R. Ann Parris on Shared Symptoms of Disasters


Shared Symptoms of Disasters by R. Ann Parris

Big or small, personal or widespread, disasters share a lot of similarities. That overlapping set of needs can be viewed as both a challenge and a benefit. There are always exceptions, but whether we lost a job, have a storm-driven power outage numbered in days or weeks, find ourselves in a fast-moving or incremental financial or agricultural collapse, or are faced with the aftermath of a world-shaking natural event, a hacker attackor some other human-source disaster, we’ll need to cover some of the same bases.

Fire Risks





Go-Stay Decisions

Nearly all disasters involve a disruption in power. We all have devices and appliances that run on electricity. (We’re reading this somehow.) Some use gas fuels directly for power, but backups and alternative sources are a good idea to account for shortages, damage to tanks and lines, and internal problems.

There are small hydro generators that run in slow-moving water and very small creeks. Large battery backups can be plugged into outlets to stay topped off until need. Solar panels range from wallet and open-notebook sizes that can hang in windows or from backpacks, to roll-out mats and large-scale panels. There are converters that allow us to use our vehicles to run appliances like fridges and freezers for short times.

The smallest options are fairly inexpensive, and have a lot to offer just for phones, lights, and small fans that can be lifesavers if we’re suddenly plunged from climate control to sweltering and arid heat.

However, we can also plan to just do without that power, especially for short-duration outages.

Usually, eventually, those alternatives involve fire — grills, candles, fireplaces, wood stoves, campfires. That means our fire prevention and fire response measures need to be prioritized. After all, it’s not just us we have to worry about, but all our neighbors.

You’ve seen how those people drive and shop. Make plans just in case they try to burn your community to the ground through their stupidity.

Our shelter can be compromised, whether it’s a tent on the move, or being pushed out of homes for all kinds of personal and specific reasons — to include one of those peri- or post-event fires near us. That means even if we do not ever plan to bug-out to the wilds or have already relocated to a shelter, we want to make sure we retain the ability to make repairs and-or move on.

Water is essential.

For a lot of people, if there’s no power for a little while, water will hold out. Depending on what caused the outage, though, public services of all kinds can be disrupted.

We also have to worry about contaminants entering water. Even with all else functioning “fine” we’ve had both microbial and chemical warnings issued about tap water. During earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and spills, wells and spring recharge areas can be further contaminated.

Too, if power goes out and takes our HVACs and heaters with it, a lot of colder regions are going to run a real risk of burst pipes. Opening cabinets for more warm-air circulation and turning on slow drips can help (catch it in totes, buckets, etc. to use for wash-ups and pour into toilets) but it’s not foolproof.

Stock as much water as possible. The 1-3 gallons/day recommendations are absolute bare minimum, and still woefully insufficient for some conditions.

Water (and sanitation) factors means it’s also important that we stock a variety of food types.

Ideally, we keep in options that let us eat as-is and heat-and-eat as well as things that need to be cooked.

Disposable utensils and dishes and food types that eliminate the need for extra dishes can also be helpful for short term emergencies, lowering the water draws and workload. Additional sets — and paper that gives us more disposal options over plastic or Styrofoam — also applies for long-term planning due to potential disruptions in water supplies.

No-cook food options also help balance labor and fuel expenditure.

We can anticipate having fewer resources in emergencies of all durations, and may be doing more work and more of it by hand and on foot.

Especially if our backups involve wood fires, there’s a lot of time involved with cooking and time and labor hauling it. We may also be patching, hauling and treating water, wading through snow or water, and other energy-sapping activities that are made more difficult by the conditions.

Having sets of no-cook foods also helps us if it comes time to evacuate (again).

We have to constantly assess our go-stay decisions. Whether we have radios or phones or not, the world is full of information that needs processed and disasters tend to be dynamic. Big or small, we may need to evacuate — possibly with all the other aspects of a crisis in full effect — or we might actually choose to strike out from an evacuation site, for all sorts of reasons.

We might return home, or try to get further away. Fires and floods are constant threats, even now, and can push us mid-disaster as well. Failing shelter, poor sanitation conditions, personal health, and supply shortages are all possible reasons for relocation — as recent as the past year, all the way back in history before the New World had a name.

Due to all the other challenges of disasters, we may want to cruise through the news and images, and figure out how we would handle that late-date evac — or evacuating a “safe” shelter or BOL that develops major issues.

All disasters have unique challenges, but there are some basic similarities. The greater the event and its duration, the larger those challenges will loom. We can work the exact same checklists, though, adding duration and flexibility as we go, because snowstorm road closure to permanent Ice Age, small kitchen fire to raining comets, our needs are essentially the same.