[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is only a 50/50 chance the government will know about a doomsday disaster for a mere 24 hours before it strikes. How long it will take governmental agencies to fully inform the public about a SHTF scenario, remains largely unknown.
Sure, the 24/7 mainstream news media will drone on and on about a potentially disastrous hurricane approaching, complete with journalists struggling to hold onto their microphone while reporting from the scene, but few natural or man-made disasters will come with a warning.
Advancement in solar flare detection over the past 20 years have been almost zero. If a World War 3 nuclear strike happens, don’t expect career politicians to wasting time warning all of us – they will be too busy running to the safety of their own lavish underground bunkers.
The 72-hour kits FEMA barely bothers to urge Americans to keep on hand, will prolong life for just a short time – leaving those who buried their hands in the sand and failed to prepare properly to panic and ultimately…. perish.
FEMA’s motto is, “Serving Communities When Needed.” Almost every single person, if not all, who has been impacted by a natural disaster over the past two decades will inform you, the actual service provided by FEMA is tardy, insufficient, and unorganized. You don’t honestly expect efficiency from anything coming out of Washington, D.C. -do you?
Government Response before a Disaster – Emergency Alert System
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is designed to allow the federal and state government to instantly reach both the press and the American people. Unfortunately, the system has been upgraded from its fully-functional low-tech version over the past years.
Now, the Emergency Alert System is a high-tech program that is extremely vulnerable to cyber-hacking. Tech-savvy terrorists could hack into the EAS and relay false information to the American people. At best a fake emergency news bulletin could prompt a panic unnecessarily – at worst, cyber warfare could be used to intentionally send police officers, other first responders, and regular Americas, directly into danger.
Imagine, for a moment, how much worse the Boston Marathon or 9/11 terror attack would have been if an Emergency Alert System bulletin told frightened Americans and those tasked with protecting the community, to rush to a specific location or area of a city to avoid danger – sending them straight into the path of bombs and crashing airplanes.
Not only could the EAS be manipulated to reroute traffic and nix proper signals before and during the initial phases of a SHTF disaster, a recent report by a security firm pointed out “critical vulnerabilities” inherent in the high-tech system that could cause it not to function properly, as well.
According to the IOActive firm, the Emergency Alert System, when it was still known as the Emergency Broadcast System, sends messages using radio and television wire services. The upgraded version of the service allows the president to share a message instantly and directly with the American people. Not a single United States President has yet tried to use the direct-link alert system function, so no one knows if it will really work – or if the president’s message could be intercepted and/or altered.
According to the ZDnet security technology report, it would not take even a seasoned cyber-hacker to tap into the Emergency Response System. If the system’s root server is infiltrated, a hacker would have the capability to alter, or stop, the flow of emergency information issued by the government, leaving the American people in a bewildered and hyper-panicked state.
FEMA Will Be There To Help…Right?
The government’s primary goal before, during, and after a disaster is to maintain order. Protecting our rights and freedoms will probably not come in as even a close second during a SHTF disaster. The very real possibility of martial law being declared would restrict our movements, freedom of speech, and potentially the ability of being left defenseless if guns are confiscated during a during or after a disaster.
“A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk,” is how the FEMA website describes the proper and anticipated response from the federal agency when disaster strikes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is very much a political animal. Leaders at the agencies are not required to have any specialized training in disaster preparedness. Granting prime government posts to folks who helped win elections is a long tradition in Washington.
Even after FEMA was melded into the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in 2002, the mammoth federal agency has changed very little operationally speaking, since the Cold War era. Presidential black-eyes over responses FEMA responses to hurricane, floods, and wild fires have prompted a flurry of policy and funding changes, but little else which will help them help all of use during a doomsday disaster.
In 2006 both Congress and the George W. Bush administration passed an extensive piece of legislation designed to not only fix, but “strengthen” FEMA amid intense and vehement backlash over the agency’s response (or lack of response) to Hurricane Katrina.
As a result of the legislation, FEMA, which failed miserably to deliver aid and comfort during Hurricane Katrina, the majority of the Department of Homeland Security agency’s pre-preparedness functions were shifted to FEMA – essentially rewarding them for the recent poor delivery of services.
The baffling move made the FEMA director as powerful as the Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary, reporting only directly to the President of the United States – who tends to be a very busy guy. We have not had a major disaster since Hurricane Katrina, so until another such incident occurs, we have absolutely no way of knowing if consolidating preparedness planning and response services into a single agency will work efficiently.
FEMA and DHS disaster preparedness plans focus on four specific response areas:
- Logistics – the transportation and movement of crucial materials and supplies to the disaster area.
- Community Relations – Outreach and awareness to citizens regarding disaster assistance programs.
- Individual Assistance – Providing aid to disaster victims.
- Public Assistance – Review of and removal of disaster-related debris.
During and after a mega long-term disaster, money will be nothing more than useless pieces of paper, so the disaster relief vouchers that are a part of the community relations portion of the FEMA and DHS plan will worthless – and the shelves at grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations will all be empty long before FEMA arrives anyway.
