Ask any police officer or soldier how long they can stay on high alert, and you’ll get pretty much the same answer from all of them: Not too long. The body’s adrenaline runs out, the mind loses its sharpness, and since nothing has happened, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that nothing will happen.

We can look at emergency preparedness in the same way. You put yourself on alert, then, after nothing has happened for a while, you find yourself numb, burned out and no longer concerned at all.

I have heard many of my survival students who have military and law enforcement backgrounds express to me how hard it is to stay on high alert for days or weeks at a time. But I never expected to hear it on the 5 o’clock news from someone who was tired of preparing for disasters. Yet there it was last week. Someone who had battened down for what the news was predicting would be the “Storm of the Century,” and then experienced no damage, was explaining to the reporter that he was tired of preparing for all these emergencies. He wasn’t going to bother anymore.

For the people who lost family, friends, homes and property to Hurricane Irene, the reasons to prepare for future emergencies are obvious. The storm has sadly led to the deaths of at least 46 people in 13 states, and hurricane damage could total $7 billion, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp. It seems unimaginable to put your head in the sand, and think that nothing bad could ever happen to you and your family. And yet, people ignore the dangers around them every day.

Of the people who readied themselves for this year’s devastating tornados, wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes only to not at all be affected, I wonder what percent of them are burned out from worrying and jaded about preparedness. And how many people never even cared in the first place? And who will take care of these people if they ever do need help? Their prepared neighbors or the local government might help them out. But the answer might also be that no one will be in a position to help, if enough people in every community stop caring.

What category do you fall into? Are you burned out from preparedness? Or are you dedicated to always being prepared, regardless of how many false alarms you endure? How do you stay sharp and ready to deal with disaster?