of us. We sort of take a nice balance. Middle of the road. Be respectful of everybody and their concerns,” she says. “And just help them.”

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