Both the individual assistance and public assistance prongs of the federal government’s disaster plan will almost certainly evaporate during a SHTF scenario as well.
The transportation of critical resources and supplies will be hampered, at the very least, during a disaster – and surely after a doomsday event as well. Now, if Americans are herded into FEMA camps, delivering goods will be a lot simpler – if the trucks are not hijacked along the way. Leaving your land or home to go live in a FEMA camp voluntarily is not something any prepper I have ever known would be willing to even consider.
Do not expect either a rapid or effective response from FEMA, it is just not going to happen. One thing, one very important thing, the lengthy FEMA emergency response plan does not address at all, is a back-up response plan if their vehicles will not roll, responders are unable or unwilling to leave their homes and participate in the plan, or how the plan will continue after the initial resources run out during a nuclear disaster or power grid down situation.
Governmental Agency Coordination
As I described in an earlier report for Survival Sullivan, I lived through a regional natural storm disaster and have had first-hand experience with FEMA disaster response. During a wide-spread power outage six years ago, we were experiencing a 105-degree heat wave. The power was out in portions of multiple states for at least a week.
FEMA did not arrive until three days after the storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes. Officials at state and county emergency management agencies were told by their federal counterparts the agency was overwhelmed by the need and simply did not have enough personnel or supplies in the region to respond any quicker.
The cities, of course, received help from FEMA in greater abundance than rural areas when water and ice finally arrived. As noted above, FEMA is a political animal and more voters exist in cities than they do in placed most preppers chose to live. When the SHTF, if FEMA eventually does show up, folks like us will be on the low end of the Totem Pole – and no one, despite where they live, should expect to receive more than a day or two of water, ice, or emergency food packets, at best.
No gas stations were open, no grocery stores were open during the regional disaster my family lived through – and the water flowing from the tap was about 70 degrees. Citizens were warned to use water sparingly and not to bathe because there was only a 3-day emergency reserve available until the power came back on.
When FEMA did arrive, it became quickly evident the communication chain between federal, state, and local had failed miserably. Not surprisingly, the federal agency operated under a massive set of rule and protocols which were either not shared with state and local emergency management agencies and first responders or were buried deep in some thousand-page response plan that no one bothered to read or could fully understand.
A riot nearly broke out in our bucolic little county when citizen after citizen was turned away from the cases of unrefrigerated water and melting ice line because they did not possess proper identification and proof of address – getting ‘free’ water required more of an ID process than casting a vote!
Residents had about a 40-minute drive to any open store – all of which had nearly empty shelves, long lines, took only cash, AND had placed limits on the purchase of essential food/water items and supplies. It was not uncommon to wait in line for over an hour and walk away with nothing. Fuel at the few open gas stations was also rationed during the short-term regional disaster.
The manner-in-which FEMA labels doomsday disasters offers only basic and incomplete emergency preparedness tips to address, totally downplays the severity of impact such scenarios will have on all of our lives. The FEMA website doesn’t offer EMP or solar flare disaster preparedness information – nope, just vague tidbits about “space weather” preparedness before, during, and after such an event.
The most important tip FEMA offers Americans to help guide them after an EMP is to throw out food which may have not been refrigerated at the government-recommended safe temperature. FEMA doesn’t offer advice on how to deal with, or how they will respond to a nuclear disaster either. Instead of using such scary language to offer sound preparedness tips, the federal agency labels the thin section about this type of doomsday disaster scenario as “Radiological Dispersion Device” tips.
How does FEMA warn us to prepare for a dirty bomb or other radiation emergency? The federal agency urged us to buy a roll or duct tape and scissors and to stockpile TWO WEEKS’ worth of food and other essentials. Yep, I’m sure that will do the trick and save the entire family.
Want another gem of advice from FEMA for what to do after a nuclear or other disaster? The federal agency urges everyone to “keep listening” to the radio and television for alerts from the government telling you what to do next and what areas to avoid.
Basically, if you are waiting on FEMA staffers to ride to your rescue, it will be the last thing you and your loved ones ever do.
State Emergency Response Before and During a Disaster
State Emergency Management Agencies coordinate their efforts with both FEMA and local municipalities. Emergency Operation Plans (EOP) mirror the overall FEMA plan, are boast equally thick response binders and a whole host of protocols and response regulations.
From my experience, being married to a firefighter and working with the local EMA director and law enforcement agencies in various capacities, disaster simulation scenario training, at least in Ohio, has never occurred on a state-wide level to truly test the functionality of the plan.
Regional training is conducted several times a year with a detailed evaluation of the drill being sent to various state agencies – but sometimes the disaster scenario training is merely a day-long tabletop drill.
To the best of my knowledge and research, state and regional disaster preparedness plans in most, if not all states, assume each agency will be able to respond with all of the vehicles, gear, and resources laid out in the plan – which we all know is not likely to happen in a real disaster, especially a power grid down or nuclear disaster.
