Posted by: Donna Cunningham | March 20, 2011

Emergency Preparedness—A Q&A Session by Dr. Deborah Bier

©3-20-2011 by Guest Blogger, Dr. Deborah Bier

I wanted to give a very brief introduction of myself before today’s comment-a-thon. And I also want to articulate one extremely important rule through which I’d like us to frame our discussion today.

First the intro..

From 1998 to 2009, I worked with my community of Concord, Massachusetts doing emergency planning preparation and education for citizens. Our focus for the first few years was to organize neighborhoods for social cohesiveness and emergency preparedness/response within a grassroots organization.

And then the next few years training citizens for the same, but as a volunteer for my local fire department, which also was in charge of emergency management. In the process, we created some enormously inventive methods and organizations, resurrected neglected community resources, and also had a lot of fun.

And now that extremely important rule we will be looking through for today’s Q&A…

There are different reasons for doing emergency preparedness for ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, and beyond. I think we can boil them down to two useful ways of looking at these reasons: we can prepare out of fear, or we can prepare out of love.

We can prepare out of fear, because we’re terrified of “the next bad thing that’s going to happen.” 

 Or we can prepare out of love and a desire to help make a strong recovery possible for ourselves and the community.

We can prepare because we’re terrified of death and loss, or we can prepare because we love and value life — our own, our family’s, neighbor’s, and life as expressed in all forms.

We can prepare because being frightened and talking about bad things that might happen is in some way exciting, or because we are excited to plan ways to enhance resilience and to watch its powers unfold during recovery.

And lastly, we can prepare out of fear, hiding supplies because we each have to assure we’re going to have what we need… because others will want our stuff, and we’d better be ready to defend ourselves with weapons. Or we can prepare out of love, knowing that the bonds we make in the process will develop trust, teamwork, and a shared sense of purpose and commitment.

I’m electing that in this Q&A we will be choosing the lens of preparing for emergencies out of love.

Converting all comments and questions into love-based concern and action is for me a vital part of the emergency preparedness process, because preparing minds and hearts is the most basic foundation of readiness, response and recovery.

 If anyone has trouble translating questions or comments through this lens, my reply will focus on helping with that conversion.

Note:  Deborah’s session was about emergency preparedness  in which  readers were able to  ask questions about the process of preparing for an emergency in their local communities. Some of your own questions and concerns may have been answered in that session in the comment section. Or, download the transcript and information about other resources here:  DBier-Emergency Preparedness Session Transcript.

About the Author:  Deborah Bier, PhD is a healer, educator and writer ( living in Concord, Massachusetts ( She is the director of the metrowest Boston office of Caring Companion Connections (, an innovative home care agency for elders and the disabled.  She’s the publisher and co-editor of Vibration Flower Essence Blog  along with Ms. Skywriter aka Donna Cunningham.

More Resources:

From a U.S. government site, Ready America, is a helpful link with  a list of the items that should be in a basic emergency kit:  Click HERE .

If you are a flower essence user or practitioner,  Vibration Magazine and Blog has a new article with links to dozens of articles about essences for crisis here: 

Some Self-Help Tools in a Crisis:

Art credits:  these beautiful flower photos from WikiMedia Commons are not chosen at random.  Each of the flowers represents a flower essence that would help in a time of crisis.


  1. Hello, everyone. I want to welcome Dr. Deborah Bier and say a huge thank you for sharing her years of community organization experience in the area of emergency preparedness. Deborah is one of the most committed, caring and effective people I know.

    Also one of the busiest. I always say, if you want something done and done well, ask a busy person.

    My question, to start off today’s discussion is this. What were the biggest resistances you encountered when you began the effort to establish a community plan in Concord, Mass? Donna

    • Hi, Donna – thanks for dragging me out of semi-retirement from this work!

      There were several forms of objections we found repeatedly. First, that “nothing ever happens here” — denial of any and all vulnerabilities. Second, it was too scary to talk about — people would never accept discussion much less do preparation.

      Actually, we found that once neighbors were assembled, they were greatly relieved to talk about what how they might help one another in an emergency. But we had to make it a social, neighborhood gathering in order to get folks to show up. Which is fine, because social cohesion is important to foster, and advances any group’s ability to respond to a disaster.

