*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Disaster Preparation: What I Learned to Prepare

In a previous post I talked about what I learned about transportation, here in Tokyo, during a disaster that has barely affected us.  Having effective transportation is not the only lesson.  Besides your regular emergency kit, what else do you need to stock?  Take a cue from what has gone short here (though for less than a week).  Everything here I had in the house, though less than I would have liked if we had been in the true disaster zone.  All of the items I list will not spoil quickly, and would eventually be used, so are expense-neutral.

Our power and gas did not cut out, and it is a very good thing: no communication, no water, no stove, no light...  Batteries and canister gas disappeared for a week in Tokyo.  Gasoline was in short supply, with long lines.  I have mixed feelings suggesting one keep fuel in the house, as it is a terrible fire hazard, and fires killed as many as thequake in Kobe '95.  In extremis, you could use wood-debris in closely-monitored fire pits for cooking and warmth.  Even a poor solar panel will be enough to keep a few batteries charged for flashlights (LED use much less power) and radios.  Avoid any open flames indoors: there will be aftershocks after quakes.

Do not expect land-line phone, cell or Internet to work, once the power is out.  Even in Tokyo, where the power did not go out, three of four cell carriers were useless.  I was fortunate that my docomo cell worked, but even then calls did not, and text was put in queue for five minutes to an hour.  Some areas were completely cut off in the north.  At such a time your local ham radio geek is the local hero.  A satellite phone is even better.  A radio with both speaker (sharing information) and headphones (prolonging the batteries) is essential for news and warnings, and to alleviate psychological isolation.  I have been fortunate to have the Internet for that.  Be aware that governments will play down dangers, and public media will exaggerate them.

Besides having enough drinking water for each person a week, which is a lot (35l), keep your bathtub filled for washing, and flushing toilets.  Our water did not cut out, and we were not well prepared for it to do so.  A tarp, or way to connect to a downspout, may help refill water... if it rains.  Be sure it is not 'black rain'!  As soon as there is any disruption of services fill all the containers you have, including sinks and tubs.  If not, you will try to get water after there is no water pressure, or the water is otherwise compromised.  Water can be boiled to kill biological pathogens, but neither radioactive nor chemical ones (instead will concentrate them).

If you have an important prescription, you'll want more than a week's supply in the house at any time.  It has taken at least that long for everyone to get medical help in the disaster zone.  Your needs will not be prioritized unless you are in serious medical danger, which is as it has to be.  Iodine pills are an interesting conundrum.  You could even say unnecessary, as the best plan if there has been food/water contamination is to leave.  Still, having a week's worth for how little they cost is not the worst idea, but do not use them unnecessarily.

Dry-Goods, and Root Vegetables
These last for a considerable time.  Have plenty.  Rice disappeared for a week in Tokyo.  You can live a long time without green vegetables and protein, especially if sedentary.

Toilet paper, diapers and baby-wipes disappeared for a week.  I imagine feminine products and adult diapers did too.  Have plenty.  You can improvise, but not well.  Soap of all types is essential, as biological pathogens are a major killer in disasters, and hygiene is the most effective prophylactic.

Do not live or work within a tsunami's reach, which may be as far as 15m above high tide.  Do not live or work in a rickety building.  The people who lived in the middle of hell got to the top of reinforced concrete buildings.  Do not live or work on 'reclaimed land', as it will liquefy.  Think if your sleeping location is safe.  If you must work in such an area, have a plan for which strong tall building that is open for you to run into.  A plan for same where you live is poor, as you have even odds of being asleep when it happens.

This is a very contentious issue.  It has not been a significant problem in Japan; however, it may be where you are, and you are the best judge of that.  Having weapons will escalate the situation, whereas letting some items get looted would be the better outcome.  On the other hand, there are depredations that cannot be tolerated.  The best and safest self-defence is to outnumber aggressors, or have the help of trustworthy authorities.  Do not be isolated.  If you have firearms, your best bet is to surrender them to civil or military authorities, for the sake of everyone's safety, and your liability.  If you cannot, or will not, find another way to secure them.  In a prolonged disruption, anyone with the means and knowledge to hunt will be of great service.

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