We Could All Use A Bit of Resiliency

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(paramedic students awaiting their introduction to yoga )

While winding down a part-time career teaching paramedic students a few years back, it occurred to me ( like an inside pitch can “occur” to a batter) that first responders in general and paramedics in particular were not getting some of the training they need to survive for the long haul in their careers. I thought about some of this missing skills inventory and lumped in things like meditation (I did not even know what Mindfulness was 5 years ago), yoga, nutrition, PTSD awareness, and even basic self-defense. While I thought I was bringing something entirely new into the classroom, it turns out that resiliency skills have been around and have been taught in various industries for decades.

Go ahead, Google “resiliency” training andresiliency you will discover a host of programs that enhance cognitive, physical, and emotional endurance in places like law enforcement, firefighting, the military, and in corporations.  While it has been easy for me to spot the need for such skills and training in my own first responder community, it has more recently struck me that we ALL could use resiliency training. Incorporating elements of yoga, or a mindfulness practice, or any level of nutrition education, sleep deprivation awareness, even a little self-defense can make a big difference in how easily we navigate and endure the little disasters of our lives. Certainly, Disasters with a capital D like hurricanes and wildfires can be better managed if we are armed with these skills but I would argue the same is true for the little disasters we endure every day.

Nearly everyone I know faces a daily barrage of fear-inducing or at least provocative media reports. (fact checking aside) On top of that, the deluge of  information flowing on our screens and general acceleration in the pace of life has resulted in historic levels of anxiety that leave folks wondering how to cope with it all. And they are the survivors of this stress mill. The bottomline for me, is that while there are segments of society exposed to inordinate amounts of toxic stress (e.g. military families, teachers, first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, – and the list goes on,) our entire population could benefit from exposure to resiliency training.

What does that look like exactly?
Here are a few ideas:

  • high schools incorporating yoga into their PE programs
  • science classes covering our evolving understanding of sleep physiology
  • families exploring the range of nutritional values in whatever they’re eating
  •  individuals committing to a morning or evening routine that refreshes them emotionally and spiritually even. ( I’ve had a good experience with Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning and the free meditation app- Insight Timer with my personal favorite leader: Meg James out of Australia. )
  • reset your relationship with your smartphone. I recommend Catherine Price’s book How to Break Up With Your Phone, for a witty and compassionate guide.

And for some good news- taking some action on your readiness to endure the little disasters of your life actually prepares you for the bigger stuff.

The Fire Next Time

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Everyone has their own takeaway lessons from witnessing or suffering a disaster. For myself, the wildfires of the past few years in my home state of California have scorched counties next door to mine, leaving an indelible imprint on me. I’ve done some of my own investigation and a lot of thinking in their wake. Here’s what believe to be true:

We’re all in this together

Raging mega-fires leave a swath of environmental, economic, and health damage behind that we all will be paying for in one way or another. Likewise, although thousands were affected directly by the most recent blazes, millions were indirectly affected in profound ways. I think about the toxic air quality suffered by millions in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Butte County fire in October. I hear about the difficulty homeowners are finding as they try to insure or re-insure their homes in expanding wilderness-urban interface communities. I hear from fire departments and disaster council folks wondering how to convince community members to finally take action on the need to sign up for alerts and clear defensible space on their property.

We’ll get through this together

In my reading on disasters and survival for that matter, two keys to making it through are adaptation and collaboration. Governments at all levels (that means thousands in the U.S.) need to buddy up to create policies and programs and share resources across jurisdictional and political lines. At the neighborhood level, families need reach out a bit to discover who is isolated and vulnerable up and down their street. Neighbors need to buddy-up to make sure that everyone gets out of a bad situation with a least a warning. It will save lives. Cooperating and sharing resources spreads out the risk and the costs as we contend disasters of all kinds.

We all need to take care of ourselves

Folks need a break more than ever from the relentless stream of bad news coming into our homes. A few less minutes on the smart phone, a few more minutes in nature, and perhaps some more daily human connection where we just listen without judgment may offer relief to our brains and a course correction for our perspectives. We need these intervals of peace and and positive living to break the corrosive diet of toxic stress in our lives.

We need to get informed and get ready

There is a veritable avalanche (pick your favorite massive hazard) of information on how to prepare yourself and your family for disasters. You don’t need to become a scholar of the literature; just find one source you trust that covers most hazards and go with it. Getting ready can be as easy as assembling stuff from a basic, generic list and crafting a basic plan that you talk about with your loved ones. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or a lot of money but you really should get started. I think you might be surprised at how much peace of mind during turbulent times is worth.

Can You Hear Me Now

Can You Hear Me NowAny emergency management expert or public safety worker, for that matter, will tell you that the biggest “issue “(code word for -problem) faced by responders during a disaster is communications. I get it. After attending and trying to manage literally dozens of multi-patient incidents over a 20 year stint as a paramedic supervisor, I can tell you that sending and receiving even the simplest, briefest packets of information amidst chaos is tough. So many times, a casualty update, a request for additional ambulances, the destination of some victim or other, the emergence of some additional and pressing “issue” would get lost in the “fog of war.” It turns out that the acoustics in the “fog of war” are lousy indeed. Why does this matter ? Because in the absence of information- things either don’t get done or get done with minimal situational awareness (code for – having a clue). This means that results will be less than optimal, less than efficient, sometimes with life-altering consequences for somebody.

I can also remember the instances where I was not a responder but a “respondee” to a disaster. Communications were a problem. Maybe you’ve been through some similar event in your community. Perhaps a case study will help draw the parallels.

