Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster — The Sobering Truth

The storm is over, but the disaster is just beginning.

A disaster is measured by the number of people it affects. If an event such as a hurricane hits an unpopulated area, it's not a disaster, even though it might bring flooding and knock down trees. If there's no one affected, it's not a disaster.

Hurricane Sandy is a genuine disaster, affecting tens of millions of people across a span of the country encompassing 20 states. Upwards of 9 million households without electrical power. Homes flooded. Public transportation systems disabled. Emergency services stretched to the limit. Contaminated water flowing through the streets, surrounding homes.

After the storm wound down from hurricane strength and the storm surge stopped rushing in from the sea, what was left behind is what constitutes the real disaster. It's the same with earthquakes — the earth shakes for a little while, then stops; and if it has impacted a populated area, then the disaster begins.

So, what are the concerns now that the storm itself is over?
  • Power outages over a huge area, leaving millions of homes without electricity to operate furnaces in the chilly weather. This places residents at risk of hypothermia as they endure the cold, wet aftermath of the storm in homes that can't be heated. 
  • Food spoilage due to the power outages leaving refrigerators and freezers dead. Many people don't have a sufficient amount of non-perishable foods stored in their homes, so food shortage will be an issue as grocery stores have been stripped of inventory and unable to be resupplied. 
  • Water contamination, with sewage mixed with flood waters. Not only sewage, but also chemical pollutants such as fuel, oil, pesticides, and bio-hazards. If residents are not able to purify drinking water, dehydration will be a problem. Most people don't store enough bottled water in their homes to keep them going for more than a short time. It will be a long time before municipal water supplies can be restored. In the meantime, widespread boil orders will be in place. But without power, people won't be able to boil their water to purify it. 
  • Transportation routes have been torn up by the flooding, with many roads literally ripped to shreds. Other roads are covered by downed trees or other debris. Powerlines are down across many roads, rendering them impassable until utility crews can clear the hazard. That means resupply of goods to the affected areas will be slow in coming. There won't be fuel for cars, food in stores, pharmaceuticals in drug stores, or much of anything else that people need on a day-to-day basis. What will you do when the toilet paper runs out? 
  • Families will be financially wiped out. Businesses will die. In tough economic times, the last thing the country needs is a disaster that will push small families and businesses over the fiscal cliff. This will result in increased unemployment, loss of goods and services in the marketplace. This will be one of the long-term impacts of the storm that turn a meteorological event into a genuine disaster. 
  • Homes and buildings will have to be torn down because of being inundated by water. Homes in coastal communities were flooded with saltwater, which will result in destruction of the electrical circuits that will begin to corrode almost immediately. But all flooded home will suffer damage that will require tearing down interior walls, ripping out flooring, replacing appliances and furniture. Many buildings will have to be condemned because their foundations have been undercut by the flood. 
  • Cars and trucks that have been through the flood will become rusted junk, not fit for restoration. 
I could go on — the list is long. The worst part is that all of these things are going to persist for a long time. None of this can be cleaned up in a few days, putting life back together the way it was before the storm.

So what's the good news? The good news is that this is America, a nation built on a foundation of personal liberty, a country filled with people who take responsibility for their own welfare and reach out to their neighbors to help ease the burden of those less fortunate. At least we used to be that kind of country. The good news is that disasters come along every once in a while that put us to the test again, so we can prove we're still that kind of nation.

Just because the storm has ended doesn't mean the disaster is over. In fact, it's just beginning. It's time to pull up our boots and get to work putting it all back together for those who have lost so much.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire & Flood

It seems counterintuitive, but a runaway fire destroyed more than 50 homes that were inundated by floodwaters.

How does that happen?

The report about this particular fire doesn't specify the cause, but there are several possibilities.
  • During the power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy, residents might have been using candles or lanterns to light their homes, and one of those might have gotten knocked over and started the fire. 
  • Sparking powerlines might have ignited the fire where the power entered the house. 
  • And exploding transformer might have caused the blaze.
  • Downed powerlines falling on roof of a house might be the culprit. 
  • A fuel spill or leak resulting from the massive storm could be involved. 
There's only so much you can do to mitigate the dangers when a storm blows into town. You can't stop power transformers from exploding or powerlines from being blown down. But you can make sure you aren't the cause of the fire by taking some precautions.
  • If you use candles for illumination, set them on a plate that has water in it. If the candle is knocked over, it will simply be extinguished. 
  • Clear away combustible materials from the area where emergency candles, oil lamps or lanterns are being used. Oil lamps, by the way, are risky. If they smash to the floor, the spilled oil will ignite and you'll have a major problem on hands. Camp lanterns are a better choice. 
  • Clear tree limbs (perhaps entire trees) away from powerlines. 
  • If instructed to do so, turn off the electrical main switch to your house to prevent electrical fires. Also turn off the natural gas or propane supply. 
  • Don't use a barbecue or hibachi for cooking indoors. Not only is that a fire hazard, but it is also a sure way to kill yourself by asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Who Do You Trust?

