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Relying on Central Planning is a Poor Preparedness Strategy: FEMA May Fail You When You Need it Most.

Updated: Apr 10

Man in shorts and no top pointing to debris. Foreground shows sign saying FEMA hung up on him and was too busy to help.
FEMA was not there for this man.

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I recently came upon an article describing the emergency preparedness program Switzerland has in place for its people. It begins with the following inquiry: "Could you go without your morning coffee in the event of a crisis?" Now, I love my coffee, but it is certainly not on the top of my preparedness list. Coffee has very little nutritional value, and the question of whether it should be removed from their emergency stockpile was presented in 2019. The answer was a resounding "NO!" from suppliers (who benefit from having a guaranteed customer - the government at taxpayer expense) and the citizens, who love their coffee. The Federal Council backed down, citing "psychological grounds" (was this an intentional pun?).

Switzerland's Federal Office for National Emergency Supply has determined every person requires 2,300 calories per day and has stockpiled enough non-perishable food items to last three to four months: flour, sugar, rice, wheat, cooking oils, etc. These are essential items, but only part of an emergency food supply. Are these to be delivered in bulk to families? I would bet that these days, most adults would not know how to use these goods to create a meal, especially if they don't have other food products necessary to add to them, such as meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc.

The supplies are managed by the "relevant sector," such as grain mills, which make flour from the wheat, so the goods are already where they are needed. But in the event of a real disaster, there could be supply chain issues, transportation failures and personnel suddenly unavailable. Regardless, 300 companies receive payment from the government for their services, even if they may not be able to ultimately provide them. Or perhaps the real beneficiaries are the parties involved - government and the manufacturers - a true symbiotic relationship that may or may not fulfil a promise to the stated beneficiaries, the people/taxpayers. Every Swiss resident pays 13 francs per year toward this stockpile; an amount too insignificant to result in protest, but enough to fund a program that creates a false sense of security.

These efforts may be noble, but they are problematic because citizens are entrusting government bureaucrats with their lives and lack of accountability is a huge problem in the public sector.

Here are a few examples of why top-down, centralized preparedness is a terrible strategy:

  1. Your family is the most important thing in your life.

  2. No government agency or employee can know or understand the needs of your family; your situation is unique.

  3. You live in an area which has circumstances not applicable to others; your environmental requirements may be overlooked.

  4. Food that has been stockpiled for years may lose its nutritional value or could become contaminated, rancid or otherwise compromised due to insufficient storage methods. Know the chain of custody for your food supply.

  5. Food, water, fuel or other necessities included in a central stockpile may be worthless if you are unable to access them.

  6. It may be too dangerous to go to centers to retrieve supplies; don't count life-sustaining items magically showing up at your front door.

  7. If you are relying on the government to provide the means to heat your home and they fail, it is likely you don't have a backup plan, such as extra clothing, blankets, or means of retaining heat or power to stay warm.

  8. Countless examples show how governments have failed during times of extreme hardship.

  9. You are morally and ethically responsible for the survival of yourself and your family.

As well-intentioned as you believe government agencies can be, they may become so overwhelmed that it becomes impossible to reach you. History is rife with examples of government failure when disaster strikes, Hurricane Katrina being a glaring example. This article discusses failures on the part of multiple levels of government:

"The failure of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina worked like a power blackout. Problems cascaded and compounded; each mistake made the next mistake worse. The foe in this battle was a monster; Katrina flattened the Gulf Coast with the strength of a vengeful god. But human beings, beginning with the elected officials in the city of New Orleans, failed to anticipate and react in time."

Overhead view of flooded town
Katrina's carnage.

Recall the citizens of New Orleans who fled to the Superdome, a refuge of last resort, only to be faced with terrible, life-threatening conditions. People on the streets, searching for assistance or friends and family, had their firearms confiscated by law enforcement officers, rendering them unable to defend themselves; many who tried to feed those in trouble by setting up food stations were shut down by the Red Cross, who said the kitchens had not been "certified." I'm sure the people who had to watch this source of sustenance be removed were grateful...

After the Lahina inferno of 2023, desperate residents were asking when help was arriving. Citizens from other parts of the island took it upon themselves to personally deliver supplies by boat - an example of how and why local, community support should be the standard.

So how can I do this on my own? I'm so overwhelmed!

This was my sentiment when I started preparing on a larger scale. Doomsday Preppers had just aired and my goodness - I didn't have shipping containers, a school bus for bugging out, hazmat suits and all the other stuff that made for good ratings but made me feel woefully unprepared.

My advice: start small and keep it simple. Focus on your family's needs. Can you secure your shelter, protect it from the elements given YOUR location? How many are in your family, and what are their preferences and requirements? Who in your family has special needs? Do you have water on hand or readily accessible? Can you make it safe for drinking? Do you have a plan for rapid evacuation, such as keeping your vehicles fueled up and in good repair? Alternative routes mapped out? Do you have a strategy if you must shelter in place? Don't forget to plan for your pets. As for other family members living outside your home - even if they are far away, reach out and help them come up with a plan. This book was an immense help to me in preparing for any disaster, and I have interviewed its author. The book is comprehensive and will address potential problems you may have overlooked.

When I appear on radio shows, podcasts, or speaking engagements, I always tell the audience the following: your survival and your family's survival is your responsibility. No one knows or understands your needs more than you do. Government agencies cannot fathom the intricacies of your neighborhood, particularly FEMA, which has been shown to be ineffective and burdensome. Many first responders may leave their posts to protect their own families. Emergency vehicles may not be able to reach you - they can be overwhelmed, or the roads are not passable. The more you rely on government, the greater your risk of peril. The greater the disaster, the greater your disappointment is likely to be.

I'll never forget listening to a recording of a 911 call a frantic woman made during Hurricane Matthew: her elderly parents were in an area flooding due to storm surge. Her mother was on the kitchen counter, and her father was in a wheelchair, and at imminent risk of peril. The dispatcher informed her that there was nothing that could be done. It was too hazardous to send responders. Fortunately, the elderly couple survived.

Don't put yourself in this situation; if you have taken the time to prepare, your needs have a much higher likelihood of being met, and your family has a leg up on security. Further, you will have items on hand for situations that are really just simple inconveniences - a snowstorm, illness, or you may not feel like preparing a meal at home. Loss of job? You have food and supplies to tie you over without adding to our financial burden. Don't feel like cooking? Reach into your Survival Pantry and create a meal your family will think you planned for days.

Jars of canned foods and fresh eggs in foreground.
Preserving your own foods is a fun hobby.

For help in attaining food readiness, please read my book on long-term food preservation as well as its companion book with recipes your family will love. For a comprehensive preparedness plan that will also teach you about the "old ways", check out The Lost Frontier Handbook as well.

My blog page also has useful information if you are concerned with lack of space for your supplies, the cost of getting started, or have family members who aren't on board with this lifestyle.

Please check out The Red Hot Chilly Prepper Podcast to learn more about self-reliance and preparedness. A self-reliant society is a free society.

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