The Virtue & Vice of Emergency Preparedness

January 23, 2023

Emergencies happen.

And Humboldt County, California just got reminded of the importance of preparing for them.

We at Johnson Wealth Management serve people in numerous states in the nation, but the firm’s first location began in the redwood coast of Northern California. Not only does it remain one of our two office locations, but it is also some of our clients’ home.

Over the past several weeks we have been pummeled by the atmospheric river slamming much of the West in storms and experienced a major earthquake.

Just before Christmas, the unexpected happened. In the wee hours of the morning, a 6.4 earthquake shook sleepers out of their beds [Video]. A multitude of aftershocks followed, and another whopper struck a week or so [Video]later that registered on Richter in the 5s.

For some, life changed quickly, as houses moved off their foundations. Others dealt with collapsing chimneys, power outages, plenty of glass and holiday decorations to pick up, and a dash of PTSD.

Though it was unanticipated, it’s not a surprise. Anyone who lives near fault lines knows this is part of life.

One should be prepared—in some way—for this kind of emergency. For those that were not, it’s a good reminder start.

There is a difference between preparing for emergencies and living as if there is an emergency all the time. Becoming prepared is good, but it’s a bad lifestyle choice. The first is wise. The other isn’t really living and will likely drive those closest to you bonkers.

For example, it’s not good for the human body to be in high stress fight or flight mode all the time. But oh, how good it is when crisis comes. If one of your kiddos or grandkiddos is about to be hit by a car and you swoop in with a shot of adrenaline and grab him out of the way, you are happy for stress response. But if your body is in constant high alert, experiencing stress like you’re in the middle of an unending war zone, it’s not going to be good for you or the people around you.

Remember you can’t prepare for everything.

Emergency preparedness can be a virtue, but it can also become an addiction that is a vice. This occurs when it's no longer about preparing for crisis, but about control.

A significant part of life is engaging in risk. Safetyism can be a disease. Or, as the authors of The Coddling of the American Mind, write: a cult.

Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.1

While the authors are focused on how this way of thinking impacts children and the next generation, it can be applied in finance too.

You should have, begin, or replenish an emergency fund! You also should not beat yourself up when it gets depleted. It happens. Preparation can only go so far. Emergencies land on a spectrum—small, big, and catastrophic. Every single one of us without exception needs help sometimes. Some of us need to hear that right now. Give yourself permission to.

On the flip side, being so obsessed with safe investments and anticipating the next emergency can hijack your future too. It makes you think you’re planning for the future, when you actually aren’t. Safety, to use the word of Gollum, can be “tricksy” like that.

You can sit in government bonds forever or have cash in your local bank till kingdom come. Inflation will still eat it. You can put your money in a safe inside a gun safe inside your house inside your gated community, and it will do just that—sit there.

Yes, prepare for emergencies, but don’t turn it into an investment lifestyle.

Remember storms come and go. Markets go up and down. We plant. We harvest. We grieve. We feast.

Winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.

But spring follows.




  1. p. 32.