      A third objection was: I’m too busy, and so is everyone else. To which I always say, in an emergency, much of normal life stops and you’ll have plenty of time then. The irony often got people thinking.

  2. Hi Dr. Bier. As someone prone to envisioning worst scenarios, I really like your approach (prepare with love, not fear). With community and cooperation in mind, what do advise are the three most important tangible things to do/have in terms of individual preparation?

    • Hi, Sally — thanks for visiting. Sorry, but Donna and I ate up all the really good hot appetizers we’re serving to guests. But nonetheless…

      I recommend you take all e-prep info you’ve read and look your own life to see how to customize it to your specific circumstances, abilities, and needs. There is no truly one-size-fits-all approach. Make your preparations your own.

      Second, there is no such thing as truly individual preparedness; there are an awful lot of us. Work with others, especially neighbors, since many people weather emergencies at home or nearby (if it is safe to do so). We will do a lot better working together than separately.

      Third, take an all-hazards approach. The world of preparedness got pretty silly following 9/11 when there was a hyperfocus on terrorism. And then whoops! Katrina came alone and showed us that we forgot Mother Nature! All hazards means to prepare for survival in general, not for one specific type of disaster only. Yes, if you have a nuke plant nearby, you have special preparations to make for that, but otherwise, looking at the potentials, disasters stemming from nature are the most likely and impact the most people when they happen. Prepare for those with food, water, clothing, medicine, etc. Hope this helps.

  3. Hello Donna and Deb, Could you address how to organize a neighborhood of very un-likeminded individuals with very different views as to what constitutes “common good” into a cohesive whole? aloha

    • Great question! I’d say focus on what you agree upon, not the disagreements. It will start to pull people into greater alignment, and also allow more than one point of view to feel more comfortable. Focus on food, water, shelter, safety. For example, if everyone can agree that if power goes out, that maintaining warmth (in the winter) and cooling (in the summer) is most important for the very young, very old and those who are ill, then there is a place to work together. As you build trust and get to know one another better, there will be more agreement that will unfold, as people come to listen more closely and understand one another’s points of view. Remember, there is no absolute right answer — we need to leave room for diversity and differences to exist without it seeming like THAT is the emergency or disaster! Hope this helps!

      • Let me reply to myself here! I recommend starting out with talking about coming from a place of love and concern for the neighborhood, you are setting the tone as we have done here. And keep coming back to that at moments when differences start to pull people into camps, asking, “out of love and concern for our neighborhood, what is the thing we can do together?” — that reaffirms the tone. That is hopefully the foundation from which to build agreement.

  4. thanks you. let us hope that the foundations built before the house is built are firm enough to hold everyone who’s built it!

    • And may it be so!

      I have to add that being calm, resourceful, knowing your neighbors and being flexible are the real keys to figuring your way out of the unexpected. There’s a saying, emergency plans are very important to make and have, but they last for about 5 minutes once the emergency begins. Those first 5 minutes are CRUCIAL. After that, it’s all the things you’ve thought through, skills developed, understanding of the community, activities practiced, and flexible thinking that will see you through. Therefore, the foundation can become even stronger than the original design!

  5. Hi, folks, you’ll recall that I said Deborah was a very busy person–but committed. Well, she does have another engagement today and so will put us on pause just now and come back later to answer more of your questions.

    Do leave them, and so that you’ll get your answers by email, check the box below the comment that says “notify me of site updates.” Donna

  6. I like the way you categorized the reasons for emergency preparedness. Do we do it out of fear or out of love? I vote for BOTH…with the one scale that has love on it leaning slightly heavier than the scale with fear on it :o)

    Here is my take on this: There is a certain amount of concern (or fear) that one would have naturally, when thinking about what disaster (whether man made or natural) would or could mean for them, as individuals, and their families. After all…if we do not make sure that WE are ok then how will we be available, at the fullest capacity possible, to others in need of our help right? Right! But I do understand that preparing is a big balancing act on many levels (physical readiness/mental readiness/emotional readiness/spiritual readiness), and one that requires much discernment and wisdom of both mind and heart.

