The Secondary Kill

Sumatra, Indonesia, was hit hard by the December 2005 tsunami. (U.S. Navy photo by Jennifer Rivera.)

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 Spanish Flu photo c/o

The Spanish Flu photo c/o

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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Take normal precautions, Treat the symptoms. Wash for your hands properly (sing the ABC's)Use bleach/water mix in a sprayer for all surfaces. Use disposable mask and gloves and a covered bucket or trashcan and dump them everytime in and out of the sick room. Wash all bedding, pjs with a little bleach. This is very communicable but not more deadly than regular flu. If you are over 60 you actually are better off to withstand the H1N1 compared to a 30 year old.
Spanish influenza that killed so many in 1918 had a milder form in 1917. What made it a pandemic was that in 1918 it mutated and we had all those soldiers bringing it home after WWI.
This is not the Black Plague. Just use a little comman
sense,a little extra hygiene, and it will be fine.

I was wondering how you all made out back there. Last thing I heard was FEMA couldn't help because the roads were icy.
You Think? after a major ice storm the roads might be a bit slick?
I am glad you made it and are getting ready for next time. It takes some effort but going through all of Kellene's posts is well worth it. Plus I learn a lot from the reader's posts as well.

A good friend of mine once said that Americans are 9 meals away from civil unrest. This is so true. Since average Joe or Jane has not prepared for even minor disturbances to our fragile supply network what will happen when the big one hits?

Katrina should have been the ultimate wake up for all of us...

So sad but true. I live in Florida and when hurricanes come there are usually a few deaths, but mostly due to people not following simple safety precautions. People don't evacuate when they should (especially dumb if you live in a flimsy trailer like many people around here), or use generators inside, or get in car accidents because the roads weren't safe but they thought they'd go check out the town anyway, or get hit on the head by falling limbs because they were just too curious to stay inside a few more hours till things settled. It's so very senseless.

And then we did have one here a few years ago where a lot of people didn't have power and/or water for a few weeks. My husband and I were lucky that we weren't affected, but I think a lot of people were truly surprised that they could be in such a situation since we're inland a bit. However, the rains we got from back to back storms loosened the ground up and a lot of big trees came crashing down afterwards causing a lot more damage than wind alone would have.

This is really well put. I assume most times that because I live in an area with virtually no natural disasters, it gives a false sense of safety. It amazes me to see and hear about people in tornato and hurricane country not doing anything.

In most disasters it is really basic stuff that will save you.

Yes, ignorance is not bliss in this situation for sure.

I personally have more confidence in myself and the abilities I can care for my family safely in the heat of the moment....or months later.

I think it is important to be in control of what we can, the more we know the better we are.

As I have watched the different disasters over the years, I have observed that the biggest problems seem to come from not having drinkable water, and lack of sanitation. If the people in New Orleans had had 72 hour kits, it would have made such a difference.

I think you are so right about the time after the event. Starving to death, or freezing to death, or whatever, seems so much more tragic.


"I assume most times that because I live in an area with virtually no natural disasters, it gives a false sense of safety."

Where do you live?!?

We are currently quarantining ourselfves for the next week because my husband had been hit with swine flu. Hope that we survie the secondary killer that has found its way into our home. Any new suggestions about swine flu would be greatly appreciated. I have been doing lots but wondering what else I can be doing.

P.S. It is hard to type with gloves on.


First off, THANK YOU! It ticks me off when people who could stay home choose to go out when they're sick through some twisted martyr complex thinking that their company will go under if they miss a week, their teacher will hate them for missing class, and/or their friends will never forgive them if they miss the party. They won't. They'll be glad they're not sick!

Sounds like the best thing the two of you can do is take it easy. He needs to recoup fully and you need to keep your immune system healthy so you don't get it (if you haven't already). So, try not to worry too much and just enjoy some time together.

Carol, you are hysterical!

We live in the Phoenix area and there's definitely a sense of safety because we don't experience tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and the like. There may be some isolated flooding but only rarely has that happened. I think this is why so many people in my area just stare at me in bewilderment when I tell them how we're preparing. "Why would I want to do that?", one friend asked me!

Just because something has never happened, doesn't mean it won't ever happen, but I guess that thought doesn't occur to most people!


Lisa, I hate to tell you this, but you could not PAY me a million dollars to live in the Phoenix area. Forget Mother Nature issues. You've got man-made issues of crime, infiltration, and violence. Phoenix is the #1 capital for kidnappings in the WORLD.
But I AM indeed glad that you are preparing for other natural disasters as well. Be WELL and Be SAFE.

