Who deserves more attention, Mother Nature or digital devices?

by | Oct 9, 2015 | Blog | 0 comments

kayaks on streetMore kayaks than cars traveled across South Battery Street in downtown Charleston, SC this past weekend.

Boating became the easiest way to get around in this historic neighborhood after 13 inches of rain over three days led to street flooding—thanks to the influence of Hurricane Joaquin.

Plus, boating was fun, social and a novel way for college students and the adventurous to entertain themselves, especially with most official events cancelled or postponed due to the weather conditions.

From my perspective, it wasn’t just the sound of paddles hitting the water and all the laughing voices during the breaks from the rain that seemed out of the ordinary.

It was also the realization that it had been a very long time since I had been in the middle of a major weather storm. And I was out of practice.

Over the past nine years, I’ve experienced five life-changing events that should have helped me prepare and deal with the storm.  

For example, I had:

  • Moved to Charleston from drought-stricken northern California in 2014, which made me more conscientious about the high probability of being in the path of a hurricane. And we did make sure we had proper supplies and plans.
  • Started an executive masters program in applied neuroscience in 2013, which has made me better understand how the brain responds faster and stronger to threats, but is biased against planning for disasters.
  • Switched to an iPhone from a Blackberry in 2012, and discovered the world of apps that helps us perform many tasks more reliably, consistently and thoroughly than we humans can often do on our own.
  • Started studying behavior design with Dr. BJ Fogg in 2012, which has helped me better understand how to help myself and others change behavior.
  • Co-authored Leading People Through Disasters with Kathy McKee in 2006, which serves as an action plan for the human side of disaster planning and recovery.

Did all of these experiences make me better prepared for the storm and all of its flooding? Not really.

What about being better able to cope during the storm? Yes and no.

Now, under beautiful sunny skies, I’m both reflecting on my recent performance as well as planning what to do next.

We continue to be under flood advisories because of these conditions: the extreme rains that moved north of us are now resulting in a phenomenal volume of water moving downstream in already high rivers. The additional water combined with high tides at the coast can lead to more flooding.

But what about you? If you have a “knowing-doing” gap like I do around natural disasters, these three actions can help you prepare for and deal with a disaster and avoid the mistakes I just made.

1.Move into precise action mode faster. In other words, stop talking in glittering generalities and instead define “crispy” actions you must take by specific deadlines. My husband and I were guilty of chatting several days in a row about the weather reports forecasting the torrential rains, but not taking the time to make exact plans.

For example, we said it would be a good idea to move the car to higher ground—specifically one of the above-ground, covered city parking garages—but we didn’t decide and articulate when to do it. We hadn’t realized how fast conditions could deteriorate. So Saturday morning, we found ourselves maneuvering the car out of the driveway and on city streets that were already covered in about two inches of standing water.

2. Stay up-to-date on the news you can use. Choose news and weather apps that will supply you with relevant local information, and get them loaded on your smart phone now. Conditions can change quickly in your local area, and it helps to know what’s going on so you can prepare and if needed, adjust your plans.

If you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) like I do, you may try to cover the waterfront (yes, pun intended) with multiple local, national and international news sources. You run the risk of getting so many alerts—especially if you have activated the sounds—that you’ll become so anxious that it will be hard to focus on anything else.

If you’re going to be safely cooped up at home, how much time do you want to be glued to your digital devices watching alerts when you could be binge-watching Netflix, doing special projects or enjoying some other activity that rejuvenates you?

Plus, many of these alerts may be on issues that don’t affect you and are out of your control. For example, I was getting alerts on apps that I had installed shortly after we had moved here. I had forgotten about them, so I was surprised to be hearing about school closings, court hearings and traffic accidents in counties that are hours away from where we live.

3. Regularly reach out and touch people and pavement as soon as conditions are safe. Recognize that you and your neighbors can provide additional important perspectives that you can’t get from apps. Plus it’s better for your health—physical and mental—to get some fresh air and be social.

For instance, we finally put down our devices and turned off the TV and pulled on our knee-high rubber boots to go outdoors. As we  walked around, we felt much better. We gained valuable insights from our neighbors and our own powers of observation. We learned where the neighborhood dogs were gathering to socialize and do their business. Also, by trudging around the neighborhood, I found the best escape route, including a dry corner on higher ground. When I needed to go to the airport a couple of days later, it was fairly simple to arrange for a car to meet me at that corner.

We were very lucky. We never lost power or Internet service. (We did keep our devices charged the entire time in case the power went out. This was important as our back-up charger—the car—was more than a mile away in the city garage.) We had plenty of food and water. And the water started to recede about 48 hours later.

This experience makes me more committed to preparing for disasters. It’s not “if;” it’s “when” something will happen.

What are you doing to prepare for probable disasters in your locale?


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