Saturday, August 7, 2010

Prepared for Emergencies?

Having been born and raised in Hurricane country, preparedness in some form has been part of my life for more than 60 years. Some natural events cause great fun when you are 9 years old... going in and out of the house through a slim window because the doors were nailed shut after they blew off... and not taking a bath because there was no water was fun, too!

Later as an adult, I thought about where we must have obtained drinking water for 2+ weeks... maybe boiled water from the bathtub we had filled? How long would that last for a mother and 2 children? I have no clue, but I don't remember any community handout either. Children don't always remember the details when it didn't seem threatening to them.

We didn't lose the roof, and the walls didn't cave in. I do remember it was wet, wet, wet and dark, windy, and noisy... much more so when the back door blew off and a neighbor helped nail it back in the frame. Fortunately we found the door before it blew very far away, and had a neighbor to help. The front door didn't actually blow off, but the rain that was forced under the door buckled the floor so that the door wouldn't open more than 3 inches.

Now, sixty years later, I live on a creek that floods; it hasn't flooded its banks enough in the 4 years I've lived here to prohibit leaving the house and driving down the road... but I'm told it has in the recent past. The road was under water then for several days. The electricity has been off as much as 24-30 hours in the last 4 years, but it has been tolerable. Just don't open the freezer. But what if the power was off for 2 weeks or more? And the road completely flooded for weeks, and we couldn't get out (or anyone get in)?

I have plenty of home-canned food; there's spring water and a portable container to filter it, along with enough firewood, matches and candles to make it through maybe 2-3 weeks if necessary, although it wouldn't be very comfortable. I would have to share what I have with my sister and niece (who live in the other part of the house) because their preparedness is not much more than a few cans of pork and beans, some sodas, an extra bag of chips, a flashlight with old or possibly dead batteries, and maybe 2 stubby candles.

I am not a 'doomer'; I don't stockpile weapons and ammunition to protect my life and home, not that it would be effective in the long run anyway. I don't have a cache of food buried deep in the woods. I don't have a vehicle packed, ready to flee and hide somewhere. Where would I go anyway? 

What I do have is an ability to plan; to learn some long-forgotten skills, especially where potable water and long-term food storage without refrigeration are concerned. And I can purchase a few dollars' worth of staples every month, even if just an extra pack of TP, a box of salt, some hydrogen peroxide and 2 cans of Spam (just kidding, I don't eat Spam!).

The bigger ticket items like stand-alone water filtering systems, a chain-saw or a good portable radio are harder to come by on a limited income. I've had 2 wind-up radios in the last 5 years. Neither wind-up generator on them worked more than a month or two, so not very dependable at all. One wouldn't even work with batteries, and I'd rather not depend on batteries anyway... although I do have a solar battery charger and some rechargeable AA batteries.

I am thankful that due to my food protocol, I am off all medications. Otherwise, that would be extremely worrisome in adverse conditions.

I don't deny that things might get worse as the economy continues to falter. Already in my county, the police say meth usage (and its manufacturing) is up, partly due to extended unemployment benefits running out; a deputy sheriff told me last week that even if there were jobs, many of the unemployed could not pass a drug test. Addicts frighten me, especially meth addicts... they can become so out of control.

I doubt there's very much I, or anyone else in my neighborhood, can do to prepare for an unlikely threat such as an asteroid or a nuclear attack, or something else unthinkable. But I can be better prepared for likely threats (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, long blackouts, fire, etc.).

Yesterday I read a library book cover-to-cover on the 'unthinkable'. I read half while I was waiting at a car repair shop, and finished it at home because it really captured my interest. I don't read much fiction anymore although I used to read 3-4 books a week. 

This book (One Second After) is fiction, about a small community in western NC with total loss of power after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) from a small nuclear warhead detonated in the atmosphere above the US. (EMP's can come from solar flares too.) Total loss of power, not just electricity: All of the cars and trucks built after about 1970 died where they were on the highways, or in their driveways, because of the computer chips in them; no electronic banking so no money, grocery stores with limited amounts of food, pharmacies with only small amounts of medicines in stock, all communications gone... no fire, police, rescue...

Intellectually I know about the hazards of an EMP, and even posted something about it here; but I have never actually considered the realities of what it could be like. We are a society conditioned to 100% dependence on power and the immediacy of supplies. 

Hey, if there's a hurricane or winter storm coming, we know the grocery shelves will be empty of most food in a few hours... but we also know it will be restocked a few days after the storm has passed. Until restocking, FEMA and the Red Cross will (eventually) come to the rescue with food, water and maybe blankets and tarps. Someone in the neighborhood will have a portable radio so we know what's really happening... and the electrical trucks from several states will be on their way to repair damage.

But what if there IS no "Cavalry to the Rescue"? What if FEMA and the Red Cross are disabled too? What if an EMP shuts down or destroys the whole country's power and communications? If Food can no longer move by truck or rail? When CAFO animals die because no trucks can bring in grains which cannot be harvested anyway because equipment won't work? If Foods and Medicines can't even be manufactured because the plants don't work? I cannot truly even imagine such a possibility, despite having just read a book about it.

One thing that helped in the book was the community banding together, and some eventual resurrection of pre-computer technologies including old automobiles, coupled with scrounged antiques like vacuum-tube ham radios, old hand-cranked telephones with simple copper wire connections from the fire station to the police dept., wood-fired boilers/steam engines to get a fire truck running and/or cook community foods, bartering... and finding someone's personal library full of lots of old books on forgotten ways of doing things.

After reading that book, I need to take another look at my own preparedness for likely threats and see what I can do to better prepare for potential risk and deprivation. There are things in the book I had not considered, and probably more not mentioned that I should consider. Their shut-down was totally without any warning; how prepared am I for something that happens with absolutely NO warning? What essentials have I used up that I'm out of at this very moment? What would I wish I had available?


  1. Reading this book is what finally convinced my son that bad things can happen and I'm not completely paranoid (maybe your sister or niece could read it?). I'm re-reading it now before it has to go back to the library...although I am skimming over some of the darkest parts.

    It seems harder for you because even if your community isn't overpopulated, you still have to plan for 2 extra adults.

  2. My neighbor has my book now... I'm interested in her reaction. I also worry that the average age of the people on my street (which is really a long skinny "valley") is around 60. No young men at all; the few children are visiting grandchildren.


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