What are you supposed to do when you receive conflicting orders (or recommendations) from government officials during a disaster?

A clear example is the conflict between New Jersey Governor Chris Cristy and the Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

During the approach of Hurricane Sandy, the governor issued a mandatory evacuation order. But that order was reportedly countermanded by the mayor of Atlantic City when he told citizens they could stay put and take shelter in the city's emergency shelters.

The result of this mixed message was that a lot of people decided to stay in the city, and then a search and rescue operation needed to be launched to go in and save the victims of the storm who were trapped by the high winds and flooding.

So, what are you to do when you are give conflicting messages from officials during a disaster?

My opinion: You are ultimately responsible for your own welfare. Don't try to shift responsibility off onto some government agency or official. Consider their "direction" for what it is — their best guess, based on information they're receiving from their sources.

When it comes to evacuation, it's up to you to decide whether to stay or go, based on the best information you have available. You must learn to assess the situation accurately, determine the risks, prioritize your list of possible actions, and then live with the consequences.

Don't just become a mindless robot that is ordered around by government officials or agencies. In the case of New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, that would leave you wondering whom to believe and trust.

In the end, you're the one you have to trust.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Too Late To Run

There comes a time when it's too late to run.

You decided not to evacuate, and now you're up to your eyeballs in alligators, trying to figure out how to survive.

That's the case for literally millions of Americans along the eastern seaboard and inland all the way to the Great Lakes, as the monster storm named Sandy has made landfall and is working her way into the interior.

How do you evacuate 60 million people from an area a quarter the size of the United States? It's impossible. Some few will have made it out of harm's way, but the vast majority is caught in a weather trap and struggling to stay alive.

So, what do you do now?

There is no simple answer, because conditions vary by location. Along the seacoast, storm surge is the major problem, as seawater rushes ashore like a wind-blown tsunami, flooding everything for miles inland. Major cities are without public transportation, as subways and rapid transit systems have been shut down, stranding millions of residents right where they stand.

But 100 miles inland the problem will be flooding of another nature, as incessant rainfall swells rivers to overflowing. The sodden ground will no longer support root systems, and trees will blow over onto houses and cars and roadways, tearing down powerlines and leaving millions with no electricity.

Farther west and north, the cold front mixing with the warm, moisture-laden air of the tropical storm will dump feet of snow, strangling transportation corridors, tearing branches out of trees, destroying powerlines.

It's almost too late for preparation. The first three letters of that word (pre) mean that steps should be taken in advance. By the time the storm arrives, the time for preparation is over.

Now it's hunker-down time. All you can do now is try to keep up with the immediate demands of the situation — filling sandbags and piling them around the perimeter of your home; moving valuables upstairs or into the attic; trying to prepare food with no electricity; tarping over the broken windows; comforting each other and vowing to prepare better next time … if you manage to come out of this one alive.

But there are steps you can take during a hurricane or major storm to give you the best possible chance. Here are some suggestions:
  • Monitor radio and TV news reports about the storm and developing situations 
  • Keep the doors and windows shut and shuttered (or covered with plywood panels). It's a myth that you should open windows to equalize interior and outside air pressure. 
  • Stay inside the house and away from windows and glass doors that might shatter and injure you with shrapnel. Keep curtains and blinds closed, as they can slow the shower of glass if a window is broken. 
  • Move to an interior room, close and block the door. Entire homes can be blown apart by hurricane-force winds, and an interior room is the safest place as outside walls and the roof collapse. 
  • If you're in a high-rise, avoid elevators. If the power goes off, you can become stranded inside an elevator car between floors. 
  • Stay warm and dry, to avoid hypothermia. 
  • If instructed to do so, turn off the electricity and propane or natural gas supply to your house. 
  • If the power goes off, keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible, to maintain the cold and preserve the food as long as possible. 
  • Collect as much freshwater as you can in tubs, pots, bottles, etc. Conserve your potable water supply, not using it for flushing the toilet. During a flood, there's a lot of water around, but it will quickly become contaminated with sewage, fuel, pesticides, and biological hazards, rending it unsafe. 
  • As the storm abates, do not go outside or think that the storm is over. The backside of a hurricane is just as violent as the frontside, and it will come after a brief lull as the eye of the storm passes through. 
  • Wait for the "all clear" from the weather radio or news station.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prepare For a Hurricane