What Kellene said. Plus that heat could be killer if y'all lost power for a while (especially but not just for the young, old, and sick). And there are plenty of ways that the power grid could be disrupted, both by Mother Nature or human actions whether accidental or intentional.

I so appreciate your take on things. I have learned so much from your posts. I have always been into preparedness and teach a class occasionaly. One thing I've always stressed - what you know may be more important than what you have ..... and after a disaster of any kind, more people die from poor sanitation or lack of clean water than they do from the initial disaster. I'm 72 now and just starting taking a basic CERT class and am even thinking of learning how to use fire arms.
Keep up the good work!

I figure that even when people try their best to be prepared, it is hard to prepare for everything that could happen. This could have to do with not being able to imagine every possible scenario, or just the financial aspect of preparing. I figure if we do what we can, one can of food, one piece of information, or bottle of water at a time, we will be better off no matter what happens. The thing is that we do need to be doing something--would hate to know that we're in worse circumstances because we didn't even try to prepare for "secondary kill" circumstances. Thought-provoking post.

I would like to share a short story..I live high in the mountains of Mt...I am 68 years old,I have Emhpezema and an assortment old old ppl stuff I lost my husband 7years ago,I live on smallest amount of ss you can get...I have no family left...I get along because I have too!!!! I stock up because I have too!!! I only recently came across this site....and am happy that I did...however I have always been a winter should as well....if for no other reason than the rate of inflation!!!!!! If I can do this you can as well....Am I worried about swine flue NO I probably will not see another human till spring!!! Am I worried about what little money I have no...I have changed some things around so that I am comfortable, not that I have enough to worry about, I have stocked up on 22 long's, some of you may not like this however even at my old age I can pack 1,000 plus rounds. Hunt with it or protect myself. Some of you may be against guns...I would advise otherwise....but that is my opinion...Other than that I have bought a new emengency stove,some new emg lighting, extreme tarps,and stocked up on medical supplies.....This site has taught me so much that is new. I thank you

In addition to Kellene's posts there is usually a wealth of wisdom in the comment sections of PreparednessPro. Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts.

RE: Phoenix, don't forget the slow killer that you all live with - pollution. What Meg and Kellene said for me too - couldn't pay me enough. So much for the Chamber of Commerce ads.

I live near harrisburg, pa. We don't get anything here. At most in the winter you might have a day or two without power. No major snows, no severe storms. People just suffer through if the power goes out. It always comes back on quickly.

People feel secure.

We are not though, it gets cold here. If power was to be out for more than a couple days people would be freezing to death. Since that doesn't happen though everyone assumes it can't.

VERY good points. I only recently got the "preparedness bug", and had an inkling of this, but this nailed it. Surviving a natural disaster can be as much luck as planning. Surviving the aftermath is much more about planning.

I understand that! I work in a clean room, and spend 12 hours typing with gloves on. It takes a lot of getting used to.

Kellene, I just want to say how glad I am to have found you! I actually copied your ENTIRE blog and copied it into a word file so my office won't get on me for spending too much time online. Now, I just pop open the word file and read it that way whenever I get a break.

I've always wanted to be able to grow my own food and can and be fairly self-sufficient. This year I grew tomatoes and a fair amount of herbs but next year the garden will be a REAL garden.

Last year in September we were hit with a huge wind storm here in Kentucky. Trees were down everywhere, electricity was out for a couple of weeks, longer for others. There was even looting downtown but the news didn't report on it. We were due for a big PGA golf tournament and they didn't want to make the city look bad. Fortunately we have friends in the PD and they told us about the looting.

You are right, there was a huge run on EVERYTHING. Even gas ran out locally and those who had gas, ran the prices up higher than normal. Needless to say, we were unprepared. We made it through ok, but I vowed I would never be unprepared again. I started looking online for bulk groceries and storage items. A few months later after the wind storm we were hit with an enormous ice storm, and again, electricity was out. Because of the few things I had stored, we fared much better than the last time.

So now ... I found your blog a couple of weeks ago and learned I need to be stocked for at least a year with food and a whole lot more than I never even thought of! I am using your blog as a text book. If Kellene says to it needs to be done, I'm going to do my best to get it done!

I can't thank you enough for all this important information (and the heads up on the Spiff-e-Whip -- MMMM ha a) I am learning sooooooo much! You are truly a blessing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Rhonda, thank you SO much for you kind comments. As an employer, I can appreciate you not spending too much time on the internet. *wink*
Let me know if there is anything specific I can help you with in terms of your preparedness efforts. That's what I'm here for!!!
Take care!

