In Times of Trouble

Preparing for Disasters

While governments plan (sometimes poorly) for disasters, individuals have the ultimate responsibility for their own welfare and that of their family.

The year 2013 was a year of disasters. Typhoon Haiyan (the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history) dominated the headlines as the year closed, as reports came pouring in from the Philippines with accounts of desolation throughout the country. The United States is still picking through the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This disaster caused over $US67 billion in the United States, Canada, Cuba, and several Caribbean countries.

Man also has the capability of taking actions with disastrous consequences. In fact, the Obama Administration has euphemistically called acts of terror, “man-made disasters.”

Whether natural or man-made, most people are not prepared for a disaster. In fact, the Red Cross’s 2013 World Disasters Report came to the following conclusion:

We have learned from major disasters. … We must continue to improve and innovate to make disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery more effective and accountable.

While governments plan (sometimes poorly) for disasters, individuals have the ultimate responsibility for their own welfare and that of their family.

The first thing that needs to be determined is “How much of a risk is there from a disaster?” Risk, however, is more than just what the odds are that an event will occur. For risk analysts, risk is reduced to a quasi-equation:

Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Impact

Risk is a combination of all three factors. For there to be any risk there must be at least some threat and vulnerability and impact. If any of these three factors is zero, then there is no risk. Of course, everything has an element of threat, vulnerability or impact, so everything carries some sort of risk. Those that demand that an initiative—be it a nuclear power plant, a new drug, or a social program—carry absolutely no risk believe in a fantasy.

Risk Assessment for an EMP

Take the dangers from an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles.

Nuclear weapons, some new non-nuclear weapons, and even geomagnetic storms (often called space weather) can power an EMP, and the resultant changing magnetic field in the Earth’s atmosphere can disrupt electrical systems. 

An EMP can generate an electromagnetic shock that can disrupt anything with a computer chip in it, such as those found in communication systems. The pulse can flow through electrical transmission lines, overloading and damaging transmission distribution centers, fuses, and power lines, rendering equipment permanently inoperative.

Many writers immediately call this an “Armageddon event,” where a single EMP can throw a large portion of a country back into the 18th century. The Risk Equation yields a slightly different answer.

The Threat from an EMP is certainly out there. A nuclear missile detonated 120 miles up in the air would send out an EMP that would extend out 1,000 miles from the center of detonation. There are several countries that are capable of doing it. Russia and China definitely have the weapons and delivery systems that can launch such an attack. Other countries, such as North Korea and Iran claim to have the capability, but it is doubtful they have both the weaponry and delivery systems to deliver such an attack. So, in this case, the Threat is deemed to be moderate to high.

The Vulnerability to such an attack is variable. The threat of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) attack from China or Russia is deemed low—both would fear a retaliatory strike. North Korea says it has the capability, but an analysis of the “nuclear” tests it has conducted is suspect. Iran, while not believed to have this capability now, could have it in the future, and given its worldview,[1] this is one of the reasons their nuclear ambition is drawing close scrutiny. The most likely scenario for a country such as Iran is for it to launch a device from a container ship located off the coast of the United States. In response to this scenario, Aegis missile cruisers are on alert in their home ports located along the United States coastlines. This is not a sure defense and open to criticism from military analysts. Many would deem U.S. vulnerability to attack to be low to moderate.

The Impact from such an event has varied over time. Strategic military assets would suffer a low impact from such an event. They have been “hardened” against such an attack for years. Tactical military assets used to be hardened very well, but recent budget cuts have reduced their resistance to an EMP. Strategic civilian assets, such as the national power grid, would suffer significant damage from an EMP, but government and industry are taking steps to mitigate any adverse effects. Consumer electronics would suffer the worst effects from an EMP and very little has been done to protect these devices. The impact of an EMP would thus be rated at moderate to high.

All three components of risk make for a risk that is deemed moderate. For an EMP generated from a nuclear device, what is deemed to be the most likely scenario is a missile launch from a container ship where the missile’s trajectory would be low and flat, so to best avoid antimissile defenses. In this scenario, a detonation would occur much lower than 100 miles in altitude. Any resulting damage would affect a region rather than an entire country.

