Disaster Preparedness And Moral Standards

What determines how someone might act during a crises or disaster depends largely upon three things:

1. Upbringing: How a person was raised provides one of the most important aspects of character development and morals, and a considerable amount of that is related to a person’s parents. Parents control and affect many important aspects of the child’s development, including;

  1. Providing a home that is nurturing and supportive; children need to feel loved and safe when they are at home; the world outside the home can be ‘hard’ and ‘cold’.
  1. Providing discipline and guidelines; children need to learn and understand that there are boundaries, and that certain actions and behaviors are unacceptable.
  1. Providing opportunities for education and character development outside the home; children and teens have a great capacity for learning and must be provided with an educational environment that will allow each individual person to develop at their own pace. There is no cookie-cutter method; children are indeed unique individuals and development occurs at different times and at different rates.
  1. Roll models; Children and teens are very impressionable and therefore roll models have great influence upon children in addition to the influence of parents. Society must not fail in its endorsement of worthy roll models for children and young adults.
Capt. Bill & Grandson

Capt. Bill & Grandson

2.  Training: Assuming proper character development, training is what determines how a person might be able to intervene in an emergency under a given set of circumstances. If a person is un-trained in CPR for example, even a person of good moral character cannot render effective aid to someone who is in cardiac arrest. In a crises or disaster scenario, untrained people can become a liability and even a burden upon the trained personnel who are engaged with the situation.

3. Experience: Personnel who are experienced in crises management (actual experience) and have been immersed in, and have dealt with crises situations can provide critical leadership skills that make their own training and that of others more effective.

When I use the word ‘Prepper’ I am referring to anyone who has some insights and concerns with regard to disaster preparedness, and has made some advanced preparations with regard to those ‘concerns’. Preparedness can cover anything from basic first aid and CPR to fire, earthquake or even severe weather such as a tornado or hurricane. What many people don’t immediately realize is that firemen, police, EMS, Coast Guard, National Guard are included with others, including everyday citizens, all of whom may be considered to be ‘Preppers’.

So what determines if a Prepper will be effective in helping others during a crises or disaster?

At the most basic level, I believe that having good moral character is what sets-up the situation where a person will go against their own primeval survival instinct and take a life-threatening risk to help a stranger. This is a separate consideration from the response of a parent to the need of a child where a parent will, in most cases, lay down their life for their own child. Sometimes we also see what I’ll call the ‘parent instinct’ happening between a parent and the child of a stranger in distress.

Occasionally in my discussions or writings, I will draw-from my own life experiences for illustrative examples, only because I have survived various experiences and have first-hand knowledge of an event and the thought processes that were involved; sometimes they provide reasonable examples for illustrations and for comparing and contrasting concepts. At times this can seem like I am ‘beating my own drum’. The problem faced with writing about any illustrative examples from experiences outside your own life, is that you end-up with second and third-hand information, not to mention that it’s very difficult to isolate and explain the various mental processes and relevant thoughts that occur in the minds of ‘other people’ during various experiential events in their lives. Added to which, such exact recounting usually requires various permissions, thereby impeding the expediency of an article such as this… at the end of the day, it’s just easier sometimes to use my own experiences, and if a few people want to misinterpret my motives, so be it.

From my viewpoint, a person’s morals are in most cases the controlling parameter for taking a calculated life threatening risk in order to help a stranger, regardless of training. In other words, a person may know how to administer CPR to a dying man, but that does not guarantee that the same person would in fact provide CPR to a stranger.  If a person has actual experience, it is only because that person had the moral character to take a risk, which allowed an ‘experience’ to occur, as opposed to reading about something in a book. Training and ‘experience’ are not the same; people can get training, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will jump into the fray at the moment of truth, which is how real experience is obtained.

