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Preparing for the worst

/ 09:07 AM May 06, 2019

The recent earthquakes left many deeply shaken. A friend was in an elevator inside a high-rise; another watched from the street, stupefied, as a nearby condominium swung side to side on its foundations. I was inside the operating room, with an ongoing surgery, and with an anesthetized, unconscious patient. I watched IV fluids swing on their stands and wondered about the ethics of saving myself. In the end the shocks passed and we were left queasy but unharmed.

A series of smaller quakes followed in and out of the country, and people were sending SMS reminders on stopping, dropping and taking cover. A friend slept fully dressed with sneakers at the ready in case “The Big One” struck at night. I spent a sleepless three days before packing my own Doomsday bag, taking my anxieties into my own hands. Medical know-how does not a survivalist make, and hours of research went into preparing EDC (everyday carry) essentials, and a larger bag with enough supplies to last me for three days.

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It was in the middle of the ropes aisle of True Value when I realized I was preparing not just for an earthquake, but possibly for the apocalypse, or whatever cataclysmic event is in store for our careless generation. My latest imagery of an apocalypse was courtesy of the comic-book-turned-Netflix-series “The Umbrella Academy,” where all of civilization is reduced to rubble, with no remaining landmarks, and human life is wiped out. This was not a scale of preparedness I was willing to undertake, so I settled for preparing for lesser disasters like typhoons or “The Big One,” estimated by some sources to be at 7.2 magnitude.

Some people have taken on a larger scale of preparedness, however, and further down the rabbit hole of survivalism one finds the Doomsday Preppers and their ilk. “Doomsday Preppers” was a reality TV show on the National Geographic Channel, profiling survivalists who have made preparing for various scales of catastrophe a way of life. Less crazy people in tinfoil hats, more Swiss knives and ropes and bunkers.

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In a 2018 article, Michele Moses in The New Yorker pondered how preparation for most “preppers” is actually less for apocalypses and catastrophes of science fiction, and more for disasters based on recent history. Think Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, when we witnessed what happens when a large scale catastrophe affects multiple states, and where preventable deaths happened due in part to an inadequate government response and poor leadership. The idea is that no one, not even the government, will take care of you; it’s every man for himself. If these and our local natural disasters are any indication, it’s a sentiment with a basis in fact. It looks more and more like disaster preparedness is less the product of extremist minds with apocalyptic fantasies, and more like a rational response to known failures of society and the government.

There’s the certainty that in cases of disaster, we are not prepared to take care of each other. Our healthcare system is already fractured and inefficient; it seems a reasonable thought to believe that lacking or interrupted healthcare, which may cost any number of human lives, will be part and parcel of any cataclysmic event. Our sense of justice and confidence in law enforcement is already breaking down, egged on by an administration which has abandoned all semblance of pretending to be civilized, upright, transparent, fair or equitable; what can we expect from this same government in the hypothetical scenario of an earthquake causing the collapse of Metro Manila?

Right now, it’s every man for himself. Many remain unconcerned about things that threaten those on the outskirts and in disaster zones — ruined homes, killings with no accountability, hunger, the loss of institutions and structure. Do we expect our fellow Filipinos to behave any differently when “The Big One” comes along? I don’t think of myself as a survivalist or an extremist, but preparedness in the face of a regressing, increasingly primitive society and a callous government seems less like extremism and more like good sense.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, earthquakes, Hints and Symbols, kay rivera
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