Some Thoughts on Emergency Preparedness

| December 28, 2006

Given that Colorado is, for the second time in as many weeks, in a declared state of emergency — and I, of course, am in the declared state of Colorado — I thought this might be a good time to join in the discussion that’s been going on around the blogosphere during the past year on emergency preparedness.

To start with, my bona fides. First, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), which has been advocating emergency preparedness far longer than most people in or out of the LDS Church realize. Those outside of the LDS Church tend to think of it originating in the 1950s or 60s in a pre-apocalyptic/Cold War fervor. Those inside the LDS Church tend to think of it originating in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. The truth is that Brigham Young, all the way back in the mid- to late 1800s, counseled Mormon settlers in Utah that they should set aside a year’s supply of grain as a hedge against crop failures and other natural or economic disasters, rather than selling that grain to buy non-essential luxuries for their homes and families.

Second, I’ve personally been through a variety of natural disasters:

  • I was living in southeast Houston (Clear Lake City) in 1979 when Tropical Storm Claudette came through and dropped over three feet of rain in 24 hours. At that time I was staying in the Nassau Bay Resort Motor Inn across the street from the main entrance to the Johnson Space Center, not having moved my family out from San Diego yet; I remember watching sheets — literal sheets — of water fall from the sky. I also remember going out a few days later to help clean up homes that had had 4 feet of water sitting in them for 48 hours.
  • We were living in the mountains east of Soquel, California (south of Santa Cruz) in October 1989 when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit, the epicenter being about 3 miles due east of our house. Our house came through pretty well, but the region was generally devestated and/or disrupted.
  • We were living in San Diego (Rancho Penasquitos) in the mid-1990s when a brushfire started on the southwest side of Black Mountain and started moving towards the eastern edge — where we lived on Yazoo Street. There was one ridge (and two other streets) between us and the fire; tanker planes were coming in a few hundred feet (or less) above our house to drop water on the far side of the ridge. I had two of our daughters up on the roof, watering it down, while my wife Sandra and I loaded up our minivan with essential papers and our 72-hour kits. We were prepared to leave as soon as the fire crested the ridge — which, fortunately, it never did.
  • We were living in DC in September 2003 when Hurricane Isabel came up the East Coast and plowed right through Virginia, DC and Maryland, causing widespread power outages and shortages of goods. Our house was without power for five (5) full days, all during high heat and humidity.
  • And, of course, we now find ourselves here in Colorado in the midst of what may well be a record snowfall over an 8- to 10-day period, coming in the form of two major storms just a week apart.

Third, I work in a very volatile industry: information technology. I was caught off guard by the first Tech Crash (back in 1988-1990) and scrambled for a while in finding work. However, becuase of that and other experiences (including helping with two software startups), I saw the second Tech Crash (2000-2004) coming and was fortunate enough to be in a line of work that did not suffer the same impact.

Fourth, while living in Washington DC, I served as a member of the bishopric of the Chevy Chase Ward (LDS congregation). Our geographic boundaries covered northwest DC, from Western Avenue down to the Mall and from the Potomac over to 16th Street NW. I had responsibility for emergency preparedness plans for the members of our congregation — and our ward boundaries included the majority of foreign embassies (including the Israeli embassy), many Federal government buildings (including the Vice-President’s residence, the State Department, and the working HQ for the Department of Homeland Security over on Nebraska Avenue), and key NGO headquarters (such as the World Bank). This was all post-9/11, so I had to plan for actual terrorist attacks within our ward boundaries and what our emergency response plans would be in such a situation.

As far as personal and family preparedness for the members of the congregation went, I had to come up with an approach that would work in an urban setting and across a variety of physical and economic settings. I based in on the general approach that the LDS Church recommends – which involves a variety of areas (education, finance, etc.), not just food storage or other emergency needs — while emphasizing simple, practical, short-term steps and strategies based on personal goals and concerns.

The result is this handout (PDF, 107KB), which I’ve revised several times and will continue to revise. There are a number of LDS-specific references in there, which you’re free to ignore; the most valuable part for most people may be the one-page checklist on page 2. As noted on the document, you are free to copy, adapt and distribute this document for non-commercial purposes. It’s not the end-all and be-all of personal and family preparedness, but it does provide a good starting-off point.

I’ll welcome feedback and suggestions for the handout; as I said, I plan to continue to revise it. ..bruce..

[UPDATE: 12/29/06] Deirdre Wallace found a typo in the handout (on page 2); now corrected.

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Category: Emergency Preparedness, Main

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.