We are closer than we think. And even I may have underestimated how close we are. From Pivot Points:
While we can only hope that the day will come where celebrities and national thought leaders will take up their own initiatives to create a preparedness culture, for now we have to be realistic. The cultural movements I discussed in the very beginning of this chapter often had very humble roots, and yet they become mainstays in our nation’s culture today. I am confident that if ordinary folks like you and me create a culture where preparedness is a result of good citizenship, others will follow.
I tell everyone who will listen and who is interested in creating a culture of preparedness: we are much closer than we think to seeing preparedness really take off in America.
Don't believe me? Meet Julie Harman.
The article from KSL News tells the story best:
With packed bags and a loaded car, Ms. Utah Julie Harman was halfway home from the Ms. America Pageant in California when she was offered the role of Ms. America 2016.
Amanda Wamunyima relinquished her title as Ms. America after discovering a medical condition that would leave her bedridden for months, said Susan Jeske, pageant CEO.
After hearing the news, Harman, originally first runner-up, headed back to Brea, California, for photo shoots and gown fittings. She was officially announced as Ms. America 2016 on Sept. 12 on the pageant webpage.
And what issue will she be promoting during her tenure as Ms. America?
"Harman, 35, of Midvale, said the most exciting part will be carrying her platform of self-reliance to the nation."
The story gets better. What was her Pivot Point motivating her to be better prepared?
Her real passion for personal preparedness came seven years ago after her divorce when she felt overwhelmed with her personal responsibilities.
"I came from a husband that was making a lot of money to me making nothing really," she said. "I realized I had only myself to rely on, and that I needed to help my children."
Note that it wasn't zombies or blood moons or a predicted apocalypse that motivated her. Those common life events - like a divorce - can be very effective motivators to embracing the preparedness culture. If we are to be successful at promoting preparedness, we need to spend more time messaging on the more common disasters which can be just as significant on an individual and local level.
How does she plan to go about encouraging a culture of preparedness?
Harman said she will be a personal preparedness intermediary for the public and the groups she designated as the "five areas of community:" businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, political leaders, and service providers.
Focusing on community and local initiatives is the best approach, and it appears she gets it.
For those of you who are prepping and looking for direction and encouragement on taking that next step to become an ambassador of the movement, take heart: we are the cool kids now. When national pageant winners are using their efforts to build a resiliency culture, it confirms that we are on target and that momentum for the movement is growing.
We are closer than we think.
The U.S. Forestry Service reports that one in three California homes were at risk for wildfires. I haven't done the research necessary to do the math, but I think we can stipulate that one third of all California homes is a significant enough number of families at risk to warrant action.
California and Texas lead the nation in the number of homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). I'd never heard of the WUI until I joined a volunteer fire department when I moved to Texas, but apparently it's a big deal to fire safety professionals and forest managers. According to the article linked above,
"the number of homes at risk vary, depending on drought, efforts to eliminate dead brush, as well as community and homeowner actions that can reduce risk, according to the Forest Service."
Before you dismiss the plight of California homeowners due to their negligence, it's important to remember that those "efforts to eliminate brush" and "community and homeowner actions that can reduce risk" are often curtailed by environmental regulations aimed at protecting wildland habitat. Many homeowners and communities (along with the insurance companies who write policies on homes, cars and other buildings in those areas) would love to cut back the brush that poses a fire risk, but such efforts are often blocked due to either governmental regulations or homeowners' association (HOA) covenants.
Given the lingering drought situation in Texas and the increased risk of wildfire that comes with that, some policymakers are taking action. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature considered HB 1442 which would allow homeowners the right to remove trees and vegetation which the owner believes poses a fire risk.*
In Pivot Points, I talk about what a culture of preparedness might look like, citing a number of examples from around the country. For example:
"Families in Central Texas are not so lucky. Drought conditions continue to plague the area, causing massive wildfires throughout rural areas and green belted suburban areas. Residents learned their lessons from previous wildfires. Ordinances prohibiting the cutting of dried brush – originally enacted to preserve habitat for wildlife – have been revised to balance the need for disaster mitigation. Families have their important documents in fireproof boxes which they purchased from their local hardware stores. Homeowners and their insurance agents annually review their insurance coverages and discuss what’s covered, how their deductibles are calculated, and whether the homeowner has enough coverage on their house. As fires go through neighborhoods, the impact is mitigated by the fact that brush was cleared, while gutters and roofs were kept free of leaves which might catch fire from flying hot embers. Some residents suffer minor injuries as they rushed their preparations to completion; other neighbors, who participated in a first aid class sponsored by their homeowner’s association, provide initial medical treatment."
In a state that values preparedness, policymakers have a role to play - to ensure that individuals and communities have the ability to take appropriate steps to make their communities more resilient.
