Sumatra, Indonesia, was hit hard by the December 2005 tsunami. (U.S. Navy photo by Jennifer Rivera.)
A true disaster brings with it much death and destruction. Whether the disaster is an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or a long-term power outage, preparedness is not about standing up to the impact of such an event. After all, you will die or you won’t. There’s not much you can do against the forces of Mother Nature or a nuclear warhead right in your midst. But what we must prepare against and CAN prepare for is what is called the “Secondary Kill.”
I first heard of the apt term, Secondary Kill, in a novel by George R. Stewart, “Earth Abide.” While I felt this story was slow and generally very unrealistic, I did appreciate the author’s label of what happens to a society after the climax of the disasters impact has been felt. The wave that kills people immediately as a result of the impact of the earthquake or other disaster isn’t something that we can necessary defend against. Rather, our preparedness is for the duration of what we usually do have control over—the aftermath. And yet our history books show time and time again that the aftermath of the disaster does more to take the lives of unprepared citizens than the original disaster itself. This period of time is described by Stewart as the Secondary Kill.
The time of Secondary Kill danger reminds me of what happened to the soldiers who returned home from the Great War, safe and sound, only to find themselves battling the deadly Spanish Flu. Indeed the virus killed more individuals in a handful of months than the entire Great War did in four years! Talk about a Secondary Kill! This is exactly the same type of danger that we are confronted by in the aftermath of any disaster.
After the full impact of a disaster, there is much that can unnecessarily take additional lives. A lack of medical care for something as simple as a cut. A lack of food and water. Violence of desperate individuals. Insufficient clothing and shelter. A lack of heat or fuel. Even severe shock can kill someone as it renders them incapable of making sound decisions for their survival. Ironically, the absence of light can enhance the impact of shock and physical illness as well. These are all common causes of death after a full-fledged disaster during the time of Secondary Kill. And yet, these are all circumstances that we can learn to overcome now—in the comfort of our own homes. Wouldn’t you rather learn and prepare now while your family is well; you can alter your environmental comfort with the flip of a switch, or find the information you seek with just a few keystrokes? Our lack of preparedness now will simply intensify the impact of any disaster which comes at us. And the aftermath may be what kills us. I’d much rather die due to the powerful hand of God in the form of a tornado than die by my own ignorance and disbelief afterwards. Wouldn’t you?
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