    I do not like guns. Not at all. But people need weapons, lest those who carry them legally (law enforcement, military) and those who carry them illegally (thugs, criminals, bad people) overcome you. However…in the case of a serious natural disaster, or even complete social collapse (which is not out of the question these days), having massive food supply stored up is both smart and also dangerous!

    The split second anyone finds out that you have food…you had better watch out for the storming of the gates on your property. Hunger is NO JOKE as I am sure you know. Also, interesting thoughts occur to me concerning my own personal nature, which is largely humanitarian. How could I NOT feed the starving from my own dwindling supply, even knowing that there is no food on the store shelves!

    Quite a dilema…unless…you have faith that the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in between will provide for His faithful. But that is a personal choice that depends on ones own personal beliefs about these things.

    One thing I would like to close with if I may: Potassium Iodide, also known as KI pills. I have recently decided that when my order finally does come in (will it ever? heh heh!!!) I am going to go ahead and buy some more because it comes in powdered form which goes a LONG WAY, much more so than pill form. One small vial from mixed in a liter of water will provide 200 adult doses containing 130 mg’s of the stuff you need in order to flood your thyroid. Since we live in California, which is due for “el grande” one of these days AND since we have our own nuclear facilities and such, I feel that ANY chance to mitigate any harmful effects of a disaster in that arena is worth striving for. KI will only help you stave off radioactive iodine and nothing else. Hopefully what I read about Chlorella is true in that it will help other parts of your body get rid of radioactive nasty. I don’t know! This is my first rodeo! And I didn’t even buy tickets for this rodeo! LOL…

    I envision myself, with my little KI solution in a bottle, going door to door in my neighborhood to give anyone a dose who so desires to take a dose…or maybe they are concerned for their children but never thought about a nuclear reactor going ‘melt down’ here in California! And maybe many of them are panicking because they did not think to BUY any KI and wish they would have…and then along comes the unknown neighbor lady to ‘provide’ at least a little comfort.

    In other words…I know that FEW are prepared…but I can at least hope to make a difference by getting a simple product that will go a long way to help as many as I can, while also having enough for my husband and myself.

    And to think that back in the 80’s all I cared about was big hair and how hot I looked driving my white camaro. LOL!!! Boy times sure have changed since then!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS BLOG POST! BLESSINGS TO YOU ALL. We all need to keep the panic/hysteria hat OFF (unless you see a huge wall of water heading towards you) but keep our critical thinking caps ON! Knowledge is Power.


    • Hi, Catherine — thanks for your comment. I think there’s a substantial difference between the concern we have out of love and the concern we have out of fear — all concern is NOT fear.

      My concern for your community out of love would be, let’s make sure people who live near a nuke plant know how to be prepared and now how to respond. Let’s let them practice, be educated and empowered. Let people come together to know how they might help each other because in case of a meltdown, citizens will need to care for one another. I hope they practice regularly and renew and increase their skills. And maybe there will be some good talks about nuke power and what it means to a community to host such a plant. Because if lots of people don’t get prepared, how will we manage in an emergency?

      My concern would be that in a community operating out of fear, people who have KI would be saying to themselves, “what a bunch of dopes to not have KI in every home or a supply in several places in the city.” (see how judgment comes in right away?)

      “I’m superior, of course! Well, I’m going to have MINE and MY FAMILY’s… and maybe enough for a few others so they don’t take mine away from me! Or maybe I’ll defend myself against anyone who has a smaller caliber weapon than mine.”
      I believe the greatest antidotes to panic and fear are education and purposeful action. And keep breathing!

  7. how do you retain interest in emergency prep?

    • Hi — how do I retain or sustain interest for myself or how do help the public do so? I’m going to answer the second, since that’s the sticky wicket. 😉

      You have to remain sensitive to the interests the public is showing right now. If they’re into H1N1, then talk about general preparedness and specifics for flu. Once that’s off the front pages, keep up the same message of all hazards prep until the next event comes into view. Since Japan is on our minds right now, make that the center. What are the lessons learned? What are the great things going on there? What are the missed opportunities that, with better preparation could have been covered? Key into world events constantly as they change and shift. They will always open doors for discussions about what we do in our family, our household, our neighborhood, our community; don’t leave any open doors unexplored!