The goal of the Ohio Emergency Operation Plan is basically to respond in the “most expedient and efficient manner” possible. Once again, a government response plan goes vague on the details and neglects to mention a plan “B” if plan “A” is incapable of getting off the ground due to the nature of the disaster.
MARCs, or multi-agency radio communication system hand-held radios have become commonplace in state disaster readiness plans. While the expensive to buy and operate radios might be readily available at metropolitan police and fire departments, local first responders in rural areas do not have the same access to the state-wide communications radios. Typically, rural or poor communities have just one, or perhaps two, MARCs radios for use by a chief and at an emergency remote command center.
If the doomsday disaster was not sparked by an EMP/solar flare, the radios of first responders will still work – but only until the batteries run down (about 8-10 hours during heavy use) and cannot be recharged. The lack of communication between communities, the state, and FEMA will quickly prove to be a massive stumbling block during and after a disaster.
Even if the radios are protected in a Faraday cage, damage to the cell towers necessary for them to function, could render them useless. Should the cell towers survive the disaster, a gang of bad guys and gals could still disrupt communications for nefarious reasons by damaging the cell towers essential components.
Under the “Assumptions” section of Ohio’s emergency response plan, its states the plan is based off the assumption the statewide communications system will be operational, local authorities will be able to relay and assist with the plan, AND by working together, states and local jurisdictions will be able to repair and restore communications facilities. Those are some gigantic assumptions right there, folks.
Communication is essential not only as the horrific incident is unfolding, during, and in the immediate aftermath, but for the weeks and months to come.
HAM radio operators and old-fashioned CB radios can help relay messages between homes, community entities, and the state/federal government, but again, only if they were fried during the onset of the SHTF event and can be recharged.
During a long-term disaster, the ability to communicate allows the ability of sharing not just government alerts but also warnings from fellow citizens about an illness spreading through the area (which will happen with far greater frequency after the SHTF) and roving bands of violent hordes that could be headed your way.
Communications should be an essential part of your preparedness plan so you can monitor government alerts if they should actually hit the air waves, to learn about pending threats of all varieties, and to help coordinate community or neighborhood self-defense efforts.
Local Government Response
Your local leaders and first responders will be the most effective and functional form of governmental support during and after a disaster. While local leaders, police officers, firefighters, and other essential municipal workers will not have first-hand access to details about the disasters, they do possess substantial knowledge of their own communities, available resources, can find every street and small village in the county without aid of GPS, and are invested in the survival of the community on a very personal level – they live there too!
Although the federal and state emergency agency plans dictate a 24-7 staffing component, the people tasked with showing up for a shift are not going to be worried about getting fired when the SHTF – but your local cop, will still want to keep the streets in the town where his children live, as safe as possible.
A quality county or city emergency response plan will follow typical government protocols as required, but also enlists community groups and local volunteers. It is this human component that the state and federal plans, even with all the pre-disaster resources at their disposal, are lacking – and will help keep you and your loved ones alive during the apocalypse.
Community emergency response teams may have entered into formal agreements with local, or even state, governmental entities and undergone training specific to their academic and professional background. Even those groups or citizens who have not signed up to officially be a part of a local emergency preparedness plan will still show up in droves to volunteer their services in their neighborhoods and communities when it counts most.
Impromptu gatherings at every VFW and American Legion Post across the United States will surely occur after disaster strikes. Veterans and retired police officers will play an integral role in protecting the town from outside threats, preventing looting and general chaos, and restoring order long-term when panic takes hold as the medicine and food supply dwindles.
Medical professionals, currently employed, retired, or in college, will also step up and offer to share their skills with those in need. Firefighters past, present, and trainees will not need to be paid to show up to help prevent the destruction of their community during a disaster. Unfortunately, few if any local preparedness plans prep for fire response during a power grid down or long-term disaster.
Attending local city/village council meetings and county board of commissioners meeting to address this and other logical emergency response concerns to help find solutions before they are needed should be a priority for all preppers. Even if you live on a few hundred acres with a substantial mutual assistance group, it could eventually be almost impossible to defend the entire area, protect the livestock from theft, and put out fires all by yourself.
We are all in this together, the better educated, prepared, and aware our neighbors the better all of our chances for survival. The creation and nourishment of a solid community response plan, in the absence of, or in addition to, an official municipal plan could mean the difference between life and death when the SHTF.
Preppers attempting to create a functional community response plan should begin focusing on communications during the very first meeting of the group. The volunteers should purchase compatible radios, extra batteries and chargers, be taught how to both use them properly and store them properly. Testing out signal strength from the entire service area during all four seasons of the year and during inclement weather – leave nothing to chance!
When it comes right down to it, whether or not you survive during and after a disaster is entirely up to you. No, you can’t alter the path of a bullet with your mind or create food out of thin air. But, you are armed with knowledge about what to expect from our government during and after a disaster and have the ability to enhance your survival skills and stockpiles of preps before a TEOTWAWKI happens.
What you decide to do now could one day make all the difference. Learn more, train more, speak more to local groups about the local and/or community response plan – and then go forth and teach others so they are an asset and not part of the problem after the SHTF.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.