How to help normalize general preparedness?

I find myself circling around the topic of “what can I do” to help educate and/or convert others as this global pandemic is a sort of a near perfect case study in why it’s not “crazy” to prepare at least a little.

To share my personal time-line:

I started paying attention to the “new virus” around January 17 when it showed up on The Prepared on a couple of blog entries.

On January 27 I started modestly stocking up on some supplies like hand sanitizer, wipes, etc.

As February unfolded I started shoring up non-perishable foods and other shelf-stable consumables.

But, and I’m not proud of this, I didn’t start prodding my nearby family with “do you have everything you need” hints and “hey, I noticed all the lysol wipes were gone at the grocery store” hints until March 3.  I didn’t suggest to a subset of my facebook friends they might want to start paying attention until March 5.  March 12 was when my employer granted more liberal telework, and then people started swarming the grocery stores near here on March 13 (that was a weird weekend…).

By then I was plenty prepared… but i was also wishing I had “warned” more people a little louder and a little sooner.  I didn’t do more because I didn’t want to come off as an alarmist, I was unsure of the urgency/impact, and I was perhaps slightly worried about being judged harshly by some peers (I shouldn’t care but I’m human).  As luck would have it most in my circles are largely fine but if things had turned out worse i’d be kicking myself that “I didn’t do more.”

So, along the lines of the blog post here ( https://theprepared.com/blog/warm-not-smug/ ) about welcoming newcomers, any thoughts on how best to spread the word without being too heavy handed? Even silly stuff like the 2-weeks of food and water [FEMA guidelines?] that i bet 70%+ of the population completely ignores.  Things like having a decent roadside emergency kit in your car.  I feel like that’s the kind of stuff parents tell their kids to do and hearing it from adult peers risks coming off as condescending if you do it wrong?  Have you found good ways to bring up this topic without getting ridiculed or dismissed, even in measured ways?


  • Comments (10)

    • 8

      I suspect this pandemic will do much of the work for you.  Those who suffered from the Great Depression (my grandparents) were frugal for the rest of their lives so I suspect this will have a similar effect.  Prepping will be less marginal and more mainstream.  I think it will be similar to suggesting friends buy insurance – they may not do it, but they wont think you are strange for suggesting it.

    • 16

      Great question! FWIW, we’ve been collecting thoughts along the way to eventually publish a full guide just on this (and related topics like “what if your spouse thinks prepping is silly”). It’s a tough balance, particularly when talking to people who still have the outdated stigma that prepping = extremists.

      A lot of it comes down to the person you’re trying to convince. Do they think more economically? Then be logical about how a dollar today saves 10 dollars later. Do they think more about social justice and altruism? Explain how not prepping when you have the means to is selfish, since you’re relying on others to come save you + that saving means someone else with lessor means isn’t being saved.

      Some random examples of narrative devices I’ve seen work well:

      Instead of telling someone stuff, ask them questions that leads them to thinking it was their own idea. eg. in Feb/March you could’ve said to friends “Don’t want to be alarmist, but I’m hearing this pandemic could be a big deal. I’m trying to figure out what to do to get ready… what do you suggest?” People might be more likely to think positively about preparation if they feel like they are being the responsible one answering a friend, instead of being talked at. If they scoff at it, then they likely wouldn’t respond to any other tactic anyway.

      Sometimes I ask “well how much do you spend each year on things like fire insurance?” … “I spend $X,XXX” …. “Okay, and how much time or money have you spent making sure your kids survive a fire in the first place?” …. (crickets) … “Oh, shit.”

      Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply speak up and be reasonable. So many people think about these topics in their head, but are scared to pipe up. It takes courage to do so, but once you do, it tends to create “social permission” for people around you to engage / come out of the closet. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen this happen.

      ^ it’s similar to the tactics that worked well in things like the gay rights movement. For example, back in the Harvey Milk days when CA was considering a law to ban gay teachers etc, the tactic that helped turn public opinion was a campaign of normal gay people (not the caricatures common of the time) saying “hey, I’m your dentist, and I’m gay.” … “I’m the neighbor you’ve been watching football with for years, and I’m gay.” … and so on. The more personal the connection, the more people are willing to reject stereotypes and tribalism.

