Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Preparedness and Insurance

At Mitigation Journal, Rick Russotti has been writing and podcasting quite a bit about preparedness, lately.

We do not do a good job of preparing for low frequency, high impact risks.

For example, Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Director, Michael The Luddite Huss, was able to get away with a deadly lack of preparedness, right up until it became apparent that the outcome of this lack of preparedness is that some people will die. Michael The Luddite Huss was able to hoodwink most people into believing that his mistakes were not his fault, but the failure of the people who work for him to use medieval technology to make up for his lack of preparedness.

We don’t need to prepare for emergencies. We can just hope for the best and sacrifice some of the expendable low level employees when our lack of preparedness is exposed.

The recent storms may be teaching us the wrong lessons. The storms were not as bad as predicted, which is good for the moment. The problem comes when we try to convince politicians that we did not waste the money spent on preparedness; That we need to spend money on preparedness each year; That we need to spend much more when the events we have prepared for actually do happen. What is good for the moment when things weren’t that bad may not be good for the moment when things are very bad.

These same politicians will spend money on insurance without a thought, but when we call it preparedness, a form of self-insurance, we are expected to produce some sort of tangible return. This is a mistake.

Insurance is not an investment that should produce a positive return, even if something bad happens. Insurance only helps to decrease the losses from whatever bad happened. Flood insurance is not supposed to pay to put everything back the way it was before a flood. Life insurance does not bring the person back to life. Auto insurance does not prevent collisions. Insurance is supposed to help to manage losses. Not having enough insurance means that there is personal liability for losses outside of what is covered by the policy.

We should expect to pay for these types of insurance for years decades without filing any claims.

We should expect that the return will be less than what we paid in, except in the most extreme circumstances. We should be pleased that we paid out more than we received. This means that we have been fortunate. Others have been less fortunate and we should be pleased that we did not receive the payouts the less fortunate people received.

This is a part of being a responsible adult.

Yet, when it is preparedness, we expect the rules will work differently.

We got away with it before, so we expect that we will be able to get away with it again. Those subprime mortgages are a good investment, because our models predict that there will only be a catastrophic default every so many hundreds of years, so we will invest in them for so many hundreds of years minus one. Bad stuff only happens after everyone has had time to prepare for it – right?

It is safe to drive through this water covering the road, because I drive on this road all of the time and my car has never become stuck before.


We have a couple of storms that are not as bad as the worst case predicted, not even as bad as the average case expected. Do we appreciate that we have been lucky? No. We complain about the money wasted because things were not as bad as we expected.

When we do not prepare, each time we get away with this, we receive positive reinforcement that we have made a good decision. More money for something else.

When we do prepare, each time we do not have a disaster, we receive negative reinforcement that we have made a bad decision. Less money for something else.

When disaster hits, the disaster denialists will find scapegoats to sacrifice to the political Gods.

When disaster hits the prepared communities, the disaster will be much less of an event, almost a non-event compared with what is happening to the denialist neighbors.

This is not really different from patient care. Those dealing with many more unstable patients than everyone else are probably just not able to handle patient care. If they are constantly yelling and using life or death treatments, maybe they are just not able to recognize what life or death means.

Maybe the greatest threat to the life of the patient is the presence of the panic medic yelling at others because he is not prepared to deal with sick people.


Panic is not a sign of preparedness.


Blaming other people is also not a sign of preparedness.

Signs from the National Weather Service.



  1. It is fascinating how people complain when things “weren’t that bad.”
    I spent a fair amount of time after this recent storm reminding people that “not that bad” was the GOAL, not a failure.
    It apparently did not occur to any of the people I heard complaining that part of WHY things weren’t so bad in some areas is that people had evacuated, and weren’t there, making driving dangerous, etc. They weren’t there needing to be rescued.
    I often use the example of a house fire.
    Preparation for the possibility of a house fire includes the installation and maintenance of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and having and practicing an escape plan.
    If you do those things well, and a fire starts, you should be alerted to it immediately, and escape could be as easy as walking out your front door. It could be so easy, in fact, that it feels like there was “no real danger at all.” The alarm beeps, you walk outside. If all goes well, there should be no need to “rescue” you.
    Is that somehow a failure? Does it mean the fire isn’t dangerous? Not at all. Managing such an emergency so easily is the GOAL.
    Likewise, in a storm situation, having it feel like “it wasn’t that bad after all” is the GOAL. That is why you prepare, and it is what the results of great preparation should feel like. That it was no big deal.
    The goal of good preparation is to PREVENT the “big deal” of recovering from a disaster, even if you can’t prevent the event itself.
    So why do so many people feel let down?
    They should all talk to friends I have in the Catskills and Vermont.
    These days, I’m all about preparing for events that you think won’t happen, what with tornados, earthquakes AND hurricanes happening where they historically have not!


  1. […] response to Preparedness and Insurance, hilinda of The Lonely EMT wrote – It is fascinating how people complain when things […]