If you happen to be in the forecast path of a hurricane, preparation is the key to survival.
Keep your eyes and ears tuned to weather updates. The fortunate thing about hurricanes (if there is anything fortunate) is that you get several days of notification before they make landfall. That is critical time when you should be preparing yourself and your home.
  • If you’re going to evacuate, do so early. Don’t wait for the official evacuation order, because then you’ll be stuck in gridlock as everyone tries to get out of the area at once. Plan ahead where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there. Make arrangements with friends or relatives outside the evac zone, so you’ll have a place to go. Take your 72-hour kit when you go.
  • In any event, prepare your place for long-term survival “in place.” (non-evacuation). Stock up on nonperishable foods, prescription medications, and hygiene essentials.
  • Cover windows with plywood, using wood screws instead of nails (they’re easier to remove later), firmly anchored into exterior walls.
  • Lash down (or stow indoors) anything from your yard that might become a flying projectile in the high winds of the storm.
  • Assess which trees might be blown down onto your house. Trim limbs that seem vulnerable, or remove the tree altogether. If the tree remains, avoid taking shelter in rooms of the house that might be impacted if the tree is blown over.
  • Know how and where to turn off the electricity, water, and gas supply to the house. Keep the appropriate tools handy to accomplish this task.
  • While the faucets are still delivering water, fill tubs, sinks and buckets to set aside an emergency supply to see you through the crisis in the event that the water supply is cut off or contaminated.
  • If you aren’t going to evacuate, take shelter in an interior room away from windows. Take a battery-operated radio and some extra batteries, so you can listen to news updates about the storm.
  • If you are going to use candles for emergency illumination, place them on a dish filled with water. This is a fire safety issue.
  • Move valuables to the highest level in the house, to help prevent water damage from flooding.
  • If you are forced into the attic by rising floodwaters, it’s a good idea to have an axe or chainsaw in the attic. That will give you a chance to cut your way out onto the roof as the storm surge flood rises, blocking exits below.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking the storm is over just because the weather suddenly becomes calm. Remain in shelter until after the eye passes, the storm renews its fury, and then gradually moves away.

Hurricane Survival

This morning’s news is all about Hurricane Sandy.
If you stand back and look at this thing via satellite, it become obvious that this is actually a system of storms linked together like cars on a train, and meteorologists are starting to call it “a perfect storm.”
Maybe you remember the movie or read the book, but a “perfect storm” is one in which a series of storms join forces to create one monster storm that literally rips everything apart. It’s kind of like a rogue wave, formed by the coming together of several waves, each adding their power to create a mammoth wave that can sink ships. Only this time, the ship is the East Coast. 
Weather forecasters are predicting (and I’m quoting here) high seas, rip currents, and beach erosion. They’re saying heavy rain, flooding, and storm surge will put the land underwater. High winds will knock down trees on houses, vehicles and roadways, causing catastrophic property damage and clogging roads.
Powerlines will be ripped down, leaving millions without power — an estimated 60 to 80 million along the mid-Atlantic states on up to Maine and for hundreds of miles inland, if the worst case scenario plays out. There will be immediate and long-term transportation disruptions, leaving residents stuck wherever they happen to be when the storm hits.
And it’s going to last for a long duration — possibly weeks.
Stay tuned — I’ll tell you how to prepare to survive such an event.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How To Survive A Zombie Attack (Spoof)

You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Well, when it comes to zombies, the new saying is “You are what has eaten you.” 

So to keep from being eaten by a zombie and becoming one of the walking dead yourself, here’s a proven survival strategy: 

  • A little-known fact about zombies is that they don’t like organic broccoli (zombies hate organic foods) or Aesclepias Speciosa, a variety of milk weed found throughout the Rocky Mountains and other parts of the country. 
  • Evidence collected by the Zombie Research Center indicates that even just the smell of cooked organic broccoli will turn a zombie’s stomach. And, trust me, you don't want to see what's been in a zombie's stomach. 
  • The white sap of the young Asclepias milkweed causes zombies to begin to disintegrate on the spot, leaving behind what looks a lot like seagull poop. If you are seeing a lot of seagull poop in your area, and you don't live near a seashore, suspect zombie activity.
  • So, the best passive method of preventing zombies from attacking you and gnawing off your face is to eat organic broccoli for every meal (small amounts will do, and the broccoli farmers will thank you), and for dessert munch on some boiled young pods from the Aesclepias Speciosa milkweed plant. 
Following this strategy will make you into an unappetizing meal for zombies.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Five-Mile Footwear

Modern society has created some ridiculous footwear — especially dress shoes that people who work in an office environment wear to work. Not only to work, but also to church, to social gatherings, out on a date, and sometimes just to drive around town.

