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Orange Bag Denial or They called and I’m Not Ready.

Am I packed and ready to go? Why on Earth Not?
By COL James L. Greenstone, EdD, JD, DABECI.
Excerpted from Emotional First Aid.

If denial exists anywhere, it exists here. The seemingly unconscious process of refusing those implements of survival that might be needed during a disaster scenario because acceptance of that need also means acceptance of the likelihood of a disaster occurring, is the focus here. Disasters do and will occur and you need to be ready. As Sherif and Sherif stated in their seminal work, An Outline of Social Psychology, 1956, refusal of the implements of survival denies that reality. Acceptance confirms it. Perhaps acknowledgement of this process will impact the individual’s frame of reference or psychological structuring, and thereby affect observed behavior.

Working in an organized disaster recovery area

Working in an organized disaster recovery area

The Issue

Perhaps the reason that people refuse to prepare for the onset of a disaster relates to the psychological term: “Orange Bag Denial.” (Greenstone, 2009). Manmade and natural disasters will occur. One has only to look around themselves to confirm this reality.

Many will remember a few years ago when, in a prominent way, a product came on the market that promised to provide sufficient supplies to help an individual to survive the first 72 hours of a disaster, man-made or natural. These provisions were carefully provided in an orange canvas backpack that sold for about $30 – $35. The supplies provided would have probably cost more than the $35 price tag if one were to purchase them separately. In addition to the flashlight, batteries, water, food, tools, and the like, the size of the backpack allowed for personal gear such as extra clothing and other supplies. Altogether the pack was still light enough for even the slightest individual to carry the bag and to move around with ease.

The Search

Being a preparer, my personal “go bag” has been ready for the various circumstances in which one might find himself. Even so, this new orange bag was of some interest. As one might expect, it was quickly determined that they were readily available at most super stores in the area. What was found there was surprising and yet not completely unexpected.
An individual search of the store began. (This was probably because of an aversion to asking for directions.) Anyway, the bags were nowhere to be found even though advertised. Finally, several employees were approached for directions to the bags. They were found standing together obviously discussing profit and loss statements. They were not knowledgeable about the bags and could not recall seeing them on the store shelves. The manager was summoned. He knew about the bags. He explained that they had been removed from the shelves because they were not selling: an inkling that something was afoot. The manager explained that he was about to return the bags to the supplier but that they were still in the store stock room.
In the stock room, a bin was full of the orange emergency bags. The manager was asked if the bags were still available for sale. He said that they were and that he would sell them at an incredibly good price for as many of them as were desired. The price was so good, all were purchased. An immediate thought was that they could be given as Christmas or Chanukah gifts.

Who knew?

After the bags were purchased and loaded into the car, they were transported to be used as presents.

The Results

When it was mentioned to a very smart wife that the bags would be given as gifts, she warned against such action. Not fully understanding the issues, this author argued, disagreed and finally acquiesced. This proved to be the correct choice. The rest was amazing.
There were several family members and fellow preparers, to whom this writer was close personally, and to whom the bags might be given. Not so such as a holiday gift, but later because of concern about their readiness if something bad happened.

Most of the few close friends to whom the orange gifts were given were visibly and verbally shocked by this expression of kindness. To a person, their eyes bugged, they appeared stunned. They asked why such a gift would be given to them. Several were shocked and asked, “Do you know something that I don’t?”

Therein was born the concept of the Orange Bag Denial. Acceptance of the gift would also mean an acceptance of the possibility that a disaster might occur and that the contents of the orange bag might have to be utilized. The alternative, not to accept the bag, as a few did, in essence was avoidance and a denial of such a possibility. In other words, “If I do not take the bag designed for a disaster, maybe I will be spared the disaster. On the other hand, if I accept the bag, then also I have to accept the fact that a disaster may occur for which I may need these supplies.”

Some of the Related Numbers and Findings

There are at least four stages of preparedness denial. According to Eric Holdeman (2008), Director of Emergency Management for King County, Texas, the four stages are:

1. It won’t happen,
2. If it does happen, it won’t happen to me,
3. If it does happen to me, it won’t be that bad; and
4. If it happens and it is bad, there is nothing that I can do to stop it anyway.

In an August 2006 poll conducted by Time Magazine, it was reported that most American citizens were not prepared for a disaster and had their heads in the sand. Half surveyed said they had experienced a disaster. Only 16% of those said that they were adequately prepared for another disaster. Many justified their poor preparation by indicating that they did not need to prepare because that they did not live in areas of high risk for any kind of disaster (Ripley, 2006).

Main Flight Bag - 72 Hour Pack

Main Flight Bag – 72 Hour Pack

Ready Bag

Ready Bag

Facts seem to support the assertion that 91% of Americans live in places of significant risk to some type of disaster situation that could dramatically affect their life. This study was conducted by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina (Ripley, 2006). There seems to be a fine line, according to this quoted article, between optimism and foolishness. In a country whose citizens, many times, distrust its leaders, the vast majority continue to think that in a disaster our government, local, state, and national, will quickly come to our aid as in non-disaster times. The response to Hurricane Katrina is the strongest current counter-testimony to this ill-conceived belief.

