Surviving Disasters With Caring, Preparedness and Hope

by Dr. Freddie Rabelas Obligacion

Disaster tested and weary, Filipinos humbly accept that natural calamities are part and parcel of their way of life. Unrelenting typhoons, devastating earthquakes, destructive floods and cataclysmic volcanic eruptions occur beyond the pale of our control. As Neil deGrasse Tyson observes:

“Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier that it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.”

As an aftermath of disasters, loss of life and property stabs at our very core. The anguish of loss does not escape Mark Twain who writes:

“A man’s house burns down. The smoking wreckage represents only a ruined home that was dear through years of use and pleasant associations. By and by, as the days and weeks go on, first he misses this, then that, then the other thing. And when he casts about for it, he fins that it was in that house. Always it is an essential–there was but one of its kind. It cannot be replaced. It was in that house. It is irrevocably lost. It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he truly know the magnitude of his disaster.”

United in grief and despondency, disaster survivors are stripped down to their naked selves, devoid of the trappings and pretensions of social status. As George Eliot muses:

“What quarrel, what harshness, what unbelief in each other can subsist in the presence of a great calamity, when all the artificial vesture of our life is gone, and we are all one with each other in primitive mortal needs?”

In the midst of ruin and devastation, survivors are called upon to reach out to others. Clarissa Pinkola Estes states: “We all wish to be brave and strong in the face of disaster. We all wish to be looked up to for our endurance and efforts to help others.”

In fact, “It shouldn’t take a natural disaster to remind us of the importance of service. It’s something that we need to incorporate in our daily lives, as a part of our priorities of how we should live our lives,” says Evan Bayh.

However, how do we serve those in distress? Sheri Fink suggests:

“If you ever face a significant disaster, do your best to keep up the spirits of those around you, act flexibly and creatively to help, try to sort rumors from the truth, and remember that the decisions you make will have repercussions after the disaster has passed.”

Rightly so because as Natalia Ginzburg posits: “Today as never before, the fates of men are so intimately linked to one another that a disaster for one is a disaster for everybody.”

Ironically, calamities can bring out the best in us. Posits Daisaku Ikeda:

“There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.”

However, E.A. Bucchianeri in Brushstrokes of a Gadfly interjects: “It’s a shame there has to be a tragedy before the best in people will finally shine.”

When the dust settles, life moves inexorably on. Confronted with the ever-present likelihood of disasters, we must equip ourselves with knowledge and preparation. Petra Nemcova correctly notes:

“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.”

On the positive impact of knowledge, Avery Brooks explains:

“Knowledge is going to make you stronger. Knowledge is going to let you control your life. Knowledge is going to give you the wisdom to teach their children. Knowledge is the thing that makes you smile in the face of disaster.”

Expounds Ray Mears: “Knowledge is the key to survival, the real beauty of that is that it doesn’t weigh anything.”

Concurs Mors Kochanski: “The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”

Aside from knowledge, preparedness is essential to disaster survival. “Better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have,” admonishes Franz Kafka.

Along the same vein, Stephen King in Different Seasons proposes: “There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”

By preparing, we minimize damages. Says Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: “Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.”

Preparedness helps in avoiding despair. As Don Williams, Jr. avers: “Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness.”

Being prepared likewise tempers the bane of unpredictability. Robert A. Heinlein recommends: “Circumstances can force your hand. So think ahead!”

Consistent with Heinlein’s message, Theodore Roosevelt advises: “Make preparations in advance–you never have trouble if you are prepared for it.”

Proverbs 27:12 echoes Roosevelt’s advice, thus: “A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

Benjamin Franklin, for his part, pursues the same theme and cautions: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

We must remember, though, that preparedness is not a one-shot deal. Instead, Spencer W. Kimball prescribes: “Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.”

Lastly, to survive, we must remain hopeful, for as Hal Lindsey argues:

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.”


DR. FREDDIE RABELAS OBLIGACION, a sociology professor, is an alumnus of The Ohio State University-Columbus (Ph.D., MA Sociology; Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Delta) and the University of the Philippines-Diliman (MBA Honors, BS Psychology, magna cum laude). In his spare time, he writes and plays the violin and piano. He is currently researching the grassroots impact of entrepreneurship in rural Philippines. His contact is frajah2@gmail.com


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