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The Personal Security Handbook

Practical Tools for Keeping Yourself, Your Family and Your Things Safe

The Personal Security Handbook by The Silver Lake Editors
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The 2005 hurricane season has started where the recdord-setting 2004 season left off. The recent bombing of the London underground systems proves terrorism is still a risk everywhere. And still people are wondering what they should do to prepare. Silver Lake Publishing’s best-selling book THE PERSONAL SECURITY HANDBOOK: Practical Tools for Keeping Yourself, Your Family and Your Things Safe… has the answers. On Wednesday morning (7/6/2005) Silver Lake editorial director James Walsh offered some of these answers to viewers of CBS-TV’s The Early Show. He told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen that it’s important to look around the house for loose “quasi-structural” items like handrails and planking in carports, patios or decks. Specifically, Walsh said: The real wildcard when a storm hits is not the water—which is fairly predictable in how it will come. It’s the wind. When strong winds come in a storm, they sometimes will rip loose these poorly built structures and toss the pieces of wood or pieces of metal like missiles around the property. Sometimes tree limbs can do the same thing. And that’s what does a lot of the unpredictable damage. He then offered the following tips from THE PERSONAL SECURITY HANDBOOK on how to prepare for a hurricane or any kind of natural disaster. Preparing Your House 1. Look for loose parts of structures (patios, porches, fences, etc.) outside of your house. If you can shake them with your hand, secure them or remove them. 2. Check for any loose electrical wiring or shaky gas connections, inside and outside. Repair them, if you can; call a contractor, if you can't. 3. Fasten shelves and hanging units inside your house; place heavier items on lower shelves. 4. Make sure pictures, mirrors and other items are hanging away from beds or couches. If they're nearby, take them down. 5. Make sure your water heater is strapped to wall studs or another solid base. Preparing Your Family 1. Store a three-day supply of water (one gallon—two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food prep and cleaning—for each member of your household, including pets) 2. Store a three-day supply of basic dry food—crackers, snack bars, dried fruit, and dried meat—so that each member of your household (including pets) can eat something every 4 to 6 hours 3. Keep one battery-powered radio or TV for the household and at least two extra sets of batteries for this device 4. Keep one battery-powered flashlight for each member of your household 5. Establish at least two escape routes from your neighborhood, and, in case you're separated during an evacuation, go over them with everyone in your household 6. Establish a safe contact (often a relative or friend) outside of your immediate area that household members can contact or where you can meet in case of separation. In the wake of natural disaster, long distance communication often is easier than local. According to Walsh, “That safe contact is key, especially for larger households. It’s important to have someone who can act like a touchstone. So family members can let each other know that they’re okay…or where they are.” He notes that, “With insurance companies increasing deductibles and lowering their maximum coverage limits—not to mention government agencies like FEMA getting more stingy about the money they’ll make available—an ounce of prevention has never been more valuable.” To see part of Walsh’s Early Show interview, click through to In THE PERSONAL SECURITY HANDBOOK, the authors admit that many disaster preparation steps can seem like simple common sense when considered individually. Their effectiveness comes from being used together, systematically. People need checklists, worksheets and inventories to make sure that their prevention efforts are systematic. Silver Lake’s HANDBOOK offers just such tools. Silver Lake Publishing is an independent press specializing in books on personal finance, consumer protection and popular economics. THE PERSONAL SECURITY HANDBOOK is the 17th title in Silver Lake’s series of books on risk and financial issues that face people living in the United States and other developed countries. Other titles in the series include: Identity Theft, Kids and Health Care and Credit Scores/Credit Cards. THE PERSONAL SECURITY HANDBOOK: Practical Tools for Keeping Yourself, Your Family and Your Things Safe at Work, Home or on the Road by The Silver Lake Editors $11.95 288 pages 4½” x 7¾”/trade paperback ISBN: 1-56343-775-9
Silver Lake Publishing; July 2005
289 pages; ISBN 9781563438035
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: The Personal Security Handbook
Author: The Silver Lake Editors