Thanks in large part to the media, as I look around society today, I see fewer moral role models than ever before, and at a time when we need them most! At the same time, I know for a fact that we have suitable moral heroes all around and among us. For instance, we have men and women who joined our military to serve and protect us (as opposed to the very few who are merely looking to get something out of it) and who have demonstrated courage and bravery in crises situations. However the media seems to enjoy and even prefers to showcase one defective personality after another, instead of highlighting these heroes and their lives. Have we sunk so low as a society that we can only feel good about ourselves by comparing our lives to the morally bankrupt?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am sick and tired of seeing headlines about lame Hollywood types who are in and out of drug rehab or jail on a regular basis, or who are merely famous for being famous, or who’s showing ‘more side-boob’ this week. Is this really what Americans want? Have Americans lost all sense of who ‘We The People’ are and how this country became great?

John Wayne ...

John Wayne …

From my perspective, thanks to the media, our society is currently bankrupt when it comes to the kind of role-models that made America great. When I was growing up, even the Hollywood role-models were worthy; people like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Ronald Regan, Charlton Heston, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and others… today we get people like Snoop-Dog and the Kardashians. Call me old-fashioned, but in my opinion, that’s a huge step down, and I believe that, as role models these kinds of personalities aren’t helping our children and young adults, at all. I just can’t understand why the media spends so much time covering these kinds of ‘personalities’.

The other issue I see is that few people these days are willing to stand-up and say what needs to be said. Instead, some people are more worried about their own ‘popularity’ and are too busy kissing everyone else’s backsides as a part of many of the ‘mutual admiration cliques’ on the social media websites; their modus operandi is ‘going along to get along’. In fact I see a few people on blogs and on Twitter who encourage this kind of morally bankrupt behavior, and even take it to the point where they will turn others against anyone who dares to disagree with their small-minded cliques. The various forms of new social media today allow people to influence large groups of people, and operate from behind the cover of fake names and aliases. This allows the use of methodologies and behaviors that would not fly in a truly open and transparent forum. This is because an alias cannot be held into account at any level for what they say or write. And they can represent themselves as ‘being’ anything they want because there is no way to truly verify the information that they provide to the public without a true identity.

Changing gears just a bit and with all that said:

Most ‘old-salts’, myself included, know that if you’ve been to sea long enough, you will sooner or later be aided or rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard; I have!

In December of 2002, I was piloting a 70-foot ship north from Los Angeles, CA to Portland, OR, when a very rare and unexpected event occurred; our main diesel engine dropped a valve and the engine shut-down in heavy seas 20 miles off Cape Mendocino, California, a particularly dangerous place along that coastline. This was a dangerous situation, which was made even more hazardous because we had only a light delivery crew for our large vessel (3 seamen), and one of our crew-members had become severely sea-sick in the heavy seas. Night was soon to be upon us, so we called the U.S. Coast Guard and requested a tow, and they came out in those horrible conditions and towed our vessel into a safe harbor. Those men and women have my eternal respect and gratitude, and I consider them courageous and brave, with the highest moral standards.

Having said that; that is their job and they are trained and paid for that duty, as opposed to volunteers, such as some disaster aid workers, NGOs and others who work in dangerous conditions without any remuneration, except that of possibly saving life, which is a reward that transcends any monetary rewards in my book.

When the 72-foot Coast Guard cutter came to our aid, it had a crew of about 8 men and women onboard who were very good at their jobs. With a crew of that size, they could easily manage their vessel is the seas, handle communications and still have a full deck-crew. Opposite that, my one functioning crew-member and I secured the towing bridal we made to the bow of our 70-foot ship and then attached the tow line that the Coast Guard crew shot across the rough seas to us from their vessel using a ‘monkey paw’. A ‘monkey paw’ is basically weight that carries a light-weight tag line from one vessel to another. That tag-line is what allowed us to heave the heavy tow-line that ran from their vessel over to our vessel and fix it to the towing bridal on the bow of our ship. Even with all the training and experience that we all had, I believe that every one of us out there that day had some level of ‘fear’. No sane person in any such situation, or heading into such a situation is completely fearless. It’s about controlling the fear; which is in most cases the recognition of what could happen if it all went wrong. It was by the use of training and experience we were able to overcome fear in order to succeed.

