February 9, 2010

Emergency Preparedness: Surviving In Tough Times

5 year map of earthquake epicentres in SW British Columbia/Pacific NW

Here on the west coast of North America being prepared for an emergency, say a 7.5 earthquake, has a very good chance of saving your life. This week 600 000 people on the east coast have been without power for days after the worst winter storm in decades. More snow is forecast for today. At times like these, having a plan and ready supplies can make the difference between a memorable experience and discomfort, injury, and possibly death.

Our longest period without power since being on the coast was in December of 2006. At that time we experienced the most powerful winter storm in these parts since the 1960s. There was a lot of rain, but far worse were the gale force winds. The roof blew off the building next door and 20 residents had to be evacuated in the middle of the night.

Besides missing some siding, our building rode out the storm. But it was a rough ride in our third floor unit fearing the shrieking winds would blow our windows in. Lying in our shaking bed trying to sleep that night we could feel that the whole wood-frame building was shuddering with the gusts. We were without power and heat for almost five days after the storm.

Emergency preparedness focuses on independence, self-reliance, and community robustness, qualities that we have largely abandoned in recent decades. As we have gained wealth we have chosen to pay others to provide us with everything we need. But our supply chains are notoriously fragile and entirely dependent on a disappearing fossil fuels. In an emergency it will not matter how much money you have. What you will need is an emergency plan and supplies so you can rely on yourself.

Relying on self-interested corporations and governments is a recipe for disaster in itself. They don't so much want to help us as exploit us for their own purposes. As soon as we become unprofitable, or vote for a different party, they will move on, leaving us to fend for ourselves (like we used to, and will again). We must be able to care for ourselves for a minimum of 3 days in the event of a disaster, and perhaps much longer if capitalism experiences a USSR-style collapse, which still seems to be a distinct possibility.

Speaking of collapse, in 2008 when the so-called good times came to a crashing halt, I noticed the effects in my local grocery store. Half the time it looked like there had just been a food riot. Shelves of staples like flour were near empty and disheveled. Most grocery stores would empty out in 3 days or less after a catastrophic event. I thought about that while scrounging for food, and it was a pretty scary thought; I felt very vulnerable. Perhaps it was coincidence, but conditions have improved along with the stock market since then.

Over the past few years we have improved our personal preparedness. The goals are consistent with our trend toward a simpler, more stable, secure, independent life. I am no survivalist, but I do want to be prepared, and being ready for emergencies gets me closer to my ultimate goal which is to live in as sustainable a way as possible. I can do without being preyed on by a system that benefits from our dependence and ignorance.


There is a lot of good information out there to help you implement your own emergency plan and help you attain some level of independence. Preparedness expert, Kathy Harrison, wrote Just In Case: How To Be Self-Sufficient When The Unexpected Happens to help individuals and families plan for unplanned events. It more or less covers everything you need to know to begin to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Harrison implores us, for our own good, to be prepared for the endless list of potential emergencies. She convinced me.

There are also very good resources on line, and available in your community. Often local programs focus on the risks appropriate to your area. At the library, on-line, or at city hall look for information on emergency preparedness, living off grid, simple living, or preppers. Look up 'survivalists' if you want to go hard core. All will assist you in increasing your ability to care for yourself when others can't or won't.

These are the basic beginning steps Linda and I have taken so far:
  • stored water to last two people a week with minimal rations (1L/person/day), plus chemical water treatment to prepare additional water if needed
  • two grab bags with warm clothing, food, water, tent, sleeping bags, multi-tool and other supplies
  • a single-burner white gas stove for cooking, with extra gas
  • a set of sturdy footwear by bed to prevent cuts from broken glass and debris
  • identified safe places in our home (in doorways), as well as in the area (higher ground out of the tsunami zone)
  • have handy flashlights, candles, crank-powered radio
  • lashed down heavy objects to stabilize them in the event of the inevitable Big One
  • stored food to last a few weeks
It is easy to deny the essential nature of emergency preparedness. No one likes to think of the ground shifting violently around them whether from earthquakes or financial collapse. I am relying less on the fragile consumer system and am learning to take care of myself. Increasing self-sufficiency pays dividends whether in response to local natural disasters or global economic turmoil.

I feel safer and more secure knowing I am prepared for another economic collapse, or a once every 500 year earthquake. I don't know about you, but the images of Haiti would have spurred me into action if I had not already started. Don't wait. Your life, and the lives of your loved ones could literally depend on it. Plus it feels very good to know you are prepared and able to care for one's self and family.

Here's to a safe, secure and simple life.

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