Most people took inventory of their lives following 9/11, or at least began to think about where they stood when it came to their level of risk in daily dealings. People began to calculate their vulnerabilities, and how they could minimize exposure to dangers. But they also began to misunderstand true risk and lose perspective on what “security” really means. If someone were to ask you which activity—quitting smoking or stopping weekly commutes on an airplane—would increase your chance of living to the age of 90, what would you choose? In a world where fast-moving information is the currency, anthrax can circulate through the mail, money moves at the speed of light and identities are as easy to steal as bicycles, traditional notions of safety and security are as outmoded as dictaphones and three-martini lunches. Yet people cling to obsolete notions. This chapter aims to open your eyes to how risk works…and to give you tools for minimizing the dangers that threaten your self, your family and your things. These are the tools that people need, regardless of how many political fanatics are trying to hijack planes. Why do you need these tools? • In the post-industrial world, people are free agents—in their work lives and their personal lives. • The odds are you don’t have a corporate employer or big family living under your roof to help you absorb a personal or professional loss. • You have to fend for yourself, which means you have to be able to identify, assess and manage risk. Americans are used to having large institutions—corporate employers, immigrant communities, the government—manage risk for them. In the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., many people talked about wanting to return to the comfort of traditional values, or going back to having institutions handling risk for us. But the economic and cultural tides can’t be turned back, however comforting that idea might be. Our world grows more decentralized every day; and every person is increasingly responsible for himself. This is an opportunity for great freedom and liberty…but it’s also a potential threat. The threat doesn’t come from terrorists. It comes from our own bad judgment about what’s dangerous and what’s safe. As we recoil from the risks posed by a dangerous world, we surrender our ability to handle…and to manage…circumstances in ways that work for us. Despite great access to data, a shocking number of people have a bad sense of risk. Americans often ignore serious risks (driving recklessly, smoking, handing their life savings to swindlers) and obsess about trivial ones (terrorism, pesticides, breast implants, flesh-eating bacteria). By underestimating common risks while exaggerating exotic ones, we end up protecting ourselves against the unlikely perils while failing to take precautions against those most likely to do us in. Most media coverage of risk to health and well-being focuses on shock and outrage. The media pays attention to issues and situations that frighten—and therefore interest—readers and viewers. The shock-and-outrage approach creates interesting stories but warps people’s sense of risk. As a result, we’re scared—and often scared by the wrong things. Some experts in risk analysis call this response statistical homicide—the triumph of long odds over common sense. In other words, the risks that kill people and the risks that scare people are different. A smart person doesn’t worry about what’s scary; she worries about what’s deadly. You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to understand the basics of risk management and apply them to your everyday life. Risk management isn’t exact; it can be manipulated by people with agendas. Still, it offers the best way to minimize loss of life and limb. And its basic tenets can help you live a good life. These tenets include: • Relative risk and odds ratios compare the odds that something will happen to a specific group with the odds that the same thing will happen to an entire population. Relative risks are expressed in positive numbers—like 0.8 or 5.3—that mean the specific group is that many times more or less likely than the entire population to experience some event. • Correlation is not the same as causation. To some people, a newspaper headline that reads “Bottled water linked to healthier babies” might seem to mean that bottled water actually makes kids healthy. But it doesn’t. A more likely explanation: Wealthy parents are more likely to drink bottled water and have healthier kids because they can afford better care. • The law of large numbers provides a key connection between theoretical probability and observed results. The law of large numbers says that, if you repeatedly take bad risks—or play unfavorable games—though you’re uncertain of the results of any given outcome, in the long-run you’ll be a loser. You need to understand risk and how various parties use it. “Risk analysis” is a broad term that refers to a variety of analytical tools, including: risk assessment, risk characterization, comparative risk assessment, risk ranking, risk-based priorities, risk-benefit analysis and cost-benefit analysis. A one-in-a-million mortality risk means that in every one million people affected, one will die. That’s on the average, however, and averages don’t tell the whole story. The calculations can be very rough and uncertain. Most risk experts prefer to consider relative risks. Risk estimates aren’t ever exact—and they’re susceptible to various and conflicting interpretations. As we try to insulate ourselves from a dangerous world, we’ve seemed to surrender our ability to handle the