I suspect the problem stems from the misbegotten belief that "clothes make the man" (or the woman). It's a leftover concept from Depression era thinking, when being poorly dressed was looked down upon. And despite the hippy movement (clothes — who needs 'em?), the grunge movement (the shabbier the better), and various other attempts to rebel against society's fashion  norms, a lot of folks still wear shoes that will betray them in an emergency.

I believe in 5-mile shoes. These are shoes that are built strong enough and comfortable enough to allow you to walk 5 miles without foot problems.

Why 5 miles? Because in an emergency situation (car breakdown, evacuation from natural disaster, escape from abductors, etc.) you should be able to walk or hike at least 5 miles without your feet complaining. If your shoes aren't up to that task, they don't belong on your feet.

In an emergency, your feet might be your only means of transportation. Put the wrong shoes on them and they'll fail quickly, leaving your stranded.

If you insist (or are forced by dress code) to wear inappropriate footwear, I recommend that you carry a pair of 5-mile shoes in your vehicle and have a pair stashed away somewhere at your place of employment.

A few years ago, New York City and the region around there was hit by a massive and long-lasting power outage. When the electricity went off, all the traffic signals shut down, the subways ceased to operate, and transportation basically came to a halt. Millions of people were trapped in the city, with no viable way to get home unless they walked. Most of them were wearing shoes fit only for a torture chamber.

Did you ever run out of gas, or have some other type of automotive breakdown some distance from home? These days, motorists are reluctant to stop and pick up a hitchhiker, because there are too many crazies out there. So if you break down, you're probably going to have to hoof it. If you're wearing the wrong shoes, you'll regret it.

My recommendation is to examine your footwear, try it out and see how well you do on a 5-mile walk.  Then make adjustments to your shoe collection. Fortunately, there are some semi-dress shoes that will pass the 5-mile test. Soft soles with some traction (not smooth leather that gets slippery when wet) and cushioned insoles are a must. Flexible material that needs no break-in is a benefit. For the ladies, low heels (I know they're not cute, but you know I'm right).

Your choice of footwear is as much a survival issue as any other item of clothing. When something happens and the times are tough, your ability to walk or hike might be a lifesaver. Make sure you're prepared.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Shelter Considerations

Be thoughtful about where you set up your survival shelter. 

Make sure it is on terrain that is not infested with ants, subterranean hornets or other insects, and where the natural drainage of rainwater won't flood the camp. 

Establish a shelter whose opening takes advantage of the prevailing climate. North-facing is best in hot locations, to avoid the direct glare of the sun. In a cold environment, the shelter should face southeast to catch the earliest warmth of morning sunshine. This is all presuming that you are in the Northern Hemisphere. Opposite directions apply to the Southern Hemisphere. 

Once the elements are no longer a threat, turn your attention to making the shelter as visible as possible, to aid in the search and rescue effort. Do anything that will attract the eye of a searcher. 
  • Clear foliage from around the area. 
  • Make tracks that lead to the shelter. 
  • Set up "unnatural" objects such as piles of rocks, or arrows on the ground made of rocks that point toward the shelter, or a message drawn in the hard soil. 
  • If you have a Space® Blanket or other bright fabric, use it as an attention-getting cover for the shelter, or simply spread it on the ground and weight it down with rocks or logs so it won’t blow away. 
Something as simple as that can be seen from a distance and may the just the thing that attracts a rescue party.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Survival Is In The Details

We have become a society that depends on various forms of the power grid to give us light and heat, the ability to cook and bathe and live above the level of a caveman (apologies to the big hairy guy on the Geico commercials). To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how far out of town you live, as long as you rely on someone else to deliver power to your dwelling. 

Case in point: Friends of ours live at the end of a dirt road that has been carved through the dense Pacific Northwest rainforest. This is a wild and beautiful part of the country but when winter storms blow through, it’s not uncommon for the power to get knocked out, leaving folks fumbling around in the dark. Being a preparedness-minded individual, our friends bought a power generator capable of keeping the refrigerator and freezer cold and the lights glowing in the house. Proud as a new mama, our friend showed me her acquisition, tucked securely in the corner of the garage just waiting for the next power outage. Time went by, and the following winter a big storm came along and knocked trees down. Unfortunately, the trees fell across power lines, tearing them to the ground. The next thing I knew, there was a knock at the door. It was our friend with a gas can in her hands. “Can I borrow some gas for the generator? The gas stations in town are without power and can’t pump.”

It was a good learning experience — which means everybody lived through it and came away smarter than before. So it served its purpose. And the lesson learned was that no matter how much you do toward preparation, if you forget the little details, you might still be without the benefit of that preparation. This applies to all aspects of emergency preparedness — success or failure is in the details.