Lessons Learned as a Mud Army Volunteer

Act now, prepare for the future and don’t leave things to the last minute.

As a member of the mud-army. I’ve come away from my brief time in the sludge forever changed. Things in my life that used to matter no longer do, and other things that were perhaps put on the back burner, taken for-granted, or lost in the day to day stuff of life have come sharply into focus.

It’s not easy watching people come to terms with loss and seeing them cope with literally what is left of their life’s little bits. Not only are they having to see their things destroyed or covered in all manner of mud, toxins and detritus. They are having to do it very publicly in front of the well-intentioned, compassionate yet busy and purposeful mud-army. Victims have to make quick decisions on possessions that perhaps aren’t prized but necessary in order to start again. Sometimes there is stress in just trying to locate these items. Things have to happen fast while the help is there, and also because things need to be cleaned and cleared quickly for reasons of hygiene and because mud eventually dries and makes things more difficult.

As an organiser, I have over the years helped people to focus in on what matters and what doesn’t in terms of possessions. Clients who’ve worked with me will know that I have a set of clear guidelines to help the decision making process, however the biggest barometer in a session is that of pure emotion and gut instinct. An example of this is to pick up an object and watch for a client reaction. If a client needs time to decide then it’s obvious see-saw style fence sitting that can tip in either direction and the object is probably not really that important. If however, a client immediately grabs an item back and says ‘no’ or ‘wait’, then that is what I call the heart response. Similarly when it comes to items of ‘practicality or need’ I will look for the head response, where a decision process has already been made with regard to ‘purpose.’

For those of you reading who have been lucky enough to escape any kind of disaster over the years, try this brief experiment. Find a clock or a timer and set it for 20 mins. In this time I want you to go into every room in your house and grab the things that mean the most to you or which you feel are important and you will need. You want ‘heart’ and ‘head’ response items (no cheating). You will find this a challenge, especially if you find yourself panicking and don’t know where things are. I want you to also consider that in the case of fire, flood or cyclone you may have a car, but no road and thus no car to put them into. In which case you may have to carry things out by foot, so also consider the accumulative weight and size of what you consider important. Perhaps you’ll also have to carry a child and/or a pet as well.

When that timer finishes I want you to look at the size of your pile. Think about what’s missing in that pile that you didn’t have time to grab.

Every one of us needs to prepare for disasters. Prepare your box or backpack of important ‘stuff’ now, or create a list that details what and where these things are so that you can find them quickly in the future. Perhaps it may be a simple job of making duplicates of documents and putting them into a folder in a second location; to schedule a half hour every week to scan photographs into your computer; to arrange for cutting spare keys; photographing items for insurance; and for putting those small family heirlooms under total scrutiny.

If you’re a collector, design a strategy for how you would salvage these items quickly or move them to another place in advance of that 20 minutes, in other words have the phone numbers of storage facilities, truck and trailer hire. Have several numbers available and keep checking each year that they’re still current, remember if your area is in crisis, other people will also be demanding these services.

Have the discussion with friends and family now so that they can be fore-warned with regard to who’d be willing to house these things for you, where you ‘could’ stay if the unthinkable happens. Have a plan for your pets as well. Return the favour.

Now is the time to create your Plan D (for Disaster) for all these things. Being prepared now, will save you heartache later.

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