Home-life Security from the Homeland Security Expert

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As you know, I’m no fan of on worst-first thinking — thinking about the worst case scenario first and proceeding as if it’s likely to happen.
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Turns out neither is Juliette Kayyem, even though serious, intensive, worst-firsting has  sort of been her job. Kayyem was  Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs in the United States Department of Homeland Security. She also served as co-Director of Harvard’s Long-Term Legal Strategy for Combating Terrorism, and held other positions at that university. On WGBH and other media, she’s the Security Mom. Now she’s got a book out:  Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.
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I was skeptical about the nexis between terrorism and raising kids (though there have been days…). But then I read Kayyem’s list of preparedness tips in yesterday’s HuffPo, and they struck me as proactive rather than alarmist. Here are a few:

1) BE THE BOSS: The greatest indicator of a child’s sense of well being is a parent’s sense of well being. How you act and respond to what is going on in the world will be absorbed by your children, but they don’t necessarily have the maturity or skills to put it all in perspective. You are their role model. Keep your calm, and they will better carry on.

2) TALK IT OUT: I am often asked how to talk to kids about the news from bombs in Turkey to shootings in suburban schools. There is admittedly no single right way. Age and maturity level are relevant, of course, but in this interconnected world, your kids likely know more than you want and sooner than you might realize. Engage them and measure their fears; discuss all the things you are doing to keep them safer (see below); and remind them that while there are some bad people, there are so many more good people. Don’t say things like “Yeah, I know, the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket.” It doesn’t help.

3) GET SHOPPING: Of all the crap you buy on a regular basis, it doesn’t take much more effort to get your home ready should something happen that disrupts your community. A prepared home goes further than anything else in empowering you to know you got your bases covered, and letting the kids know that you’ve done something. Emergency managers like to remind people to buy for three days: “72 on you.” That may be a lot, so get started with a day at least. This list will get you pretty far: water, non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries, candles and matches, a first-aid kit, special medications or glasses, infant formula and diapers, pet food (don’t forget Fido!), and hand and body sanitizers. I’ve shopped this list several times; excluding travel time, I’m in and out of Walmart in less than an hour. And make it personal for your comfort: we have spare vodka and Red Vines as well.

And my favorite, #7:

7) LIVE YOUR LIFE: Our homeland security, for all its flaws, is pretty basic. It is about minimizing risks, maximizing defenses, and maintaining our spirit. No system of security, or parenting, is going to reduce the risk to zero and, truth be told, we wouldn’t want it that way. Remind your kids of the benefits of their engagement in the world: the travel and visits to grandparents or Disney World; the baseball game or Taylor Swift concert; that iPhone.

Ever since 9/11 our home has had four “go packs” ready in case of an emergency. Of course, those granola bars are about 15 years old now. (Can they possibly taste worse than when we packed them?) But still. Nothing wrong with sensibly preparing for a disaster, if only so then you can put it out of your mind. If it happens, you’re as ready as can be.

And then, like Security Mom says: Live your life. – L.

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Security Mom Juliette Kayyem.

Security Mom Juliette Kayyem.

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17 Responses to Home-life Security from the Homeland Security Expert

  1. Andrew April 5, 2016 at 8:08 am #

    As I understand it, the LDS encourages its members to keep several months of food in their larder, just in case. I thought the recommendation was a whole year, but the website now says 3 months – https://www.lds.org/topics/food-storage

    The difficult thing is keeping enough drinking water for more than a week or two. Bottled water for that sort of time should be enough to get through the worst part of most disaster scenarios.

    Yes, zero risk is not an option. We just have to learn to live with the risks that exist, and to do what we sensibly can to reduce their incidence and impact.

  2. Stephen Browne April 5, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    The thing about the paranoid mindset is not just excessive worry, but worry about the less likely events.

    I’d like to ask people paranoid about “stranger danger” if they are prepared to say, spend the night in a broke down car with a few climate-appropriate supplies in the trunk?

  3. BL April 5, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    “A prepared home goes further than anything else in empowering you to know you got your bases covered, and letting the kids know that you’ve done something.”

    A bit surprising coming from a government source. I thought the government regarded people like that as evil “survivalists” and probably terrorists.

  4. Havva April 5, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    My husband and I went through a minor disaster. The biggest eye opener was the water situation. We lucked out, the contaminated public water supply, while in our city, was from a different supply than serviced our street. Thankfully it was only a boil water warning. That was when we realized we weren’t well prepared to boil water without electricity. Never mind, deal with more seriously contaminated water. When the camping supply store re-opened it was mobbed. They got wiped out of water treatment and storage supplies, and every shipment sold quickly for a while there after. After things calmed down we got ourselves a camping stove, water treatment tablets, water jugs, and a large well insulated cooler (food spoilage was another major issue).

    The food spoilage issue, while simply a nuance to most families, was particularly rough on poorer families in the neighborhood who didn’t have the capacity to immediately replace an entire refrigerator and freezer worth of spoiled food.

