When asked to write about the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt lucky, because this topic involves the only two topics on which I am well-qualified: history and emergency planning/management!
Our 2020 pandemic is historic, so congratulations on being part of something that will be studied in books forever! Pandemics have significantly impacted humans and their lives from the earliest times. For example, from the mid-6th century until well into the 7th century, the bubonic plague devastated the eastern Mediterranean, the Mideast, and Asia, becoming a major factor in the eventual collapse of several empires, including the Byzantine Empire. Just a century ago, from c. 1917 to 1920, a flu pandemic killed at least 50, perhaps 100, million people globally, several times the number of people killed in World War I (1914-1918). My grandfather’s 20 year old big brother joined the Army to defend our country and perished in World War I, not by enemy bullets, but to the flu, and virtually every American family lost someone to what historians now call “The Great Influenza.”
Of course, a century ago, let alone centuries/millennia ago, medical knowledge and treatment was limited. In 1920, when “The Great Influenza” finally subsided, aspirin — yes, ASPIRIN– had been available for only thirty years, proof that little existed then to prevent, treat, or limit the ordeal of influenza.
Even with all of our knowledge today, there are no guarantees that one can avoid serious illness. Because flu viruses mutate constantly, scientists must combine knowledge, experience, and luck to create any given year’s “best-guess” vaccine, which is typically about 40% to 70% effective.
With such daunting historical data confronting us, what do we do? Besides getting vaccinated, eating right, exercising, ensuring adequate rest, and practicing good hygiene, we must be individually prepared for a crisis such as a pandemic or other dangers. An old emergency management adage says, “We can’t predict, but we CAN prepare.”
Today, we hear media people proclaiming “This changes everything!” because “lessons have been learned!” However, history shows us that a traumatic event and its immediate aftermath inevitably bring promises of “changes,” but years pass, fears and good intentions fade, and not much changes. Everyone at Catalina should reject the “forget all the lessons until the next crisis arrives” outlook which guarantees worse crises in the future. A reasonable soul will ask, “What can I do?” You can prepare in simple, effective ways.
Regardless of occasion or dress, I always have several things with me: durable shoes on my feet; a small, well-made flashlight; a whistle; and some cash (REAL cash, not a plastic card; if the power is out, “cash cards” become just fancy plastic bookmarks!). At home, everyone should have at least a week’s supply of bottled water and food that won’t spoil if the power fails, which reminds us to also have more flashlights, a radio, and batteries.
Always have a week’s worth of other necessities; for example, did we not recently see people brawling in supermarkets over toilet paper? That’s what you do when you realize your last roll is already half-gone! Having at least six rolls in reserve? Good call! We could make a list, but the critical thing is this: if you stay aware of current events, and if you keep a reasonable “back-up” supply of essentials needed after earthquakes, fires, or pandemics (to name a few!), you’ll never be surprised and thus won’t be down at Safeway risking your life brawling over bottled water, bathroom tissue, or Kashi bars.
This is where history and emergency planning/management perfectly align, because the lesson in both fields is simple: if you don’t know the past, you’re likely to stumble blindly into trouble or worse, danger, in the future. We can’t change everyone’s tendency to ignore past experience and thus jeopardize their futures, but we can certainly make sure WE “self-vaccinate” against that “disease”! You are living in a historic moment, so remember and carry with you always the critical lessons being imparted to us NOW about always ensuring future personal preparedness.