Read through the following pages from Emotional First Aid. Dr. Greenstone has compliled a comprehensive list of what you need when you are called. Click the page for printable versions.






Rally following shooting

Don’t Just Show Up

Disaster Response:  Don’t Just Show Up!
Taken from Emotional First Aid: A field guide to crisis intervention and psychological survivalby COL. James L. Greenstone, EdD, JD, DABECIRally following shooting

Stand in the door. Lean forward. But don’t jump in if you are not called. A glance at the personal reports and newspaper accounts of what happens when a disaster or major crisis situation occurs should tell this story to almost anyone. If an emergency happens in the street in front of your house, that may be different. If the disaster happens some distance away, wait to be called before responding. Get ready to go, but don’t do it. Let those in charge know that you are available, but don’t just show up. The problems get worse from there. A disaster is an occurrence of almost any size when the needs of the situation and its victims are greater than the resources available to respond to those needs. Unexpected, unrequested, and unaccounted for responders may add to the enormity of the already occurring disaster.

If you are serious about emergency and disaster response, join a team that does these things and trains its members to do it well. Federal teams are always looking for qualified professionals in many different fields. State and local teams are preparing also and could probably use the help. Some pay and some do not. Medical Reserve Corps have become quite active across this nation as are the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Confusion at the Orlando Shooting

Confusion is part of the response effort. Don’t add to it.

As was said earlier, the rule of thumb for most teams and organizations that respond to crisis and disaster situations is that if you are not called, don’t just show up. Do the training. Assemble your response gear. Be ready, willing, able and well-prepared to go when called. Let your team know of your availability and how quickly you can be on the move to the designated location or staging area. Don’t just show up.

The reasons for this cautionary tone will seem obvious to most, but not all reading it. Almost everyone wants to help when they hear that an emergency has occurred. This desire to help is good on the one hand and can be counterproductive on the other hand. Getting on a plane or in a car with your friends and colleagues and “going to help for a few days” may cause great confusion at the site or staging area and prevent trained and coordinated teams from reaching their destination in a timely fashion. Clogging the airways or the highways serves no one and could endanger those who are waiting for the help to arrive. Do-gooders have no place at a disaster scene. Trained and coordinated emergency personnel do. If you must go regardless of the consequences, at least coordinate with those who are in charge of the response and be sure that they can use your services. Take with you, in addition to your professional supplies, enough food, water, shelter, waste disposal gear, sleeping gear, and other survival supplies so that your arrival will not put added burden on those who already have limited means. Expect nothing from your host if you arrive when you are not called, requested, or needed. Assume that they have nothing to spare and that you will probably be operating on your own. If the conditions are not as stark as you expect, so much the better for you.

Vigil Orlando 2016

Another rally following the Orlando shooting

Disaster, emergency, and crisis response, regardless of the situation, needs to be carefully coordinated and regulated to achieve the best and most helpful results. The size of the event is not as important as the coordination of those services and service providers that are needed. The emergency, and the often occurring chaos surrounding it, make this approach mandatory. Even the best laid plans survive only the initial contact with the emergency. Adjustments have to be made and resources utilized appropriately and sometimes differently. What is done, undone or redone must be within the context of the established and prepared structure utilized by those who have trained and prepared to respond.

If you are not called, don’t just go. If you are prepared to go and are called, get there in the time allotted. If you are a member of a team, follow your team guidelines. If you are not a member of a team and would like to be, check out the following and investigate others:

1. Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
2. American Red Cross
3. Salvation Army
4. Baptist Men’s Association
7. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security
8. National Guard
9. State Defense Forces
10. Green Cross
11. Urban Search and Rescue Teams
12. United States Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air PatrolRainbow flag at half mast
13. Local community teams
14. Police department auxiliaries and reserves.
15. Fire department auxiliaries
16. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)
17. Mental Health Teams
18. Incident Command System, Incident Management Teams
19. Special Needs Shelters
20. Medical Shelters
21. Chaplain Services (if trained for disaster response)
22. Disaster relief within many denominations

Getting involved in a formal way requires a commitment of some kind. Doing so will allow for a better response. It will also allow for a more satisfying experience for you. Certainly it will prevent many of the problems that occur when well-wishers and do-gooders show up. To really be helpful, you need to be part of the solution rather than part of the already burgeoning problem. Don’t just show up.Emotional First Aid cover

Dr. Greenstone’s book Emotional First Aid from which the article above was taken, is a great place to start training yourself to be of optimal use in the field following a disaster. Although it is often difficult for us to leave the relatively safe environs of our offices, we recognize the need for psychological first aid. Utilize one of the organizations above to get trained, offer your services, and when accepted, GO.