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May 6, 2007

Emergency Preparedness

by Dan

(Church talk given January 28, 2006)

I grew up in a small town outside of Sacramento, California. There weren’t very many people my age who were members of the Church. I remember being the only Priest blessing the Sacrament for most of a year. I had friends who were good people, however, so I never felt bothered by it.

When I was in high school, I remember going to a party put on by a bunch of friends from one of my classes. When I arrived, the party was already in full swing. I was thirsty and remember walking into the kitchen to get a drink. From the doorway, I spotted the punch bowl.

I can still remember the feeling I had as I looked at that bowl. It looked dead. Yes, the punch looked dead. I’m not sure if that’s a good way to describe how I felt, but I suddenly didn’t want anything to do with it. I turned to the host and asked if I could have some water. There wasn’t anything ready, so I just drank water from the kitchen faucet all night.

Maybe an hour later, a friend who knew me pretty well sat down next to me and said, “Don’t drink the punch.” When I looked at her, she added, “It’s spiked.” I’m still grateful for a friend who was willing to look out for me, despite not being a member herself. I am even more grateful for the warning I received through the Holy Ghost.

The Stake Presidency has felt a similar warning and has asked that we finish preparing ourselves for an emergency or future disaster. Each ward should have a plan and be familiar with the stake plan. Each family should collect what they need to provide for themselves during an emergency.

In the Priesthood session of the October 1998 General Conference of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley read the story of Joseph of Egypt interpreting the dream of Pharaoh. There would be seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there would arise after them seven years of famine (Genesis 41:17 – 32). It would be so bad that the good years would be all but forgotten.

President Hinckley continued:

Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order….

We have witnessed in recent weeks wide and fearsome swings in the markets of the world. The economy is a fragile thing…. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed…. No one knows when emergencies will strike.

(To the Boys and to the Men)

Three years later, in the October 2001 General Conference, less than a month after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, President Hinckley said,

I need not remind you that we live in perilous times. I desire to speak concerning these times and our circumstances as members of this Church.

Occasions of this kind pull us up sharply to a realization that life is fragile, peace is fragile, civilization itself is fragile. The economy is particularly vulnerable. We have been counseled again and again concerning self-reliance, concerning debt, concerning thrift. So many of our people are heavily in debt for things that are not entirely necessary…. I urge you as members of this Church to get free of debt where possible and to have a little laid aside against a rainy day.

We cannot provide against every contingency. But we can provide against many contingencies….

As we have been continuously counseled for more than 60 years, let us have some food set aside that would sustain us for a time in case of need. But let us not panic nor go to extremes. Let us be prudent in every respect….

I cannot forget the great lesson of Pharaoh’s dream of the fat and lean kine and of the full and withered stalks of corn.

I cannot dismiss from my mind the grim warnings of the Lord as set forth in the 24th chapter of Matthew.

I am familiar, as are you, with the declarations of modern revelation that the time will come when the earth will be cleansed and there will be indescribable distress, with weeping and mourning and lamentation (see D&C 112:24).

(The Times in Which We Live)

Four years later, in the October 2005 General Conference, about 2 months after hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, President Hinckey said,

If anyone has any doubt concerning the terrible things that can and will afflict mankind, let him read the 24th chapter of Matthew. Among other things the Lord says:

“Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars…. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows….

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:6 – 8, 21).

In the Book of Mormon we read of unimaginable destruction in the Western Hemisphere at the time of the Savior’s death in Jerusalem….

The plague or Black Death of the fourteenth century took millions of lives. Other pandemic diseases, such as smallpox, have brought untold suffering and death through the centuries.

In the year A.D. 79 the great city of Pompeii was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Chicago was ravaged by a terrible fire. Tidal waves have swamped areas of Hawaii. The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 ruined the city and took some 3,000 lives. The hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900 killed 8,000. And more recently, as you know, has been the terrible tsunami of Southeast Asia, where thousands of lives were lost and where relief efforts are still needed.

How portentous are the words of revelation found in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the calamities that should befall after the testimonies of the elders. The Lord says:

“For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.

“And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.

“And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88:89 – 91).

Continuing with President Hinckley:

What we have experienced in the past was all foretold, and the end is not yet. Just as there have been calamities in the past, we expect more in the future. What do we do?

…We can so live that we can call upon the Lord for His protection and guidance. This is a first priority. We cannot expect His help if we are unwilling to keep His commandments.

…We can heed warnings. We have been told that many had been given concerning the vulnerability of New Orleans. We are told by seismologists that the Salt Lake Valley is a potential earthquake zone.

…Our people for three-quarters of a century have been counseled and encouraged to make such preparation as will assure survival should a calamity come.

We can set aside some water, basic food, medicine, and clothing to keep us warm. We ought to have a little money laid aside in case of a rainy day.

