The dilemma: no heat. It is starting to snow. Your fireplace does not work. You own no space heaters, and the roads are starting to close. Even if you could get to Walmart, they tell you that they are out of space heaters and electric blankets. You placed a call to your heating company, and they are not returning your call. The temperature is 17 degrees, and steadily decreasing. I am unprepared. Why? Because I live in Southern Louisiana.
As a natural disaster expert, I teach people how to be prepared for all sorts of catastrophic events. However, the winter storms that have plagued the South were even too much for the well-trained. My preparedness kit for winter weather consists of matches, Gucci snow boots, and a bottle of red.
My alter ego, named Disaster Barbie, emerged as a result of my work in the disaster space over the past several years. She was an iconic figure following Hurricane Katrina, known for appearing on the front lines wearing her Fendi skullcap and Chanel heels rescuing people from flooding, rain, and wind. However, following last month's storms, she had to call her friend Snowmobile Barbie -- who is a real Mattel Barbie -- to get her out of this pickle. Clearly Mattel needs to make more superheroes for women.
I survived and write this with frozen fingers, but many people do not make it. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) -- and full disclosure, I co-founded this organization -- reports that there were 12 storm-related deaths. Not only is the cold a disaster in itself, it is a complicating factor to every other catastrophe, both natural and manmade. And when winter weather strikes a region that is unprepared, it becomes an economic disaster. The Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate reported that the winter storms that caused business and highway closures throughout much of the South may have cost the local economy of Baton Rouge alone $40 million, and the month of January saw over $85 million in total damages in Atlanta owing to winter weather. Between 1980 and 2011, there were 10 winter storms recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), costing the U.S. a total of $29.3 billion in damages.
As we have seen over the last several years, the climate is shifting, and natural disasters are increasing in frequency all around the world. No region of the country is safe from natural disasters, and it is imperative that every household has an emergency kit and plans in place. Lack of preparedness is what costs communities not only lives and livelihood, but economic stability more than the storm itself. In the future, I will have a safe space heater, electric blankets, a functioning fireplace, an annual heater and air conditioner inspection, a winter disaster escape plan, and a true winter weather emergency kit. This may sound simple to the people who live in New York, but not only do I live in the South, I grew up in Miami, Florida. It sounds preposterous to me as a Southerner to consider having a family cold weather disaster kit, as just a few years ago it likely sounded preposterous to have a hurricane evacuation plan in Manhattan or a flooding emergency kit in Colorado.
Don't get me wrong, you will never see Disaster Barbie on the slopes, and snow still reminds me of Stephen King's The Shining more than anything else, but as a person who is in this business for others, preparing my own household for a disaster is paramount. And as a CEO of a major foundation, I cannot find myself stuck at home unprepared: grantees need me to be out in the community working, as well as donors, employees, and my family. Having a personal and family disaster plan remains the most important exercise in disaster preparedness. And logically, it can save your community, business, government, and state millions of dollars both before and after a storm.