  8. (If I’m allowed a second question.) After reading your answers so far, it sounds like effective emergency planning means becoming a community organizer. Whoa! Since I have zilch people skills, hate doing anything in groups, and dread the very idea of being a ‘neighborhood-preparedness proselytizer’, I feel like I’m dead in the tracks. 😦

    • Sally, let’s consider it part of the same question, ok? 😉 I have a 2-part answer. At this point in your life, you already have ways to be in the world, yet on your own. We all don’t have to be leadership or out front to be a part of the solution. There are already ways you probably love and serve others in need that don’t require much if any group interaction. However, you probably haven’t been able to eliminate ALL groups and other people, and the same would be true of e-prep. Because if you do not find a way that others touch your preparedness, you need to be fully prepared for every contingency all by yourself. That my neighbor has a portable diesel generator, and we have a chainsaw means we probably don’t both need one of each. That my neighbor has nursing skills and I have counseling skills means we don’t have to each cover each other’s areas.

      And I have a question for you — one, of course, you dont’ have to answer, but my intuition tells me you may dislike groups because you might be an empath. Groups can be overwhelming to empaths. The very, very, VERY best work I’ve ever experienced around this is from Rose Rosetree, a book called something like 30 days to empath empowerment. It is an oh-so-different approach than anything else I’ve ever seen was darned life changing for me. It makes being in groups about a zillion times more tolerable for me.

      • Thanks. I’ll proceed in baby steps. To start off, I’m going to get Rose’s book and reread ALAS BABYLON.

  9. How can we prepare for our pets?

    • Hi, Annie — there’s 2 different parts to this question. First, how do we prepare to for our pets to shelter in place (that is, where ever we are now is “in place.”). The second, how do we prepare our pets to evacuate.

      The first is the easier — food, water, shelter, medicines, somewhere safe to excrete. Familiar food. Some emergency essences!

      The second is more complicated because in the US there’s not an overarching standard yet for sheltering pets and things are quite in flux. Do they shelter with WITH you in the same building? Are they taking somewhere else where you need to go regularly to care for them? Or are they taken away somewhere you won’t be able to reach during an emergency where others are caring for your pet? Or are there NO plans to shelter pets in an evacuation? This answer will vary by the community, and then also by the emergency. For evacuations, you need a carrier they can stand up in and turn around, bedding, food/water ready (it may or may not be taken with your pet), and you must have rabies vaccination proof — some shelters say they wont’ take a pet without this vaccination proof. You want to have clear identification of your pet and of you, and any instructions that are important (“I’ve left Fluffy’s pills in a bottle in the carrier — she gets 1 once a day. She hates children and may bite them if startled. Please give her Rescue Remedy in her water (5 drops to a cup); I’ve left a bottle marked with her name in the carrier.”) When I had a cat, I made a card with her photo, my info, her info, instructions and a scan of her rabies tag and certificate and laminated it. I attached it to the carrier.

  10. Hi. I have a question that is close to my heart and my worst fearful imaginings of late. I help take care of a child that was recently discovered to have type 1 diabetes. I have looked at sites like and others to help prepare myself if the worst was to happen but I need to know what else can I do?

    • Bonnie, this is an important question, and I’m going to broaden it to include anyone with an life-threatening illness that must be managed, or a disability. I’ve sat in meetings with state officials on the very question of “special populations” (code for ill or disabled or elderly, etc). It simply is not possible for shelters to be equipped to handle special populations. In fact — and I’m not sure this is entirely current because I’m about 2 years out of the constant study of this — the Red Cross does not accept sick people in shelters!

      I think being in a shelter is an experience to be avoided if at all possible, and that sheltering in place is a much better plan for EVERYONE (that is, if it is stay). Anyone who is ill or disabled needs to be doubly sure they are prepared to shelter in place. Your home is already set up to deal with your disability or illness and you will be tremendously more comfortable at home if you can stay there.

      For example, I’m sure you’re finding exactly how to set up supplies and where to stash them in your home. You may still be learning how to plan for enough supplies to be on hand, and how to work in a pinch (eg: your bs machine is on the fritz; do you know what to do if you can’t call it the manufacturer? Do you have a neighbor as a back up?). You are developing a traveling kit, right? And maybe a back-up one, too — maybe to leave in your spouse’s car? I don’t know — but you’re already working on what needs to be done for physical set up. Now for logistics: are there simplified instructions for your child’s needs that you can print and put at the bottom of the kit? Is the kit clearly marked with his/her name? I dont’ think insulin needs to be refrigerated all the time any more, does it? Is the child old enough to participate in his/her own care?