In the grand scheme of things, as bad as some people might think that situation was, the U.S. Coast Guard does this kind of operation almost weekly on the West Coast of the U.S. alone, and some operations are far more hair raising!

USCG Helo Rescue Drill (photo: Capt. Bill)

USCG Helo Rescue Drill (photo: Capt. Bill)

On several other occasions in my life, I was the one who had to make the calculated decision and decide whether or not to go into harms way to help a complete stranger (http://williamesimpson.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/USCG_rescue.jpg).

S/v Iron Maiden (photo: Dr. Rick Ware)

S/v Iron Maiden (photo: Dr. Rick Ware)

On that and other occasions, I was not being paid, and at the same time, I was risking my own vessel, as opposed to a vessel owned by the tax-payers. In the telling of these tales, I think its important and it serves to let people know there are people who still do answer the call, as it was on that day off Hawaii in 1987. One case in particular that happened in early 2010 in the Sea of Cortez stands out in my mind because this particular rescue effort would place both the life of my wife as well as my own on the line, as we alone constituted the total crew onboard our 70 foot ship. And if that wasn’t enough, we would also be using the same ship that served as our home, thereby placing it and everything we owned onboard at risk as well (http://www.iridiumeverywhere.com/archives/Vol_5_Issue_3/IE_SBS.html)


As the story went, clearly we had used our training and equipment to reach-out internationally to the U.S. Coast Guard to initiate and coordinate the search for the man lost overboard in the Sea of Cortez. And there were several other sailors that day willing to take risks for a fellow mariner lost at sea. But there was also the question of luck in the back of my mind. Searching at sea is all about having as many boats with assigned search grids as possible, which reduces the size of each search grid, and that increases the effectiveness and success of the search effort.

Having already done our part by getting the time-critical search started and helping to coordinate a search effort, we could have sat safely at anchor while the other sailors braved the harsh seas; after all, we were critically shorthanded on crew for such an operational risk. Even the U.S. Coast Guard would not take a 70-foot ship into those conditions with a total crew of just two people. Nonetheless, my wife (Laura) and I knew that if we stayed out of the search, the odds of finding the man lost overboard would be statistically lowered, so a decision was made, and we jumped into the fray. I cannot fully explain how we felt when the man was finally rescued… alive! It was like winning the lotto for us, as it was for his wife.

Capt. Bill & wife Laura - Sea of Cortez 2010

Capt. Bill & wife Laura – Sea of Cortez 2010

Some people might wonder why we would consider leaving a safe harbor and head out into a storm in the middle of the wilderness of the Sea of Cortez to search for a complete stranger who may have already drown. Plain and simple; it was all about moral values. My wife Laura and I had grown-up with the kind of heroes and roll-models, all of whom would have done the same.

s/v Iron Maiden anchored off island in Sea of Cortez

s/v Iron Maiden anchored off island in Sea of Cortez

It’s my opinion that too many of the role models that the media showcases today are morally bankrupt, and they provide the wrong examples and messages to our children and young adults. Some of the so called ‘icons’ who are held-out and showcased by the media spend as much time in jail and at drug and alcohol rehab as they do on TV and in the movies. So how does this affect the youth in America?

Crushed Chev P.U. - 2002 head-on collision

Crushed Chev P.U. – 2002 head-on collision

On a dark night in July of 2002, a man in his early 20’s who was a habitual drunk-driver and drug addict (and un-insured), was once again driving while drunk and under the influence of drugs when he crossed over the freeway center-line traveling at about 100 mph and hit my vehicle that was traveling in the opposite direction at about 70 mph. The combined impact speed of the resulting head-on collision was approximately 150 mph, according to the California Highway Patrol. That accident adversely affected my life, my business and my family. In America today, this happens far too often to embrace habitual offenders with any compassion. As it was, the doctors told me it was a miracle that I survived that accident, but nonetheless required a year of pain-filled physical rehabilitation. Now imagine just for a moment; what would have been the outcome of the rescue in the Sea of Cortez 8 years later if I had been killed by that criminal drunk? Or what if I had failed in my rehabilitation efforts, and instead elected to give-in and accept my disabilities?

