Many people have different goals in mind for their security and preparedness.  Sometimes this leads to assumptions and confusion, or even criticism of others' goals, all of which is typical in an industry that prides itself on being ready to confront the unexpected.  In this multi-part series, we'll go into detail about understanding more about goals, and creating your own.  First, lets look at how a preparedness goal can come about and be characterized, and then explore some questions about those goals.

There are a wide range of dangerous situations that might present themselves to us, in our lifetimes.  Below is a chart, illustrating a random selection of events, and positioning them based on how likely they are to happen to us, and how dangerous they are to us when they do occur.  I call this the "Kimble Principle of Disaster Preparedness", just because I'm humble, and always wanted to name something after myself.  :-)

Kimble Principle of Disaster Preparedness

So let's examine a few:

  • Stubbed Toe:  We've likely all stubbed our toe on something, or stepped on something.  It happens "often", on the timeline of our lives, such as every few months.  When it happens, we are at very little risk of any long-term negative effects, possibly at worst a broken toe.
  • Bit By A Rare Bird:  This is certainly a silly example, but obviously your chances of being bit by a bird that is rare are themselves rare.  It's not that the bird is dangerous, it's just an uncommon bird.  The damage done by a small, uncommon bird, is fairly trivial, maybe at worst requiring a self-adhesive bandage.
  • Asteroid:  A large asteroid striking the Earth is a very unlikely doomsday scenario, in our lifetimes.  However, if a big asteroid did hit, it wiped out the dinosaurs once before, and could just as easily wipe us out.  So extremely small chance of it happening, but the most severe devastation if it did.

There are an infinite number of other events you could plot on the chart, but there are a couple key principles to recognize.  In order of decreasing likelihood:

  1. An infinite amount of events are categorized as both extremely rare and extremely safe, and fall in the lower left of the graph.  Meeting your doppelganger is extremely unlikely, and extremely safe, as is being hit by a photon of light from a star on the other side of the universe.
  2. A more limited number of events, though still very numerous, are very likely but not at all dangerous, in the bottom right corner of the chart.  This is all the innocuous stuff that happens on a daily basis, with no ill effects.  Your life is generally "free of danger", and you don't spend every minute worrying if you will survive to see the minute hand of your watch tick again.
  3. A very small number of events are extremely dangerous and unlikely, in the upper left quadrant.  All the supernova-grade "bad stuff" that you can imagine destroying the universe, that actually never happens, would go here.  Extremely dangerous events have severe, widespread effects, like tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands of people.  If these events happened more often than "extremely rarely", we wouldn't be here to talk about it.
  4. Almost no events exist in the extremely likely and extremely dangerous category, at the upper right of the graph.  If there were any events up here, we would have been wiped out long ago, by rampant thermonuclear explosions or perpetual super-viruses.  So the fact that we still exist is proof that there are no data points in this area.

If we are striving to be consistent, and not paranoid, we need to decide which unfortunate incidents we must "prepare for".  For example, we probably don't need to "prepare anything" to survive a stubbed toe, or rare-bird bite.  So there is actually a lower limit of things that we essentially ignore, which I will call the "Danger Preparedness Threshold".  Let's put that on our graph, below, where it is represented by a horizontal line, above which are all the events we consider serious enough to warrant our attention, and require preparation to mitigate the negative effects.

Danger Preparedness Threshold

In our example graph, we are now ignoring any preparations for something like a broken leg, but maybe we put a smoke detector in our house, and store valuable documents in a bank's safe deposit box, in order to prepare for a house fire.  But should we also prepare for an asteroid attack?  Can you even prepare for an asteroid attack?  Probably not.

The next step, then, is to decide how unlikely of an event to ignore.  In other words, where do we draw the line as to the most-rare event we will bother preparing for.  I call this the Likelihood Preparedness Threshold, and we'll draw it as a vertical line on our chart, where include everything to the right of the line.

Likelihood Preparedness Threshold

So now we've actually ruled out, in our thought experiment, the house fire, along with the asteroid attack.  We just don't do anything to address those issues, because we assume they are too unlikely to allow them to compete for our precious, limited resources.  We shouldn't go around digging 10,000 ft. deep underground asteroid shelters, if we are highly likely to die in a car accident, because we don't wear our seat belts or have airbags.

What we are left with is our Target of Preparedness zone, in green below.  This is the collection of situations that we have decided is the focus of our preparation efforts and limited resources.  These events are dangerous enough that we feel it necessary to prepare for them, in order to be able to successfully weather the effects, but also likely enough to occur that it's deserving of a slice of our small resource pie.

Target of Preparedness

Of course, reality isn't nearly as clear cut as this graph.  Where do your lines exist?  Are they clear, or very blurry?  It can help to gauge some situations that you have strong opinions about, and use them as reference points for comparison.  For example, did you make a special effort to buy flood insurance on your home, even though you live in a low risk area?  If so, then you could use that as a benchmark, and ask yourself "Should I be storing food in a 72-hour kit, to weather a severe storm, that is likely to occur in conjunction with a major flood?", or "Should I get an alarm system for my home, which is more likely to suffer a break-in than a flood?".

Understanding this selection process also let's us understand how our values compare to others'.  Many people live in ignorant bliss of the dangers around them, and are caught completely off-guard when trouble arises.  Those people will often be very critical of a "prepper mentality", because they have very different Danger and Likelihood Thresholds.  They are essentially saying "The risk of a flood is so remote, that I consider you foolish for worrying about insuring against it."  And that's ok.  We all have the right to decide for ourselves how best to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our property.

What this ultimately helps us with is consistency.  We want to make sure we are carefully considering the risk from dangers around us, and making wise decisions about ways to address them.  We want to do this in a logical, and consistent manner.  Using this system to define our goals, we can be more informed, organized, and efficient in accomplishing them.

Stay tuned for Part II...