      Whatever the disability or illness, meet and speak with others and brainstorm what is needed. You dont’ each need to figure out everything yourselves, but each of you holds a piece of the puzzle — it will be far more complete if you work with others who understand your situation, and who have been managing it for a far longer time.

  11. This isn’t an astrology post, but naturally I’ve been thinking in astrological terms. Yesterday, I read a news article that said that only 10% of people in the United States have made emergency preparations, even though there were 58 natural disasters in this country last year. That there is vast denial that anything like a disaster could happen to us.

    I’ve been wondering why we should have this type of overconfidence in our luck, that nothing bad can happen here (despite 911). I’m thinking it’s that Sun-Jupiter conjunction in Cancer in the various US charts. That “God’s on our side” mentality.

    At any rate, Deborah, do you think there’s a way to deal with the denial effectively without resorting to fear mongering? Donna

  12. God helps those who help themselves, right??

    I’ve done years of thinking, planning, and discussing around this very topic with others, both life-long professionals in the field and volunteers. The very best place I’ve come to with this after a decade is this: start with the low-hanging fruit.

    These are the folks who are ready to or have already begun preparing, or are thinking about it and might if they have more info/thought about it more/heard one more disaster story. The group who you just cannot do anything but spin your wheels with are the “it will never happen here” types.

    World events are the only thing that can move those people out of denial. Unfortunately, those world events may transpire in their very back yard, but so be it. Don’t waste your time flailing yourself against those sharp rocks — you’ll only end up cut, battered and exhausted. Focus on increasing that small % of the prepared with folks who have some openness to the message.

    • Here I am replying to myself again! First, this reply was to Donna asking about how to deal with denial — I didn’t hit reply before I made my answer.

      Second, always be sure to leave an open door for those not ready to join in. “Well, if you change your mind, you’re always welcome to talk about preparedness with me, and make plans” or whatever is appropriate for the circumstance and relationship. Give them a face-saving “out.”

      Third, personal stories are very powerful. Stories where something happened to you or your family — including the ones that are emotional for you — those really can move hearts and minds. Just the facts and how it impacted you and your family is enough to plant important seeds. Your strong feelings about the story can break through the denial (which is often a mental construct) and go right to the heart of the person you’re speaking to.

      • All good advice, Deborah. I have to confess I’ve been thinking that maybe I should have some sort of meeting in my high rise building here while Japan is still fresh in people’s minds. 100 apartments, seniors and disabled people, and mostly very poor. At least bring it up in our next monthly community meeting. Sounds like a huge task when quite a few of them aren’t tracking. Donna

  13. Thank you so much for your wise response. Also…I am thankful I came back here to see all new responses because it reminded me that I need to be mindful of my kitty cat’s vaccination proof papers! Those need to go into the “important paperwork” file that i would grab on my way out the door in the event of an evac! Thanks for reminding me of that! Also…yes…I am of the proactive not-afraid-to-put-myself out there stance, so it is time for me to get out into my hood with a pamphlet full of good info on EP! Oh…and make myself good and knowledgable…and available.

  14. I’d like to add a few more thoughts as we go. First, thank you so much Donna for hosting, and thanks to your delightful readers for their wonderful, thoughtful, caring questions.

    Second, I’d like to suggest a simple and effective system to check on neighbors in a crisis. Everyone can check on the neighbor to their right, and the neighbor on their left. That way, potentially everyone is checked twice. And if no one is home on one side, keep going down that same side until you find someone who IS home.

    Third, I’m not saying this to evoke fear, but to talk about the reality of the situation, and to empower everyone to take their safety into their own hands. If/when there is a disaster, we, the people, are the greatest hope for helping we, the people.

    In a local emergency, the area that is hardest hit (and accessible) will get the most help. In a widespread emergency in the US, there will not be outside help coming in for 48-72 hrs. First, the city/town’s resources are looked to. Then state help is brought in, and once they are exhausted, then federal help comes in — again, if the area is accessible… and the resources go to the hardest hit areas first. You need to be prepared to be on your own without outside help for a minimum of 48-72 hrs.