chances of loss that are unavoidable. So, despite their access to information, a shocking number of people have a bad sense of risk. The so-called “fight-or-flight” instinct that dominates the basic impulses people feel is a crude version of risk assessment. It works on a gut-instinct level. On the other hand, technical experts have a different approach to risk assessment. They focus on how likely it is there will be a harmful reaction, and if it happens how bad it will be. Something could have very serious consequences—but, if it is judged to be very unlikely, it is not seen as a serious risk. We are warned about benzene in Perrier, hijackers on our airplanes and asbestos in our school buildings. The truth: The benzene in Perrier probably wouldn’t have hurt you, hijackings remain a statistical insignificance and the asbestos in schools is least harmful if left in place. Most people’s feelings about crime are based more on what they read and see in the media than on experience. The truth: • If you’re not an inner-city resident engaged in crime and carrying a gun, your chance of being murdered is no greater than it was in the 1970s. • Most people think their chances of dying of a heart attack are about 1 in 20. The truth: It’s closer to 1 in 3. • People also figure the odds of dying in an auto accident during a given year are about 1 in 70,000. The truth: The real figure is 1 in 5,000. Sensationalism in the Mix People often perceive risk by their ability to control dangerous activities. They’re usually less afraid of risks they think they control and less afraid of risks that they understand. So, the things that people are most afraid of are things they can’t control and don’t understand. The Truth • If people can choose not to take part in certain activities, their perception of risk decreases. • The media fills its coverage with opinions (usually from interested parties) rather than facts or logical perspective. • The media’s shock-and-outrage approach doesn’t help people assess risks. The fact that someone is upset about a loss they’ve suffered doesn’t say anything about how likely the same loss is to happen to you. • As a result, we’re scared—and often scared by the wrong things. The government is no better about assessing risk. It spends money trying to regulate risks that aren’t really risky, while ignoring genuine risks. The popular media’s focus on startling losses and colorful opinions misdirects people’s attention toward trivial risks. We end up terrified of violent crime, crashing airplanes and AIDS among drug-free heterosexuals—all tragedies, but rare ones. The media coverage of the mad cow scare in early 2004 is proof of how distorted a risk can become in the eyes of the public. The moment one Washington state cow was slaughtered for having bovine spongiform encephalopathy (i.e., mad cow), the possible threat to Americans landed on the front page of almost every paper in the U.S. Talk about the tainted beef industry chewed up the news networks and shifted the media coverage from Iraq to filet mignon. While the talk centered on this “serious public health concern,” few debated the actual risk of getting mad cow disease from infected tissues. The chance? Almost zero. And, when you consider that fact you have to eat the brains or spinal fluids of a mad cow to worry about it, it’s moot to think about the threat. Even when media attention turns to more likely risks, it often misses the important points. For example, many news stories involve charges that this chemical or that pesticide causes cancer. But the three main causes of cancer are not the much-publicized pesticides or other chemicals developed since World War II, but smoking, dietary imbalances and chronic infections. Although media coverage invariably focuses on pesticides and other artificial chemicals: • Your one cup of coffee contains 10 grams of natural carcinogens—the amount the average American consumes in pesticide residues in one year. • The average American ingests 10,000 times more natural pesticides than artificial pesticide residues every day. The main reason the media bungles risk reporting: It’s time-consuming, nuanced and long-range. Misguided Hunt for Zero Risk One of the most problematic offshoots of misunderstanding risk is the idea that we can live risk-free lives. This idea underlies the attempts that so many people make to insulate themselves from the toughness of the real world. The average person with a computer has access to virtually all the data people have ever gathered on any given subject. But what does that person do with all that data? Which data does he or she even try to understand? And, better yet, which data is accurate? Modern technology has made it possible to detect tiny amounts of potentially harmful chemicals that would have eluded discovery in previous generations. This means the government can enact regulations to protect Americans from previously hidden dangers. But when this technological capability is combined with Americans’ zeal for zero risk, the result can both distort the political process and disrupt the economy. The key to understanding risk is the ability to compare and prioritize losses. This is another way of describing the relative context of risks. It’s the object of risk assessment.