…Let us never lose sight of the dream of Pharaoh concerning the fat cattle and the lean, the full ears of corn and the blasted ears; the meaning of which was interpreted by Joseph to indicate years of plenty and years of scarcity (see Genesis 41:1 – 36).

(If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear)

The Lord has said, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing” (D&C 88:119) and “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). Are we preparing?

The unemployment rate in the United States is currently around 4.5%. This is near the lowest it has been in the last 50 years. The stock market is up, food is plentiful, long-term interest rates are low. It is a perfect time to get our houses in order, to get out of debt, to make or buy what we need to be prepared for whatever the future may bring.

Last month, the US Department of the Treasury released its official Financial Report of the United States for 2006. Unlike most government budget reports, this one follows the generally accepted accounting principles that all public companies are required to follow when reporting on their own finances. It states that “the U.S. government’s total reported liabilities, net social insurance commitments, and other fiscal exposures continue to grow and now total approximately $50 trillion…. It seems clear that the nation’s current [financial] path is unsustainable and that tough choices by the President and the Congress are necessary….”

To give you an idea of how much $50 trillion is, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States, which is the value of all goods and services produced in a year, is about $12.5 trillion. If the government confiscated all of it, something like a 100% tax on everything, for 4 years, they would have accumulated enough money to break even, to pay what they have already promised to pay. The situation continues to get worse over time.

Two weeks ago, Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, in his testimony before Congress said that, financially, the United States is “experiencing what seems likely to be the calm before the storm,” that within a decade there may be a “fiscal crisis, which could be addressed only by very sharp spending cuts or tax increases, or both…. The effects [of which] on the U.S. economy would be severe” (January 18, 2007).

How do we prepare? Brigham Young believed that “the time will come that gold will hold no comparison in value to a bushel of wheat.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 250, 1943 ed., p. 298.) We need to gather what we will need now, because it will not be available for purchase when it is needed.

It has been cold the last few weeks. On some nights, the temperature was close to 40 degrees below freezing. That is before you account for the Spanish Fork wind-chill. Do we have some way of keeping warm if our electricity and natural gas lines go down? Do we have warm clothes and extra blankets? Wool blankets are warm even if they are wet. A kerosene heater could keep a house warm without electricity or gas.

The Church has recommended that we store enough water for 2 weeks. That’s 1 gallon of water per person, per day regardless of age. For a family of 5, that adds up to 70 gallons of water. If clean water is stored in the proper containers, it will last indefinitely. The best containers are made of food-grade plastic, especially the ones labeled “PETE” near the recycle symbol.

The Church’s Provident Living website lists 5 ways we can prepare for emergencies:

1) Prepare spiritually through fasting, family and personal prayer, family home evening, and honoring [our] covenants.

2) Prepare financially by staying out of debt, saving for the future, and obtaining insurance if possible.

3) [Prepare temporally by acquiring] a year’s supply of food….

4) Prepare for home and natural disasters by having… basic emergency and first aid supplies available in… [our] home.

5) [Prepare physically] by practicing wise eating habits, observing the Word of Wisdom, and exercising regularly.

I was in Kobe, Japan a few weeks after the terrible earthquake there in January of 1995. I remember visiting members and helping them dig through the rubble of their homes. I remember visiting families living in broken school buildings or in tarp-covered shelters at the local parks. I remember huddling around metal barrels with burning wood inside, trying to keep warm in the cold night.

When I left Japan, nearly a year and a half later, there were still piles of rubble along side many of the streets. Several city blocks were still just debris. The highway linking Kobe to nearby Osaka was not reopened until later that summer, more than a year and a half after the earthquake. And yet there was hope. Hope for the future and an intent to rebuild their past.

In 1998, President Hinckley finished by promising, “If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That’s all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.”

In 2001, he concluded by asking, “Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes.”

In 2005, he ended by declaring, “I have faith, my dear brethren [and sisters], that the Lord will bless us, and watch over us, and assist us if we walk in obedience to His light, His gospel, and His commandments.”

I believe we can apply the words of Amulek, teaching the poor of the Zoramites about repentance, to ourselves as we organize and prepare every needful thing.

“And now, my brethren, I would that, after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that [the prophets and] the holy scriptures testify of these things, ye come forth and bring fruit unto repentance.

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation….

“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

“And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end” (Alma 34:30-33).

To once again quote President Hinckley, I am saying nothing that has not been said for a very long time.

I have felt urgency to get my own house in order. I am grateful for the advanced notices and warnings we have received. I know that the Lord is with us. And I know He will help us in our times of need.

He has asked us only to keep the commandments and prepare, and has promised that “If [we] are prepared [we] shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).

UPDATE 2007-07-20: Here is a story describing how the government uses cash accounting instead of GAAP principles required of public companies.

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