    In little suburban Concord, MA (population 16,000), unless when “it” is that happens, happens only right here — or we are the epicenter of whatever it is — we will likely be on our own. Help will first go to the population centers, Boston, Lowell, Worcester, etc. They will not get here, and you know what? I find that tremendously empowering. It means that there’s no making believe that the cavelry will be coming over the hill to save us. We will have to save ourselves.

    Forth, in the process of saving ourselves, we will learn new skills, meet new people, get to know others better, have some fun (yes! you can!), and feel more connected to your community.

    Fifth, if you find yourself obsessed with e-prep, there is something out of balance in your life. The same if you were obsessed with ANY particular anything, even a fun happy thing, there is something out of balance in your life. And as you talk with others, you will find somewhat to fully obsessed people who I call “over prepared” — they could live in their basement for 3 years, or are ready to bivouac with only their Swiss army knife and native cunning anywhere, any place, any time. These are the people who may come at you with a tsunami of information about what you should/shouldn’t do, and how your preparations are all wrong — these folks overwhelm me, too! I want to slowly back out of the room.

    Don’t feel someone else must set the standard for YOUR level of preparedness — it’s a personal choice, and one that changes over time according to how YOU see it. Learn from such folks, but don’t let them dictate to you — it will often get into fear mongering, which doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s ok to let such folks know that you’re working on this, too, even though they are light years ahead of you. It’s also ok to let them know you’re feeling overwhelmed and could they please slow it down? They may not picking up on the signals that you’re shutting down and that would be a shame to allow to continue. Thank you!

    • OH, and you as a newcomer to managing type 1 diabetes have an important perspective — what does someone not used to the whole business need to know that cannot be assumed, but which may be glossed over the the “old hands” who can’t recall what it’s like to be a newbie? You have a valuable perspective in the process. I would also check to see if the American Diabetes Association (name?) has a check list or other info about e-prep for diabetics.

    • A good closing statement, Deborah. I am so grateful to have had the benefit of your experience and wisdom today. So sane and balanced. Things DO happen, and we do need to prepare, but we also must not live in such dread that we forget to live. You are a treasure, and you give so much to the world. Donna

  15. All the post have being very interesting! Thanks so much for doing this Donna and Deborah.
    I’ve being close enough to situations were lack of supplies, food, running water, gas etc have happened. And as you say, it is important to stay calm, have a plan, and keep friends and neighbors connected (That alone can ease the nervousness, fear and make space for a healthier attitude overall)+have some sense of humor when appropriate!
    I have a question: what institutions do you recommend to contact to help us to prepare, you mentioned the local fire dept, but are there others that are accessible in help us planning?

    blessings and thanks again!

    p.s: in case of need to contact others in emergency times, a cop once told me that is better to use text messages, is lower tech so the message is more likely to arrive when all the lines and cell are overloaded!

    • Sabrina, it’s true, text messaging and emails are much lower bandwidth and will go through when phones may be blocked… if service is up and running! On the other hand, good ol’ landlines (and not with radio/portable phones) are very low power and can go on for a long time even when power isn’t flowing. We still keep a landline in the house, and hard-wired phones.

      I really think CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and MRC (Medical Reserve Corps) can be excellent programs. Both come out of FEMA but are locally run. I know around here when the economy crashed, MRC got defunded. CERT was generally never funded. But they can be excellent programs — see if your community or county has them. And you dont’ have to be a medical or helping professional to work with an MRC. There needs to be many times more non-medical people to support and run an MRC. Also the DAT (Disaster Action Team) program of the Red Cross does amazing work. Also, some religious groups have emergency response as part of their mission — you might see what is in your area.

      • I seem unable to answer just ONCE it seems? 😉

        Look for local ham (amateur) radio clubs, too. Even if you’re not a ham! They are very much into the emergency prep and response ethic. Look at your state’s EMA website (Emergency Management Agency, a riff on FEMA). Ask your municipality — in my area, usually the fire dept is in charge of emergency response for small towns, but large cities it may be different. And different in different states.


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