Image Credit: Getty Images / Images By Tang Ming Tung
A family caregiver sharing a bottle of hand sanitiser during a national crisis

4 Things the Pandemic Has Taught me About Preparedness

Reading time | 6 mins

If the coronavirus crisis was a zombie apocalypse, I would have been better prepared to survive it than I was for a pandemic. I have watched many movies over the years that have taught me how to defeat the zombies, what I'd need to survive the apocalypse, and how to deal with the violence.

Alas, there were no zombies. Instead, just an unseen, silent threat that was difficult to detect and harder to protect against.

Most people are not prepared

With over a year’s experience of dealing with pandemic-related survival issues (which actually feels like the equivalent of ten years of normal life), I have decided on a few lifestyle changes that I’ll continue with in case of another disaster. Being prepared to deal with a crisis 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 United States have a somewhat predictable, regular threat. Subsequently, they experience a persistent call to be prepared. People in California live with the constant threat of earthquakes. They have some (but limited) warnings, 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. It appears 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 sanitizer, and the second being disruptions in delivery schedules. I was lucky to have a good supply of both toilet roll and hand sanitizer. I use both regularly, and I mistakenly bought a lot of toilet roll when looking for a new supplier.

Baby wipes, on the other hand, unexpectedly became a hot commodity. I had to search the internet broadly 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. However, I was completely blindsided by the need for face masks.

One worry was the availability of prescription medication. Usually, insurance companies limit how much medicine you can keep on hand (typically one month through a retail pharmacy and three months if you purchase by mail). I was concerned that a specific medication might become unavailable or pharmacy operations would be disrupted. Thankfully, neither concern became a 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 continually on hand is always problematic. At the beginning of this crisis, I did several deep dives into my pantry. I found many items that were years past their expiration dates.

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

Once I had a good sense of all my preparation shortfalls, it was easy to develop a plan for better preparedness the next time a crisis arises. The problem is, I know I won’t maintain that level of preparedness for too long. So, for this piece, 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 coronavirus crisis. Hopefully, they’ll improve my preparedness for the next disaster:

1. Ensure hand sanitizer is readily available

I already have dispensers in the master and guest bathrooms. They have proven quite useful in dealing with my daily caregiver duties and ensuring visitors can cleanse their hands. Thankfully, hand sanitizer has become widely available again. I plan to add wall-mounted dispensers in the other bathroom, the kitchen, and my wife’s room for her therapy sessions. I also intend to be stricter about therapists and aides cleaning their hands before entering 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 buy items she needed in quantities beyond a month’s worth, just in case her requirements changed. Now that her situation has stabilized, I can easily double up on what I normally order to keep extra on hand. That includes toilet paper, baby wipes, disposable diapers, oral care items, and 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 in case something like the pandemic ever happens again.

3. Facilitate remote therapy sessions

When this crisis started in mid-March 2020, 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 transitioned to online appointments. However, physical or occupational therapy is still a bit more of a problem.

I quickly purchased a recumbent bike similar to the one my wife uses at physical therapy. Going forward, I plan to increase our capacity for physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions at home. The in-home facility is not only good for my wife, but it lets me get some exercise too.

4. Have access to medical equipment, where necessary

To increase our self-sufficiency, I’m going to keep more medical-related devices on hand. I already had a blood pressure cuff, but I also bought a temporal thermometer and a pulse-oximeter when the pandemic started. As soon as I can find one, I will order an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) for our home.

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. Having an AED is more for my benefit than for my wife’s, but it is of dubious value. 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: AEDs are manufactured and sold under guidelines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA may require someone who purchases an AED to present a physician’s prescription for the device.

There’s no such thing as perfect preparation

Having lived in California, I’ve learned that the best-laid preparation plans can be inadequate, since their 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 traveling, you could have a difficult time.

Regardless, ignoring preparation is not the right answer. 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.

NPS-ALL-NP-00364 JUNE 2021