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4 Things the Pandemic Has Taught me About Preparedness

Reading time | 6 mins

If the current crisis was a zombie apocalypse, I would have been better prepared to survive it than I was for a viral pandemic. I have watched many movies and television shows over the years that taught me what I would need to defeat the zombies, what I would need to have on hand to survive the apocalypse, and how to deal with the shock and awe of zombie savagery. Alas, there were no zombies, just an unseen, silent threat that was difficult to detect and harder to protect against.

Most people are not prepared

With nearly two months of experience in dealing with pandemic-related survival issues (which actually feels like the equivalent of ten years of normal life experience), I have decided on a few lifestyle changes that I wish to persist with after the current crisis ends. Being prepared to deal with a disaster is a choice and a skill that varies depending upon where you live, and how you tolerate risk.

People who live in Tornado Alley in the Unites States have a somewhat predictable, regular threat and subsequently experience a persistent call to be prepared. People in California live with the constant threat of earthquake, but have limited warning, long times between events, and periodic reminders to prepare. Regardless of the circumstance, you can either choose to take precautions or ignore them at your own peril. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducts an annual National Household Survey on Individual and Community Preparedness. The summary of the 2018 results shows a general trend towards increased preparedness.

Interestingly however, even FEMA was seemingly unprepared for a pandemic as that possibility isn’t included in the survey’s scenarios. Assuming you can generalize across all types of potential disasters, the statistics don’t indicate a very high level of preparedness overall.

Lessons learned

As a caregiver, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping a month or more’s worth of consumables on hand to reduce expenses and the need to shop (I’ve written about this before). The pandemic created two types of supply problems: the first being shortages of products such as toilet paper, baby wipes, and hand sanitiser, and the second being disruptions in delivery schedules. I was lucky enough to have a good supply of toilet paper on hand because I mistakenly bought a lot of it a few months ago when looking for a new supplier, and a decent amount of hand sanitiser since I use it regularly. Baby wipes unexpectedly became a hot-commodity and one I had to search the internet broadly for to find a reliable source. I was also prepared with a supply of disposable gloves since I usually have a box or two on hand, but I was completely blindsided by the need for face masks.

One worry was the availability of prescription medication.  I was concerned that a specific medication might become unavailable or pharmacy operations would be disrupted. Thankfully, neither concern became reality.

Having lived in an earthquake-prone area of California for ten years, I was acutely aware of the constant calls to keep flashlights, batteries, food and water on hand in the event of service disruptions. I’m good about flashlights and batteries, but keeping a month’s worth of food and water on hand on a continuous basis is always problematic. At the beginning of this crisis, I did several deep dives into my pantry and found many items that were years past their expiration dates.

No one wants to eat raisins from 2014, except maybe birds.

Now that I have a good sense of all my preparation shortfalls, it was easy to develop a plan for how to be better prepared the next time a problem arises. The problem is that I know I won’t maintain that comprehensive level of preparedness for too long, so I decided to pick four things that I will commit to for the long run.

My post-pandemic plan

There are four changes I plan to make beyond the current crisis in order to improve our preparedness for the next crisis:

1. Ensure hand sanitiser is readily available

I already have dispensers in the master and guest bathrooms, and they have proven quite useful in both dealing with my daily caregiver duties, as well as ensuring visitors are able to cleanse their hands. Once hand sanitiser becomes widely available again, I plan to add wall mounted dispensers in the other bathroom, the kitchen, and the room that my wife uses for therapy sessions. I also intend to be stricter about therapists and aides cleaning their hands before they enter the house to work with my wife.

If all else fails, I plan to keep a supply of travel-sized bottles for emergencies and when we’re out and about.

2. Double-up on care items (just in case)

As my wife’s condition evolved over the past two years, I was hesitant to order items she needed in quantities beyond a month’s worth in case requirements changed. Now that her situation has stabilised, I can easily double-up on what I normally order to keep extra on hand. That includes toilet paper, baby wipes, disposable underwear, oral care items, and some other consumables. These items have a long shelf life so this will reduce concerns about supply constraints. I also plan to stock up on a decent supply of face masks once they become more widely available.

3. Facilitate remote therapy sessions

When this crisis started in mid-March, I became concerned that we wouldn’t be able to go out for therapy sessions. Some therapists such as her psychologist and vision therapist have made the transition to online appointments, but physical or occupational therapy is a bit more of a problem.

I quickly purchased a recumbent bike similar to the one my wife uses at physical therapy, and going forward I’m planning on increasing our capacity to do more PT and OT sessions here at home. The in-home facility is not only good for my wife, but gives me the opportunity to get some exercise too.

4. Have access to medical equipment, where necessary

In order to increase our self-sufficiency, I’m going to keep more medical-related devices on hand. I already had a blood pressure cuff, but since the beginning of the crisis I’ve ordered a temporal thermometer and a pulse-oximeter. As soon as I can find one, I’m going to order an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) for home use.

Fortunately, I haven’t lost any close friends to coronavirus, but I did lose one long-time friend to a cardiac event when the ambulance was delayed due to current demand. Having one is more for my benefit than for my wife’s, but it is of dubious value as there needs to be someone nearby to use it in the event of a problem, and I’ll need to train my daughter to handle it.

Editor’s note: If you live in the UK or Ireland, defibrillators are typically located in public spaces like workplaces, shopping centres and train stations and are known as public access defibrillators (PADs). You can find more information about buying defibrillators and how to use them at the BHF.org.uk.

There’s no such thing as perfect preparation

Having lived in California, I’ve learned that the best laid plans of preparation can be inadequate, since its success depends on where you are and what you’re doing when a problem occurs.

Earthquakes are hard to prepare for since you may not be home when it hits. Pandemics might be easier, although if you’re caught travelling, you could have a difficult time. Regardless, ignoring preparation is not the right answer as it can endanger your own family and those who try to help you. The secret is to find the right balance of immediately useful and long-term preparedness.

UK/MED/20/0179 June 2020