*In full disclosure, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies - for whom I lobby - registered support for this bill during the hearing on it at the Texas Capitol.
A few years ago, I attended a meeting held by a couple of Texas state agencies regarding the ability of the insurance and banking sectors to recover from some sort of cyber disruption. One of the concerns raised in that meeting was the impact on the "unbanked" - those individuals who did not utilize banks in any fashion.
Policymakers have generally believed the unbanked are poorer citizens who cannot afford a bank account. Monthly fees and transaction fees take up a large portion of what little savings they have, and, as a result, they opt not to have a checking account. Of course, these same individuals often incur significant transaction costs when frequenting "check cashing" stores or payday loan companies.
An article posted today at reason.com challenges some of the notions we have about the unbanked or underbanked. For example:
There's a lot to glean and ponder in the article on multiple public policy fronts. I'd like to focus on just one of those fronts here - namely, what can we take from this information in the effort to create a culture of preparedness?
I'd like to posit three thoughts with you:
Today, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a piece entitled "Some Mormons stocking up amid fears that doomsday could come this month." In a sub headline, the paper states "‘Preppers’ » Citing prophecies, politics and economy, many expect a catastrophe by the end of September."
I could pick this article apart quote by quote, but in the interest of efficiency, I'll trust you'll go read it for yourself (it will take less than a minute to do so).
Just yesterday, I posted a situation report - which is different from a forecast - outlining things I feel a prepared citizenry should monitor in the coming months. I chose not to mention this story (a Mormon friend tipped me off to it last week during my trip to Salt Lake City) in large part because accurately forecasting any sort of cataclysmic event is tough enough. And when part of your forecasting algorithm calls for factoring in such things as religious holidays, astronomical events and numerology, your methodology goes from simply trying to connect dots to injecting subjective factors which have no correlation to the geopolitical and economic events at hand.
Don't get me wrong; I'm a man of Christian faith who believes there will be a day of reckoning at some point. Yet I'm also aware those same scriptures which predict such dire events also tell us that we are incapable of predicting such events ourselves.
More importantly for our purposes - the goal of creating a culture of preparedness - how do you think the following text from the article impacts the non-prepping reader?
Here's how the doomsday scenario plays out: History, some preppers believe, is divided into seven-year periods — like the Hebrew notion of "shemitah" or Sabbath. In 2008, seven years after 9/11, the stock market crashed, a harbinger of a devastating recession. It's been seven years since then, and Wall Street has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks in the wake of China devaluing its currency.
Thus, they believe, starting Sept. 13, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, there will be another, even larger financial crisis, based on the United States' "wickedness." That would launch the "days of tribulation" — as described in the Bible.
They say Sept. 28 will see a full, red or "blood moon" and a major earthquake in or near Utah. Some anticipate an invasion by U.N. troops, technological disruptions and decline, chaos and hysteria.
The Salt Lake Tribune confirms what I wrote in Pivot Points:
[W]hy are those who call themselves “preppers” still viewed as part of a lunatic fringe, portrayed as a group of people who hope and pray they get to use their AR-15 rifles in shoot outs with their neighbors, snacking on freeze dried ice cream sandwiches in between fire fights? Even National Geographic’s television show entitled “Doomsday Preppers” is part of a series the network calls “American Outliers,” implying that those who are preparing for harder times are not in the main stream culture of America. Our government and various nongovernment organizations (NGOs) encourage people to prepare….yet those who do are chastised by many in the main stream media as uneducated and unwashed.
Yeah. I pretty much nailed that call.
And that's the problem with such stories: preppers are always portrayed as people readying themselves for the apocalypse. Again, from Pivot Points:
And even when the mainstream media portrays preppers as being somewhat enlightened, it’s done so in a backhanded compliment, proclaiming that preppers are focused primarily on some sort of doomsday event. The notion that preppers are only concerned about being self-sufficient for the apocalypse serves as a signal to the rest of us: even when we are portrayed as being insightful, it’s only because we are allegedly obsessed about a full bore collapse of society. You will note that those who take steps to prepare for crises are never portrayed as doing so to handle the more common emergencies, such as power outages, wildfires, injuries around the home and severe weather events.
This perception is one of the things we will have to work to overcome if we are to successfully build a culture of preparedness.
I'd like to get a few things on your radar.
Long Term Weather Forecast
CBS News reported on Friday that the coming El Nino will be one of the strongest ever. The strong weather pattern is credited with reducing the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean this year, and given the forecasts for this winter, it may also bring needed rainfall to drought stricken parts of the United States.
From the Climate Data Prediction Center, issued on August 20:
Note the significant chances for below average temperatures for the southern United States. Alaska and the Pacific Northwest should expect warmer temperatures this winter.
Here's the outlook for precipitation for the same time frame:
Much of the southern half of the United States will see an elevated chance of precipitation during this same time frame. If you overlay these two charts, it appears that New Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and the southern Atlantic coast should expect an increased chance for winter weather events this year.
