National Preparedness Month: How Mental Planning Can Help

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Morgan Lindsay
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

After a decade and a half of working in Emergency Management, both militarily and in the civilian sector, I’ve concluded that a majority of people don’t like talking or hearing about disaster preparedness. There are many reasons the subject has stigma attached to it, including that some people may not want to be seen as “preppers,” or the idea that you can’t prepare for everything so why bother (and that’s what FEMA’s for, right?). I’ve also heard, more often than one may believe, that: “I’m not talking about preparedness because I don’t want the government taking my stuff.”

Regardless of the reasons preparedness may be taboo conversation around the dinner table or the water cooler, most would still agree preparedness has its merits. It becomes a more palatable topic when it’s practical, and I don’t mean practical in the sense of having food and water stored or equipment and supplies available. Those things are important, but the most essential element of preparedness is something we never had to purchase: it’s our minds.  

If asked, “Are you prepared?” we’d probably respond with, “Prepared for what?” A truly prepared mind is ready for anything. It doesn’t matter what that anything is, so long as you have a plan for how to react. For instance, at Kingsley Field there are plans for what to do when an aircraft crashes, or when a fire breaks out, or when terrorists plot to do us harm, among many others. Many people believe it’s impossible to plan for everything, but I disagree – no matter the circumstances if we plan to employ certain processes, we can adapt and overcome. One of the processes all of these plans have in common is using an incident command structure; there’s a plan for having someone in charge to make decisions and consider contingencies.

Here’re some more processes you can plan to employ that will help you be better prepared for disaster. First is accepting the likelihood of disaster occurrence. Ask yourself, what’s my risk? What disasters happen here, or wherever I’m traveling to?  Then you can adapt to the reality of them when they do occur. Survival author Laurence Gonzales calls this process “Be(ing) here now.” It means choosing to accept your situation (as opposed to thinking “this can’t be happening to me”), and facing it with humility and determination to survive and succeed. This includes setting milestones or tasks for responding to whatever situation arises, and celebrating their accomplishment. This is part of why checklists are so important – not only do they help us remember what to do in stressful situations, they also help our minds wrap around the situation.

A second process is planning to have a positive attitude and keep your sense of humor when things are going south. Another disaster author, Amanda Ripley, claims that disaster survivors have many characteristics in common – and some of the biggest are positive attitudes and a sense of humor. She also says that military members and first responders are able to exemplify these things the easiest because of our frequent exposure to high-stress and life-threatening situations.

A last process to plan on using towards disaster preparedness is deciding ahead of time to act. Ripley’s disaster research shows the alternatives to decisively acting are usually either paralysis (freezing) or panic – most of the time, those are bad options! Instead, we can practice the process of deciding to act under pressure, stress, or in times of disaster before any of those things occur. A tried-and-true Air Force way of doing this, taught at both officer and non-commissioned officer training, is using the ‘OODA Loop.’ First, Observe the situation and gather data; second, Orient yourself by analyzing your data; third, Decide on a course of action; and last, Act. Using the OODA Loop day-to-day will make it second nature when disaster strikes.

Ultimately, disaster preparedness is a choice – will you choose to prepare for disasters by mentally planning for them? You can plan to accept, embrace, and react to disasters before they even occur, and then answer “Yes” to the question, “Are you prepared?”


Gonzales, Laurence. “Deep Survival: Who lives, who dies, and why.” 2004.

Ripley, Amanda. “The Unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes and why.” 2009.