Preparing for a Regional Disaster

A regional disaster is still something to worry about. The damage resulting from Hurricane Katrina that hit the United States in August 2005 is a good example of a regional disaster. While news reports left the impression that New Orleans suffered all the damage and other areas just received a lot of rain, the facts show something else entirely. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. At least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and its aftermath making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. It also caused an estimated $81 billion in property damage. Entire towns were wiped off the map.

While parts of the United States suffered no ill effects, for those caught in the storm, it was the End of the World. The resultant case study revealed what happens to a population when their world is turned upside down, and they are left totally unprepared.

Preparing Spiritually

While many talk about how to prepare for a disaster, they mainly talk about taking care of physical needs. Very little attention is paid to how to spiritually and psychologically prepare for such an event.

The hurricane and subsequent flood victims suffered from psychological disorders, such as PTSD[2] long after the waters receded and the rebuilding began. People experienced all sorts of emotions—they had feelings of panic, a loss of control, anger and despair. Many felt disoriented along with a high degree of anxiety.

The images we saw on TV were not those of people maddened by hunger and thirst, but those of people wading through water clutching boxes of goods that are clearly not for immediate consumption. There were pictures of people looting stores not for food, but for beer, televisions, clothes and other nonessentials.

This irrationality showed up in other ways as well. Rescue helicopters were fired on by those they were trying to save. A pediatric hospital was attacked by roving gangs looking for whatever drugs they could find. This disaster scratched off that “thin veneer of civilization” and revealed that ruthless element of society that wants to protect itself and the unaccustomed power they found they had. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said his agency was attempting to work “under conditions of urban warfare.”

Some blame the government for this behavior; some blame society in general. There is no end to the number of reasons people attribute to this behavior. The ultimate reason for the resulting chaos can be explained this way:

Where there is no vision, the people perish: But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

When people do not have a moral compass, more importantly, a Biblical one, it is easy to fall into lawlessness and misery. One that lives by a moral code is much more likely to come through adversity much better than those that live in a world of relativism and situational ethics.

What Kind of Witness Will We Be?

Disasters like Katrina should make us think, as Christians, what would we do in such a situation? Opinions on this range from giving those in need everything you can, to defending what you have to save yourself and your loved ones, even if that means resorting to violence.

Many people talk in generalities about preparing for a disaster, some take concrete steps, but what many individuals, families and churches do not talk about is what their Christian witness would be in such an event.

Assuming you are one that does not have a cabin in the wilderness away from civilization, what would you do? Imagine a scenario where you have prepared for a disaster that has come and your family is taken care of. But six months after the event, you are relatively well fed and your neighbors, who are still alive, are skeletal. They are going to figure out that you have something they want and they will come for it. What will you do?

Is prepping in and of itself the way? Some people equate prepping with building your own “fortified city” as was built in Biblical times.

In fact, the Bible says a lot about fortified cities. It notes that fortified cities are a means of protection[3] and they are mighty and strong.[4] It also says they are conquerable and utterly destroyed.[5] In Hosea we read that fortified cities are no substitute for God.

Israel has neglected its maker in building palaces. Judah has multiplied its fortified cities, but I will send fire to their cities, and it will consume their fortresses.

Hosea 8:14 (ISV)

While we are also admonished to be good stewards of what we have and to prepare for hard times, here in Hosea we learn that if we put all our trust in the things of this world and forget God, we are bound to fail. So, the question is, in times of trouble, what kind of witness will we be? How will we face adversity? What will YOU do?


  1. There are many in the Muslim world that believe that the coming of the Mahdi, ‘The divinely guided one, also known as the twelfth Imam, will unite all Muslims and heralds the Day of Judgment. Some believe the Mahdi will only come after the world is thrown into chaos, and a nuclear war may just be the event to cause this. 
  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 
  3. 2 Samuel 20:6. 
  4. Deuteronomy 9:1. 
  5. Deut 3:4,5; 2 Kgs 3:19, 25. 


  • Dalrymple, T. (2005, September 26). The Veneer of Civilization Utterly Removed. Retrieved from National Review:
  • Harris, G. (2010, September 10). Police in Suburbs Blocked Evacuees, Witnesses Report.Retrieved from The New York Times