Where I live in Canada, it can get pretty cold, so in winter that is my biggest worry. We now have a wood stove for that reason. And we just recently got a gas stove so if the power goes off at least I can light the burners as long as the gas still flows, so I made a rocket stove and can use the wood kindling. I try to think up back ups for the back ups.
A few years ago we had a tornado, it didn't do a lot of damage, we don't get flooding, and no earthquakes. Ice storms and winter snow are the major concern. Yet not too many people seem to prepare. It amazes me when I see on TV the people in store just before a disaster. I think a lot of people are going to get caught with their pants down when the lights go out.

This reminds me of an interview I heard recently about New Orleans and the Gulf in the aftermath of Katrina. The official was saying that for a while after Katrina they were having an epidemic of suicides. As a social worker, I saw so many displaced individuals who were experiencing major depression and anxiety episodes related to the experience.

Go to the FEMA website for the floods in Georgia. Boil water orders and sewage systems not online after the flood. I think you are right on for folks thinking it's out of the tap it's good, I can still flush everything is good.

You go girl, Sorry about your husband. I probably grew up on the other side of the rockies in Idaho. I do wish you had a bit more gun, but it sounds like you have it going on. I love finding the people I meet here so inspiring. And Dang it if she can do it so can I. Yes I am on SSD so I know how little you are making it happen on. Rock on sister.

Storms are coming El Nino was weak in the Pacific this year so that usually means a tough winter on the east coast. Don't forget the New Madrid fault in Mo. It was felt in NYC, and I know you don't build to withstand earthquakes. Expect the worst hope for the best. I guess the best thing is to say, that's just Mother nature, but never discount what man can do to screw things up. TMI?

Actually, Jamie, I wrote a piece specifically about the earthquake core in MO that was felt all the way up the New England coast. It's definitely due for a DOOZY.

Sorry to steal your thunder on that one Kellene. True most folks don't know that the strongest registered quake in the USA happened in MO.

It's crazy times and crazy Mother Nature.
About a month ago, here in north Georgia, my son & I were awakened one Sat morning by an awful sound! It sounded like the roar of a tornado. We both jumped up and ran for the little bathroom, only to realize that our weather alert radio hadn't gone off - and the house was shaking. Turns out it was a 3.8 or so EARTHQUAKE. Yeah, in GEORGIA!

Unlike the folks in the Katrina-damaged areas, the folks of Atlanta couldn't buy flood coverage - they "weren't in a flood zone". That's why so many of them are hurting right now. The flooding only lasted for a few hours, but almost no one had flood insurance with which to replace and repair their homes. Unlike some in N.O., most of the people in Atlanta are pulling together to help each other instead of stealing from each other.

There are many stories in military history that soldiers have marched on without pants because of Dysentery.
Napoleon, lost against Russia because of Typhus in Poland. He took 3 million men into Russia, only 15,000 were healthy enough to be soldiers again when he got back, and most died to disease, and cold.
Filth diseases have killed more soldiers than any bullets have.
I was a Field sanitation NCO. So when someone is incapacitated by a disease through neglect of hygiene. I got frustrated because it is preventable.
I guess what I am saying is your body is your 1st shelter. I am coming around more and more to Kellene's way of thinking about priorities. You may have all the gold in the world but if your body is ravage by preventable disease. All that gold simply becomes a paperweight.
Darlene, you probably did the right thing even by accident, You want to be in the strongest part of your house when the shake happens, if you can't get to an open area.
I remember my 1st quake. I was sitting on a tile floor over Concrete. It felt like I was bobbing on waves on the ocean. I think it was a 4.1, I think I have seen most natural disaster in a mild form, from Volcanoes (Mt. Saint Helens) to monsoons imagine jogging through 12" of water. We didn't get the word that Army Physical Training was canceled for the day, wasn't so bad no Pushups or situps, LOL. White outs, blizzards, Quakes, Forest fires, wind storms and flooding. Well you got to be tough to live in the west.
I guess that's it just God's way of keeping us on our toes. I kinda think it's his way of seeing if anyone is paying attention.
I am reminded of the story of Joseph and the Egypt's pharaohs.Stocking up for 6 years, for the coming of disaster.
The bible is one of the best owners manual for humanity. Lot's of great wisdom for your life even if you don't believe in a deity.
Flood insurance is the biggest scam provided by the Government. Private Insurance companies no longer provide flood insurance it was taken over by the US Government. I think there idea was we will declare a disaster area any way with grants and loan guarantees, well just take over all flood insurance as well and maybe get a few bucks from premiums.
They wonder why folks are against Government run health insurance. Seeing how well they have run the flood insurance program.


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