  5. Michael Fandal April 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    Well doe. Go packs should include deck of cards and miniature magnetic chess and scrabble and postems for doodling and sharpies

  6. EricS April 5, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    See, when people use common sense and reason, you can still be “protective”, without being paranoid or sheltering. There CAN be a good balance. That balance has always been part of parenting till the last decade or so. Only if people thought smarter.

    Be the shepherd, not the sheep.

  7. Allison April 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    @BL, just the opposite! Check out ready.gov for info and checklists.

  8. lollipoplover April 5, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    Uggh. The hype over preparedness, especially with local weatherfreaks and monster snowstorm forcasts that are mostly a dusting of snow. The grocery stores always sell out of french toast supplies. We usually stock up on wine instead. Seriously, if we are all trapped together for 72 hours I don’t need to carbload. I’m more concerned with keeping mentally sane.

    As for kids, mine loved the disaster book series “I Survived…”. We’ve had many conversations about “What if” and disasters, both natural and random acts. I remember many questions about Tsunamis (especially when we were at the beach) and when we had tropical storms and hurricanes and where is the safest place in the house and what we would do during emergencies. Also explaining the nature of insurance to children, so they don’t worry about losing possessions and the house was extremely helpful to my kids. Letting them know that everything can be replaced….but them.

  9. Backroads April 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    Andrew, I am LDS so this comee pretty standard to me.

    Great sensible list.

  10. James Pollock April 5, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    I’d go a couple of steps further.

    When you finish teaching your child 911, their own address, and either the home phone number, or (these days) a parent’s cell phone number, move on to a couple more.

    What if you have to leave your house? Fire, angry bees, crazed jihadi terrorists, or whatever? The kids should have a “this is where we’ll all meet up”, “This is who to go to if you’re separated from mom and dad (or whatever caretaker is applicable), and “This is someone who lives in a different town that you should call to say “I’m OK, and here’s where to find me.”

    Older kids should also have “this is who you should try to help out if necessary”… neighbors who are or might be unable to find safety without assistance. (The old lady who lives in the house on the corner, the disabled man who lives down the street, the family with six kids, three of them under 5.) Even if the only help they can offer is to point the firefighters or police towards the correct home.

    It doesn’t take a completely fleshed-out plan, just a skeleton. But human brains under the influence of adrenaline are poor at decision-making and long-term planning. You need to have the outlines of plan before you need it, because under pressure, the plan you come up with probably won’t be very good.

  11. The Other Mandy April 5, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    We recently had a small fire at our house (big nuisance, but no disaster). Just a week or so earlier, I’d spoken to my 3-1/2 year old son about what to do if there was fire outside of the fireplace (take your little sister outside to the neighbor’s house). I’m proud to say when there was a real emergency, everyone remained calm, got outside quickly and called the fire department without dropping the phone.

    Preparedness is important.

  12. David (Dhewco) April 6, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    Well, I am LDS, too. I was brought up believing that you should have a years worth. However, you should cycle food through every three or months to keep it fresh and not just leave it on the shelf and ignore it. While the shelf life is longer, some of the items you collect can lose nutritional value after a while and you have no idea when a disaster or for how long it’ll last. You might as well keep it fresh.

  13. Eric Hesmondhalgh Jr April 6, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Check into your area’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, usually part of your local Emergency Management Agency. From FEMA: “CERT educates individuals about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT volunteers can assist others in their community following a disaster when professional responders are not immediately available to help.”

    http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams

    2. Have a plan – not so much for the EMP destroys the electrical grid, disaster movie grade event which will most likely never happen, but for the “What if a train on the tracks a mile from me derails and dumps whatever chemicals?”, or “What if we get real snow mid-day in Atlanta?”, or “What if a tornado takes out the electrical substation handling my neighborhood?”

    3. There is a bag one can get for their bathtub which facilitates its use for water storage. Also, the water in a water heater is, with very rare exception, safe for consumption. Finally, and if you have space for them, water barrels are readily available in a variety of sizes.

    4. Laying in supplies can be as easy as adding a package or two of whatever to your pantry over time – you don’t have to make a run to your local camping supplier to get freeze-dried whatever or military Meals, Ready to Eat (Although MRE’s can be a good choice – shelf stable, easy to prepare-just warm, or eat cold, and while not gourmet, fairly palatable.)

    5. Biggest thing, and I can thank my cousins in England for this – keep calm and carry on!

  14. We R. Fuct April 6, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

    America is turning stupid-DaaahhhDerrrDahhhDhoooo….

  15. olympia April 6, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Is having three days’ worth of food on hand really such a stretch for people? I mean, if you’re financially strapped, it’s one thing. But if affording food in general isn’t a struggle, is three days’ worth really such a tall order?

  16. James Pollock April 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    “Is having three days’ worth of food on hand really such a stretch for people? I mean, if you’re financially strapped, it’s one thing. But if affording food in general isn’t a struggle, is three days’ worth really such a tall order?”

    It is after the refrigerator stops working.