I don't hold myself out as a financial expert, but I do think there are a few issues we should keep in mind moving forward over the next few months.
First, talk continues of whether China will move to a gold-backed currency in some form or fashion. There are some logistical restraints on such a move, but by no means should the investing public discount the desire of Chinese policymakers to move the yuan towards a globally accepted currency.
Commentators at Bloomberg believe such a move "could create fireworks" in the markets. While I don't profess to know the extent of the impact such a move would have, it bears watching in the coming months.
Meanwhile back home, the U6 unemployment rate fell to 10.3 percent in August, a low not seen since July 2008. The official employment rate - the U3 rate - fell in August to 5.1 percent, taking the employment rate to April 2008 levels.
Such moves would normally be considered healthy, although other data points should raise concerns. For example, the labor force participation rate currently sits at 62.6 percent - a level not seen since 1977. Bear in mind a larger participation rate means more people are working or looking for work. So while unemployment numbers continue to drop, that drop is being fueled in part by fewer people in the workforce.
What's driving the exit from the labor force? As U.S. News and World Report explains, the drop in the participation rate has actually been ongoing for the last fifteen years. However the speed of the exodus ticked up during the Great Recession and has remained relatively faster since then. Much of the exodus comes from the retirement of baby boomers, which would be expected.
Perhaps the more concerning data point, according to the article is that "the participation rate of so-called prime age workers (those between 25 and 54 years old) has slipped in recent years. This is an age bracket that has mostly completed educational requirements and isn't yet retiring, so prime age down-ticks are difficult to explain." Bear in mind that as fewer people remain in the workforce, the task of paying for the social insurance benefits provided those outside of the workforce (and for some workers still in it) falls on a smaller number of workers.
The Federal Reserve continues to contemplate a rate hike. According to USA Today's piece dated yesterday, "this week's Federal Reserve meeting is shaping to be the most dramatic in recent memory, with economists divided on whether the central bank will raise its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade." Clearly the historically low interest rates we have experienced over the last few years will have to go up at some point. What sort of impact will that have on the markets and the economy?
The equity markets continue to show signs of volatility. The Dow is down 7.8% year to date, with much of that drop occurring in the last three weeks. The markets have had a good run since 2009. Should we expect a normal correction, or are there other factors that will play into future trends in either direction? Take heed - statistically, those who are in the market for the long term do well.
That's not to say all is well in global finance. Our national debt currently tops $18.3T with a mere $3.1T in tax revenue. Many will debate whether our debt is a concern. I would encourage you to do you own research and reach your conclusions.
So are the economy and the markets improving or heading for a major correction? I find people's views on that question hinge largely upon one's political affiliation. Regardless of yours, I think it's imperative to pay attention to all of the data.
I'm not sure where to start, given the host of things that are going on now. For example:
Suffice it to say there's always something going on around the world warranting our attention
So What Should We Be Doing Now?
As the scriptures tell us, there will be wars and rumors of wars. There will also be a level of turmoil and volatility in the financial markets. We will have wet and dry spells, hot summers and cold winters.
I would suggest we need to keep doing the basics - being prepared for a host of things. Preparations for one problem generally prepare us a host of problems.
Don't let the news get you down. Stay focused, work towards self sufficiency, and help others do so along the way.
Here on Day 6 of Paul Martin Month, I thought I'd share this video with you:
You read that correctly. September is in fact Paul Martin Month.
Paul Martin doesn't have a day dedicated to him, or even a week. No. He gets a full month. And it started today.
Paul Martin Month, or as it's called by every other person on the planet, the 2015 National Preparedness Month (NPM), is managed by our friends at FEMA. According to the website, FEMA is this year:
"asking you to take action now – make a plan with your community, your family, and for your pets. Plan how to stay safe and communicate during the disasters that can affect your community. We ask everyone to participate in America’s PrepareAthon! and the national day of action, National PrepareAthon! Day, which culminates National Preparedness Month on September 30."
You read that correctly. At the end of Paul Martin Month, there's a national day of action. As in all of the United States of America. Think of it as the Super Bowl, Christmas and a massive sale at Cabela's all rolled into one.
"So how does one properly observe Paul Martin Month?" you are no doubt asking yourself, surprisingly unaware that Paul Martin Month has actually been around since 2004. (Of course, I am compelled to point out none of you have seen fit to send me a Paul Martin Month card or gift in the eleven years that Paul Martin Month has been in existence. But I digress.)
Let me give you the Official Guide To Observing Paul Martin Month in three easy steps:
If you do those three steps, you'll be ready for National PrepareAthon! Day on September 30. I'll be sharing my plans for that incredible day later in the month. How will you observe the conclusion of Paul Martin Month?
Here's where I tell you what I think about things I think about.