I was zooming along 47 yesterday when I heard a very bizarre radio spot created by FEMA/The Ad Council, about being prepared for disasters. It had looming, frightening, movie music in the background, and a very serious young woman voicing-over an undefined threat.
What was the threat? There was no clue, except the music led me to believe that it could have been one of these: nuclear apocalypse; sun going into supernova (yes, I know this is scientifically inaccurate); giant meteor headed for earth; large scale terrorist biochemical attack; plants releasing spores that create mass suicides; zombie invasion. Now, the parting words were, quite seriously, "make a kit; have a plan." Now, I know there are zombie-invasion kits on the market, but there is no kit and no plan that will help you in a nuclear apocalypse. Just sayin.'
I suppose FEMA was really suggesting more of a major flood or earthquake scenario--but I still don't see a kit and a plan as helping much. Maybe if they were to eliminate the looming music, and say, "get the hell out of town when the authorities say 'evacuate,'" and then suggest that you stay calm and assist health care professionals in a Superdome-style event, that might make sense. I still think that no kit and plan is going to help you if a building collapses on your family. You have to wait for the rescue people to do their jobs.
I was in the Loma Prieta earthquake in '89, and I'm sorry to say that a kit and a plan would not have helped the people on the Bay Bridge. After Loma Prieta, my school asked for backpacks of non-perishable food and drink, for each of us. But where were the bags stored? Would we have had access to them?
Now, a kit and a plan might make a lot of sense in a house-fire. But they clearly weren't implying house-fire--they said, "major catastrophe." A kit and a plan for egress for all family members, and a neighboring house to meet makes a lot of sense. You know what else would make sense? A kit and a plan for getting lost at the County Fair. And once you find your family, and leave the County Fair, a kit and a plan for systematically finding your car also strikes me as useful.
I'm not diminishing the idea of staying calm and rational in the event of a major emergency (ie. a flood). But let's not assume that 15 minutes of planning now will help you much in a catastrophe. That house you were planning to meet at? Washed away. That cell phone? Batteries dead. Sometimes the best things you can do are to follow directions when they are given, do your best to help the people immediately around you, and hope everyone else is doing the same.