If you know anything about preparedness or emergency management, you'll know that we are constantly saying to be prepared to be on your own for 72-hours (at a minimum). Why do we say that? Why 72-hours?
If we had our way, we'd say to be prepared to take care of yourself without any sort of resources or intervention for 72 YEARS, but we can't all grow our own food, perform our own surgeries or live purely on solar power, now can we? I know I sure can't!
Seventy-two hours is, commonly, the amount of time it takes following a major disaster for first responders, government agencies, Red Cross, etc. to get mobilized, get a handle on the situation and get a solid game plan. That may seem like an eternity to someone stuck in their house with no electricity following an earthquake, but to people charged with responding and maintaining order, it can feel like a split second.
There are a lot of moving parts to an effective emergency response. I would encourage anyone who would like to see firsthand how to manage and respond to a major disaster to volunteer for the Red Cross. You will see why it takes time and how much planning goes into opening and then maintaining an emergency shelter. Or volunteer as a fire fighter or a reserve police officer. You will see why the initial response takes time and coordination to be effective.
We all get annoyed at bureaucratic red-tape and endless procedures and protocols that only slow down actual progress. Trust me, I feel your pain. But in some instances, the protocols for disaster response are there for a reason. When we don't take time to coordinate what resources respond where, we end up with 300 gloves, when we needed 300 cots or responding to a school where a few people were hurt when more urgent help was needed at a nursing home.
There are other issues that can slow response, especially following an earthquake. In most plans, after an earthquake of 5.7 or greater, bridges must be inspected by a certified engineer to determine if they are safe for use. If a shelter needed to be opened, it too must be inspected to ensure it's structural integrity was not comprised by the earthquake. This takes time, but is a better alternative than opening a shelter, a safe-haven for people that are frightened and displaced from their homes and having it collapse and create a secondary disaster.
I'm not saying that every emergency response is perfect. In fact, following every disaster from something as small as a few homes engulfed in flames to an unthinkable scenario like Hurricane Katrina, there can be examples of inadequate, inefficient, downright inept decisions. But again, in every disaster response, there are examples of clear thinking, proactive measures and heroism, it's just harder to spot them because when things move along as they should, you don't stop to think about why they're moving.
So, yes, it may seem like we're asking a lot when we suggest you spend your hard-earned money on an 72-hour supply of clean water, non-perishable food, flashlights and first aid supplies that you may never use in your lifetime. But, if the time comes, you'll understand why 72-hours on your own and a good helping of patience, is not too much to expect.