Photo: National Geographic - 'Doomsday Castle'

Photo: National Geographic – ‘Doomsday Castle’

Now along comes National Geographic’s latest reality TV show, titled ‘Doomsday Castle (Twitter hashtag: #doomsdaycastle). And here we come to find-out that one of its so-called ‘stars’ is a man that is alleged (in the article listed just below) to be a habitual criminal and drug addict, with numerous charges over several years ranging from ‘grand theft’, ‘reckless driving’, ‘driving while revoked’, ‘scheme to defraud’ to driving under the influence and ‘violation of probation’. (http://starcasm.net/archives/category/tv/doomsday-castle).

According to one report this man has supposedly turned his life around based upon being part of the cast of the ‘Doomsday Castle TV show. I may be a bit biased, but this man is not what I would consider as a good role-model for even first-time criminal offenders, let alone anyone’s children or young adults. And I find the notion that a reality TV show can serve as any form of rehabilitation for an alleged habitual criminal and drug addict is preposterous. I certainly believe in forgiveness and the provision of a second chance to those who are sincerely making efforts. However, the habitual offender is a total different type of person in my opinion. How many times should society allow habitual offenders to repeat their crimes? Until they kill someone, a family, or a bus full of kids? The headlines are replete with examples of habitual drunk/drugged drivers taking innocent lives. The point here is that the vast majority habitual criminal offenders really don’t care enough to make a permanent change, and they selfishly repeat the same dangerous behavior patterns.

And what may be just as preposterous as the show serving as some form of rehab, is that the same people and castle appeared on season-2 of National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers and placed 19th out of a group of 43 Preppers. So with that said, why would anyone want to showcase any part of a survival paradigm that was less than optimal? Here is my opinion (review) of National Geographic’s show ‘Doomsday Castle


Even though the community of Preppers is as I have pointed out, very inclusive and contains everyone from beginners to professionals in disaster preparedness, the brand image of ‘Preppers’ has suffered enough as a result of the media’s constant showcasing of the worst isolated and statistically insignificant cases of ‘odd Preppers’. It now seems that the media is content to brand any news worthy criminal caught with a gun and some food as a ‘Prepper’. Now, having this dubious character on Doomsday Castle as a ‘Prepper star’ is pushing even that envelope, and this can only serve to further tarnish the general public’s view of any people who are identified by the term ‘Prepper’.

We are fast approaching the point where mainstream Preppers and legitimate personnel involved with disaster preparedness will have to completely abandon any association or use of the term ‘Prepper’ as a result of the growing negative connotation to that term. What a shame!

Cheers! Capt. Bill


Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM

Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus


Twitter:  @NauticalPrepper


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About William Simpson

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. In early 2013, Capt. Simpson appeared on National Geographic's hit TV show DoomsDay Preppers (Season-2 'A Fortress At Sea') and received the highest score ever given for disaster preparedness and survival, earning the title of 'Best Prepper’. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.. In 1987 Capt. Simpson received a commendation from the U.S. Coast Guard Honolulu Sector for his assistance in the successful rescue of two sailors lost overboard at sea. In 2010, Capt. Simpson was again instrumental in the successful rescue operation of an American sailor lost over-board in the Sea of Cortez in hazardous seas. Capt. Simpson is also an accomplished writer covering disaster preparedness. His work has been featured and republished via numerous magazines and websites and he has been a featured guest on various disaster preparedness radio talk shows. All Rights Reserved - Copyright 2013 - William E. Simpson

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