    • 6

      I wouldn’t beat yourself up on this.  I’ve given up on convincing people to get prepared.  I’ve tried many techniques including ones mentioned in this blog.  It might spark a few thoughts but rarely results in a call to action.  I suppose I’ll leave it up to others to convince people. It seems like most will need to have personal experience in order to change their behaviors.  My wife always wondered why I would stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, garbage bags, etc.  My family did listen to me to go out one weekend and get extra food, feminine products, coffee, etc. before the pandemic hit.  About 6 weeks in, she stopped me in the kitchen and started telling me her plan for stockpiling food and supplies.  I just looked at her and said ‘welcome’.  She said she never thought something like this could happen, even though she’s been through power outages and water main breaks.  Not trying to sound like I have an ‘I told you so’ attitude , but many seem to need to learn by personal experience.  My sense is that many will stop planning when things return to normal.  The good news is maybe we’ll get some good deals on eBay.  Remember all of the tri-fuel generators for sale on eBay after Y2K?

    • 5

      I don’t necessarily recommend it, but living in a city currently experiencing widespread, violent civil unrest has really opened these conversations among my Minnesota neighbors.

      • 5

        Oh, absolutely!

        I’m not sure 2020 is done with us just yet, so I agree, this may actually be a really good time to have this kind of conversation. If only because it’s much easier to have the talk when people have already experienced, first hand, going to the store and trying to get toilet paper, hand sanitizer (or whatever else was cleared off shelves); or live in that area that’s adjacent to a zone of disruption; or have admitted their concerns about the pandemic, the civil unrest, etc.

        The thing is, time is– and isn’t on our [collective] side. Yes, current events make it easier to initiate or avail ourselves to these kinds of talks (especially when someone else initiates it), but time’s a-ticking, even if it’s not “swim or sink” time. Yet.

    • 11

      It’s kind of an interesting subject for me right now. In my circle I am, apparently, “the prepper” though my level of prepping is, at this point, so INCREDIBLY modest. Basically, I’m just a couple of steps ahead of the general public but also spending time thinking about what I need and trying to educate myself. It’s so obvious in our time that some level of prepping is really a basic life skill, yet the image this kind of prepping has is out of sync with the reality. Just the other day I was saying to a friend that I have a foldable solar panel and a power bank to power my cell phone in an emergency. My friend said “You’ve become quite the survivalist!”

      Today I was thinking that perhaps part of the problem is that the majority of the visible prepping community is white (and also male). The image is still of the ultra right-wing, white survivalist guys. I was thinking that this is especially unfortunate because some of the people who could use prepping most are poor, black and brown. But perhaps for this the prepping culture needs to change to be more accessible and relatable to people who fit into those demographics. There need to be more people who are obviously NOT white guys with rifles spreading this message, and doing it in whatever idiom is appropriate for their communities.

      • 6

        @Jonnie Pekelny I agree with your perspective here.  My roots are more rural with preparation and self-reliance as part of the culture.  My family wouldn’t call themselves preppers back then or even now, but they are.  That’s likely part of it as well. To them, prepping is what ‘city folks’ call what they consider common life skills and/or basic requirements, or what some ex-military folks do to ‘stay ready’ for war.

        I think the ‘stereotype’ that is made by the extreme portion of the community that becomes visible because of criminal activity or sensationalist reporting is also what keeps folks from sharing they are part of the prepping community and therefore changing that stereotype.  Perhaps this pandemic and associated economic hardship will help change the perspective.  Much of the rural preparation culture is based on economically driven frugality.

    • 8

      I can see the geological effects of the San Andreas fault from my backyard.  Everybody in my region knows we’re overdue for The Big One.  Nobody gives me any push-back on that fact if it comes up at a party.

      “Well, I’m just going to come and stay at your house, Uhlan,” they’ll say, “You’ve got us all covered, right?”

      And I say, “You’re more than welcome to stay with me…….but are you prepared for the two-day walk getting to my house from your work in the OC?  Because there’s a real good chance the roads won’t be clear enough to drive your car the whole way.”

      • 6

        @Uhlan: your mention of the San Andreas fault and The Big One brings to mind another reason it’s hard to get people to prepare. I am also in California with the threat of The Big One hanging over our heads for as long as I’ve lived here (42 years). The prospect of the Big One is pretty terrifying!. As a person who is prone to anxiety anyway, I sometimes struggle to maintain a proper level of concern and preparedness for possible future disasters without getting overwhelmed by anxiety about how these disasters might play out.

        I think a lot of people around me have a similar issue. Talking about disaster preparedness brings up fear and people have so much fear already. Plus, many folks are just struggling to get by day to day, so trying to plan for a future emergency just seems like too much.

        Of course none of this is new. I suspect that in other times and places a certain level of “prepping” was simply built into the culture (e.g. Alicia’s description) so that people didn’t actively have to think about future disasters or change their lifestyles to begin preparing.

    • 7

      If anybody cracks this nut, let me know… I think I’m just burning a little social capital at a time, just like bite-sized awareness “nudges”.

      Honestly, the thing I am trying to shift to is encouraging people to move from “whew that was a terrible anomaly” to “readiness pays off!”