As the son of an accountant, I have a little bit of a numbers vein in me. I can remember all kinds of numbers: my brother’s social security number, my mom’s and dad’s driver’s license numbers, clients’ file numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, and my batting average in high school (.346). But, I also have failings when it comes to numbers. I don’t remember what time my daughter was born and I don’t remember how long it takes to cook microwave pancakes (despite the fact that I do it every morning, I still have to look at the package).
But there is one number that I will never forget: 4:31. When I wake up in the middle of the night and see the clock at or even near that time, I think of that one event. The early morning wake-up call on January 17, 1994.
Can you believe it was 16 years ago this week that Northridge became front page news with the shaking, shuddering, thundering, and crashing that began at 4:31am? I don’t even remember what the quake registered on the Richter Scale, but I remember, to the minute, what time it started: 4:31am.
And when I wake up in the middle of the night and see the clock approaching or near 4:31, I think of the fragility, I think of the massive buildings that virtually imploded, the freeway that broke in two, the lives lost. And I think of the humanity, the community, the friendship. This wasn’t an event that affected one family, it affected an entire city. We were all hiding under the sheets as aftershock after aftershock came through… was this an aftershock or a new quake? When would it end? I can still smell the alcohol that fell off of the shelves and crashed to the ground in a mixture of colored glass. The pictures askew on the walls (if they stayed on the walls) and the books all in the middle of the floor, our West Highland Terrier sitting in the middle of the mess, shaking and whimpering.
Many people remember where they were when Kennedy died or when the Challenger exploded or when Kirk Gibson hit his home run (sitting on the coffee table in the family room of the house in Northridge biting my nails). But do they remember what happened next? I remember the aftermath of the quake and everyone who went through it does also. The stores that were closed, the buildings that never re-opened, the plumbing that took forever to come back on, the questions of how our friends and loved ones were faring while the phone lines were down.
Which brings me to this: Reacting to crisis without a plan is a plan for failure. We weren’t good, I will confess that we were not good. A major catastrophe in sunny Southern California? Nah… Wait, yes, it could happen… it DID happen.
It isn’t my place to tell you to store your water, have an earthquake kit and an evacuation plan. Those are all good ideas and are highly recommended. But what good is that if you don’t have a plan to deal with crises that may come up in everyday life? Accidents, illnesses, changes in wealth, changes in family… You need to have plans in place for those too, the events of daily life that are unpredictable but life-changing, especially if you aren’t prepared.
Take a look around you. Are you safe? Is your family safe? Is your business safe? Are your loved ones safe? What could go wrong? Anything, everything, nothing. Do you want to stake it all that nothing will happen?
All of these thoughts go through my mind when I wake up at 4:31am. And then, of course, I can’t get back to sleep…
Beginning of the year, another anniversary of that natural disaster, another chance to review our plans and make sure we are ready for life’s curveballs. They are out there. You may dispute that a baseball actually curves, but if you are focusing on if it curves, it’s gonna fly right by you for a called Strike 3. Or, you can just hit it as hard as you can because you planned for it to come and weren’t surprised when it did.
Be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared…