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Monday, January 4, 2010

Preps: No Public Utilities

As we've stated before, in our view, Emergency Preparedness needs to focus more on limiting negative impacts to disasters than on preparing for specific events (earthquake, hurricane, etc.).  We discussed that philosophy and those Twelve Impacts in an earlier post.  You can see all of the items in the series up to this point by clicking the 12 Impacts label category.

We're going to drill down into one of the twelve impacts:  No Public Utilities.  In particular, no sanitation services, no natural gas, and no electrical services.

So many people are unprepared to cope with public utility service disruptions of a few hours.  We have become conditioned to flip a switch, turn a dial or push a handle, and things "just work".

Consider the impact if those services were to be disrupted for days, months or even years.  In one such scenario currently included in a Congressional report, 100 million people could die each year from the loss of electrical power (more about that below).


Your garbage is picked up once a week.  When you go to the bathroom, your waste magically disappears.  If a dog, cat, deer or other animal is found dead on the road, someone comes by and makes it go away.

What happens if those services go away?

How will you deal with the growing pile of garbage produced by your home?  How will you dispose of the highly-infectious waste we humans (and our pets) generate every day?

At the very least, everyone should know how and where to bury their waste.  The proper depth, the proper distance and direction from fresh water supplies, and the best ways to keep flying and crawling insects from spreading disease.

Every preparedness plan (for the home, while traveling and at a retreat) should include one very simple, inexpensive and widely available item:  Plastic trash bags.  They act as a barrier between you and the waste, or between your consumables (food and water) and insects that carry infections.

Understanding how to treat water for consumption (filters and chemicals) is critically important as well.  Using chlorine bleach (WARNING:  can be hazardous) to make water potable (4-8 drops per quart) or as a disinfectant (1/4 cup added to a gallon of water) can literally be lifesavers.

No Natural Gas

This would include natural gas plumbed directly into homes from the utility, as well as onsite propane tanks that are filled by outside companies.

In our homes, gas is used to produce a fire.  That flame heats our water, cooks our food and warms our homes.

Without your gas-fired hot water heater, how will you clean your dishes, wash your clothes or take a shower?  Without your gas-fired heater, how will you keep your home warm?  Without your gas-fired stove and oven, how will you prepare food, or make water potable by boiling it?

Learn how to "make fire" with just the basics - wood, flame and air.  A camp fire can produce flame to cook and boil water, and radiate heat for warmth.

There are numerous high-quality camp stoves that are available to produce the heat necessary for treating water and preparing food.  Be sure you practice - on a regular basis - with these stoves to ensure you know how they function when you need to use them.

WARNING:  Be sure you understand the restrictions for using camp stoves.  Many cannot be used indoors because of the carbon monoxide that is released as a result of incomplete combustion.  Even the highly-efficient alcohol stoves should only be used in well-ventilated areas.

Some kerosene space heaters are designed for indoor use, including "non-vented" (to the outdoors) varieties.  Use these with extreme caution.  Remember:  Very high temperatures/open flame and flammable liquids inside your home can end up badly.  Get educated and practice before you need your heater.

No Electricity

While people are most used to losing their electrical power on a fairly regular, short-term basis (storms, etc.), a long-term power outage would be devastating to most people.

Electrical equipment touches virtually every aspect of our lives - from cooking food and heating water, to providing heat to our homes, to powering our electronic gadgets such as TVs and computers.

Additionally, many pieces of equipment used in life-saving/sustaining applications are all electrical.  Refrigerators, freezers, home dialysis machines and security alarms/systems are only a few of these items.

Along these lines, there is a threat to our national electrical grid that has (finally) been gaining attention as of late:  EMP or Electro-Magnetic Pulses.  These are pulses of energy that are produced by nuclear bombs which are detonated high in our atmosphere.

The reason EMPs are getting some attention is that the list of potential entities that could deploy them is both growing, and becoming less stable.  Countries such as North Korea and Iran are both believed to now be nuclear-capable, and both are about as unstable as any country could be.

These EMPs are devastating in their impact.  Virtually every electronic device that is either exposed to the pulse, or which is "plugged in" at the time, is rendered useless.  Forever.

This includes everyday items that contain electronics, such as cars, trucks, airplanes and trains.  We would be "grounded" as a nation.

If your back-up plans include using generators that use electronics to produce power, or if your kerosene space heater uses an electronic ignition, you may be in trouble.

As the LA Daily News noted in December -
Experts are also concerned about nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea and, to a lesser extent, China and Russia. The president of Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and experts believe North Korea has missiles that can hit the West Coast.

Experts are especially concerned about the possibility that Iran one day could launch ship-based nuclear missiles, said Brian Kennedy, president of The Claremont Institute's Ballistic Missile Defense Project.

"The West Coast of the U.S. has limited missile defense against a North Korean missile," Kennedy said. "And, unfortunately, we're almost completely vulnerable to a ship-launched ballistic missile attack."

Kennedy is also concerned a ship-launched nuclear missile detonated at a high altitude would create an electromagnetic pulse, possibly destroying electronic equipment and knocking out the nation's power grid - leaving the country with little or no communications and no ability to provide food and water to potentially hundreds of millions of people.

Congressional reports suggest such an attack could result in more than 100 million deaths in a year, said Sharon Packer, executive director of the American Civil Defense Association.
What would be the result if everyone everywhere was without electrical power, all at the same time?  It wouldn't be pretty, to say the least.  For a fictional "peek" into what this might be like, I highly suggest reading, "One Second After".  Quite sobering.

Accept The Challenge

While the chances of a long-term disruption in any of our utilities is remote, the impact of such a disruption could be devastating.  As with most emergency plans, you should follow the philosophy of PACE - Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency:  Have multiple solutions to the same problem.

At least one of your solutions should be, "old school" - a solution that does not require modern technology to be successful.  Learn how to dispose of human waste without the use of plumbing or chemicals.  Learn how to build a fire without the use of matches, lighters or gas canisters.

Practice these skills now, while you have the opportunity to make mistakes without putting lives in danger.

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Joseph said...

Humanure should be studied by all, waste disposal using humanure husbandry if you will is currently being done in many countries.

See link below for humanure compost bins and toilets:

Good day.

Chief Instructor said...

Joseph, I'm a big fan of composting toilets. I downloaded your PDF file probably a year ago. I need to watch some of the videos.

Thanks for the link.