Last month in our rural/suburban community, we had a wildland fire break out near our home. The blaze, likely ignited by downed high voltage lines raced up the grassy slope of a small mountain within about 2 miles of our house. Some residents in the area were forced to evacuate but the damage was minimal by California 21st century wildland fire standards – 150 acres gone, no structures, no injuries. As it turns out, the real problem encountered, for homeowners at least, was communication. The problem was two-fold: information coming in and information going out.

On the inbound side of things- information about the blaze arrived almost haphazardly. Many residents became aware of the situation by receiving a county-generated text alert informing them that the residents of 3 streets were being told to evacuate. For those folks-playing information catch-up meant a stressful series of phone-calls to neighbors and friends, body surfing social media sites for updates, phone calls to harried fire department dispatchers, tuning into computer applications that feature hundred of local first responder scanner feeds and attempting to decipher firefighting jargon. Even in the absence of disastrous outcomes, the community felt and expressed a high degree of frustration.

Sending information out also proved to become a challenge once cell service became disrupted due to the power outage. In the absence of an easy flow for the communication, dozens of neighbors elected to drive away from an uncertain hazard to a known refuge- the next town to the east.

The problem of communication was magnified exponentially to the north of us in the worst wildfire in California history- the Tubbs Fire that affected Sonoma and Napa counties. Even dispatch centers suffered breakdowns around creating alert messages for residents. A year later- emergency managers are still working to correct failures and build capacity that did not exist in 2017. Managers after analyzing and testing the various technologies for alerting communities realized that no one communication device was sufficient. Legislation was recently signed into California law that mandates training and technology to establish a working emergency alert system in every county.

What can be done to stay in contact with people and events that matter during an emergency ?   In my semi-rural community, the citizen volunteers who form a kind of disaster council have developed a walkie-talkie network that employs two types of radios. On one level, a fleet of basic Family Radio Service (FRS) radios allows neighbors to communicate within a limited range of about 1 -2 miles. (despite the advertised 20+ miles). Each “village” consolidates messages and relays them to a much further recipient communications center (20-30 miles away) with the assistance of mountaintop repeaters and a second layer of more powerful UHF portable radios.

For folks with vehicles, the AM/FM radio tuned to a local news channel offers a reassuring link to late breaking changes in the incident.

Finally, the really prepared family (like -even more so than ours) has a clear-cut Communications Plan for emergencies. Kids in these highly evolved, prepared households know specifically who to contact out of the area to give and receive information. They also know exactly where to make their way to if separated so that a reunion can happen ASAP. We’ve told our loved ones to meet up at the nearest post office where we know we can count on a clean well-lighted place to post messages and check in with neighbors.

Like so many aspects of preparedness, communications capability will always be a work in progress. There will always be technological and human failure points that can arise on a moment’s notice. But putting some energy into setting up your own system of communication, adding some layers of backup, and then practicing the strategy that you elect, can go a long way toward easing the worry before, the fear during, and even the damage after whatever emergency will inevitably come to visit.

Why Do We Procrastinate About Disaster Preparedness ?

Procrastinate - What qre you waiting for?

Twelve hours left to go with National Preparedness Month and I’m still procrastinating. Procrastination actually works for me in a way because it allows me to quietly simmer atop a heating stove from some looming deadline or other.   Once the deadline gets hot enough, I spring into action with a load of needless stress and urgency. I’m a neighborhood disaster coordinator, a retired emergency medical services officer, and a paramedic instructor. You’d think I’d be all over preparedness month. But here I am, sipping my coffee and blogging my way to readiness.

In my defense, one of the problems with disasters that visit my part of the world is that they tend to occur without deadlines. On the west coast of the U.S., we don’t have hurricane warnings or tornado alerts. We have articles, newscasts, and townhalls alluding to the coming wildfire or the inevitable earthquake. For some folks, (including my co-host Janelle ) these reminders are enough to motivate action. For many though, vague threats don’t drive us past our procrastination into preparedness. Why is that ?

Some psychologists pin the blame for preparedness procrastination on uncertainty. More on that in the Psychology Today article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201405/preparedness-procrastination   The more uncertain we are about the proximity of a threat, the less we feel inclined to take specific action to mitigate or prepare for it. So, uncertainty morphs into a kind of complacency where other threats- big and small, can crowd out our time for worry about the neighborhood rattling or smoldering into a dust pile.

Personally, I think alot of people’s hesitation about taking on chores like bolting foundations, or cutting defensible space, has to do with inexperience. By that I mean, until you have broken into a sweat over losing your balance during an earthquake or watching trees on a nearby ridge ignite like fireworks, you may not have a gut-level appreciation for what could happen. Painful experience is an outstanding teacher and motivator.

So what’s my excuse this month ? My particular malady is overconfidence. I think that I’ve done enough and that I have time. Rubbermaid can full of stuff and water- check, big book case strapped to wall-check, “go-bag” packed, ready to grab-check , emergency lights plugged into outlets-check, gutters cleared-check. Am I ready ? Sort of. Do I have time, resources, and knowledge to become more ready ? You bet.  Then, what is it going to take ? Oh yeah- a deadline, like the clock ticking on the last 12 hours of national preparedness month- today.

Can we chat – about preparedness ?

Welcome to our home on the Web. I’m Jim Fazackerley, emergency preparedness educator, committed to revealing the strategies and materials to help families and individuals get ready for disasters. Unfortunately damaging extremes of weather, explosive wildfires, and even mass violence are all parts of a “new normal” in our lives. We want to focus on the ways to alleviate some of the fear and sense of powerlessness that circulate before and after these events. In the relaxed kitchen-table style of a husband and wife conversation, we’re aiming to bring to our audience the lessons of decades spent teaching preparedness, instructing EMT’s and paramedics, and coordinating communities before disasters strike.

“Remember; when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.”

Steven Cyros