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Will You Help Unprepared Family After a Disaster?

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Over the years, I have received this question about unprepared family members many times. It’s a sticky survival situation in which family and friends inform us they will just come to our house when disaster strikes. Here’s an example of this question from a reader on Facebook:

sticky survival situation

I prep for my family of four (I stockpile, coupon, can, and garden) and am considerate that we have extended family who may need our help if things really hit the fan one day, but I’m stuck trying to figure out how to get the message across to friends and family that they really need to think about taking care of themselves.

I hear the teasing (but not really) statement, “Oh, we’re just going to come here if there’s ever a _______ (insert your choice of disaster).”

I’d never dream of turning someone away, but at what point and how do you say “No”?

They see me preparing, and they don’t think it’s stupid, but they don’t want to invest the time, effort, and/or money to do it themselves. How do I tell them that I’m taking care of mine – they need to take care of theirs? That it’s not my responsibility because they’re too lazy. (Sorry – this sounds more like a rant than a question). I just don’t know how to delicately say, “Get yourself together.”

Since the issue of unprepared family members so common, but also one that is very pressing to many people, I turned to other bloggers and experts in the prepper and survival niche, and asked for their expert advice. The results were phenomenal.

We got such great advice, covering such a wide range of directions, that we’ve divided the responses into two posts. Read this article for round two of the responses about family members who expect you to take care of them after a disaster, both before they land on your doorstep and when (if) they do. This is another area where planning ahead can help you worry less, because you won’t be caught off guard.

image: woman with ponytail wearing glasses looks through the front door peep hole at unprepared family members expecting help after a disaster

Have you Considered Using Psychology?

By Graywolf of Graywolf Survival

This is one of the hardest questions to answer in a general sense. Each family dynamic is different, and each family member has their own idea of how much preparedness is enough. Some feel that anything remotely resembling being prepared for even a short power outage is insane.

If you’re asking the question, it probably means that you’ve already tried all the normal, logical ways to get people to understand, so here are some ways to use psychology to your advantage. If you’re not willing to use basic psychology to help your family survive, you may want to rethink just how ready you are to survive a long-term disaster or SHTF scenario after all.

Get to that first “Yes”

The best way to sell something big to someone is to sell them something small first. Once they buy a small thing, they’re much more likely to buy something bigger. That’s why salespeople try to get you to say “yes” to a few questions before asking you to take a test drive.

By answering yes, they’ve essentially sold you on an idea. Once you’ve bought a few ideas, a test drive is an easy next step. After a test drive, signing your name to a sentence stating that you’d buy the car for $xxx is the next step. After signing your name to that sentence, you’ve already bought so many things from them that buying the car just seems logical to your subconscious.

You do have a huge advantage when someone says that they’re going to head to your house if something happens. Depending on your relationship with that person, it could be your “in,” so to speak. What you need to do is start selling them on small things first.

Keep Talking!

One way to take the topic to the next level is to continue the conversation. When they say that they’re coming over to your place if SHTF, you may want to reply with something to the effect of, “Well, let’s think about that for a minute because you may have something there.” (It never hurts to word something so that it seems like it’s their idea.)

Explain to them that there’s really no way to know if anything will ever happen, and if it ever does, there’s no way to know exactly what the event will be or how it will unfold.

Continue with the fact that because of your concerns, you spend a lot of time trying to hedge your bets and learning how to survive and even thrive if something bad happens for several days or even several years. The problem is that it requires a lot of time and resources to do that for your family, and you’re really having a hard time trying to figure out how your extended family will fit into your life afterward, and you feel terrible about it (you’re trying to build sympathy). Currently, you have barely enough for your immediate family, and if anyone shows up empty-handed afterward, it means that your family will go hungry and not have the supplies they need.

Try to get them to buy-in

The key at this point is to get their buy-in, which can be difficult. It’s human nature to want to help family, and this may be your solution. Explain to them that you’ve been wanting to involve more of the family with some emergency planning, but you don’t know how to go about it. Try to get them on your side of the discussion to come up with a solution.

You may want to use a particularly anti-prepper family member as an example and say that if something really bad happens, you don’t know how you’re going to take care of family members such as this person who will show up needing help. You won’t be able to help them without risking the lives of your immediate family who’ve spent a lot of time and resources (best not to mention money, or it’ll sound like you’re asking for a handout) on being ready in case something happens.

Does this family member have useful skills?

If the person has any particular skill that you’re lacking, it’s an additional tactic. Let them know that you don’t know much about first aid, but you know they learned it in the Boy Scouts. Ask them to come over sometime and help your family prepare in some particular way. This will not only get them closer to you, but they’ll be drawn into seeing more and more what you’re actually doing to prepare and how organized you really are. Let them know some of the knowledge and equipment deficiencies that you have, and ask them how they would solve them.

If you do this correctly, the next step would be to give them ownership of a particular part of your prepping project, such as being the go-to person for medical or mechanical issues. Ownership of a particular project is one of the best ways to get buy-in for someone. They start taking responsibility for it and gain pride when it’s done well.

Ready to launch

Once you have them doing this, it’s usually an easy step to involve them in their own plans. Help them figure out what gear and documents they should have ready in case of fire or local emergency. If you can get them to do that, then having extra supplies such as water and backup food is the next step. Pretty soon, you can work their plans into your plans, such as bugging out, communication, etc.

So by starting off small, you can get them to first crawl your way before they walk and then run alongside you to deal with an emergency situation. If you try to do too much before they understand things from your point of view, they’ll be looking at it from an outside point of view and will immediately turn away. Show them a little, get them to understand it, and then show them some more. Get them to become involved in the process a little more at each step.

Pretty soon, you may find that you have a hard time keeping up with your new prepping partners.

By Patrick Blair of Survival at Home

I have dealt with family members who know I prep, and some of them think I’m “a little out there.” Those same people go on to say that if something ever happens, they’re coming to stay with us. I laugh and tell them they’re just as likely to get locked out as any stranger, and while I may be laughing a little when I say it, I’m almost dead serious about what I say.

You see, when I prep, I prep with my immediate family in mind, that is, my wife, children, and myself. Every cubic inch of storage is in preparation for my family to survive anything that may happen for as long as we can. If we can’t go anywhere for days or, worse, weeks, I want to have the peace of mind to know that we can survive it with no problem. Space-conscious preppers may want to read this article about how to conserve space when your preps threaten to overwhelm your home!

So with all of that said, I do end up telling my other unprepared family members (and friends) who think they’ll just come stay with us exactly that. I can prep for long-term, but I don’t have the time, space, or money to prepare for the whole world. I heavily suggest that they re-evaluate the state of their household and encourage them to get a few extra things. Educatation is offered, but I cannot prepare for them.

Keep it close to the vest from now on!

By Janet Garman of Timber Creek Farm

This is a tough situation that we, who are making preparations for the unexpected, face all the time. There is one thing that the reader hasn’t mentioned. Has she spoken about the very real possibility that friends and relatives may not be able to safely get to her house? In some of the situations we prep for, sheltering in place is a very real possibility. Friends and relatives have to be informed of this possibility, and this may be the fact that wakes up friends to the need to prep for their own family.

Another thought is that from this point on, I would not talk about the preps she has made with her relatives or friends and neighbors. Keeping this a little closer to the vest may be the better option since she is not surrounded by like-minded people. We talk about our ideas with others that support them and who are making preps. With like-minded people, we can share ideas, experiences, and what we’ve learned.

4 Tips to Get the Message Across to Unprepared Family Members

By Alex Tarsha of Survive Hive

I have been very fortunate in that my wife and extended family are very like-minded. I myself am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or “Mormon”) but living in Utah, most of my neighbors are. LDS folks take preparedness very seriously, so even my neighbors are very supportive of my lifestyle.

That said, it hasn’t always been easy. I am prior military, and one of the many benefits of that experience was the immersion into vast diversity amongst even my small unit. Of course, there were plenty of like-minded folks to interact with, but there were plenty who did not see eye to eye. One of the difficulties in persuading someone to prepare for emergencies when you’re Active Duty is the sense of security provided by the military. They know they will be fed and taken care of, even in a disaster.

So now that I have explained my background, I’d like to quickly share with you some lessons I’ve learned. I will try not to elaborate too much in order to keep it semi-short:

Strategies for Persuasion

  1. Do not pressure anybody. Make a compelling, persuasive argument using verifiable factual evidence and leave it to them to make the commitment.
  2. Keep outlandish improbabilities to yourself, for example, a zombie apocalypse. It just furthers the stereotypical paranoid “Doomsday Prepper” persona, which is not what our community needs.
  3. I have had great success in “the proof is in the pudding.” Even a small scale power-outage provides you the opportunity to show how much better quality of life is when even minimally prepared, as well as an opportunity to interact with others regarding preparedness.
  4. Start small. The gift of an emergency backpack or an emergency vehicle kit is non-threatening and appreciated by most everyone.

I, too, cannot imagine turning others away who are in need, but I am prepared to do so should the necessity present itself. Take the time to mentally prepare yourself for the conversation where you may have to respond, “Sorry, but if something happens, and you come here looking for help, I may not be in a position to support you and yours as well.”

In my own experience, often a simple “I’d be glad to help those willing to help themselves” has been subtle enough to avoid hurt feelings, but powerful enough to get the point across to unprepared family members.

These scenarios are often difficult, but mental preparedness is equally as important as a good stockpile.

Handling Unprepared Family Members Round 2

Don’t stop now! Read this post for part 2 of our online roundtable on how to handle family members who don’t prepare but are expecting help from you. One of these approaches might be just the answer you’ve been looking for. Or you might tweak one of these approaches.

Let me know in the comments how you think you’ll handle unprepared family members.

Originally published June 19, 2014; updated by the Survival Mom editors.

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I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

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