Like most people, I don't worry overtly about disasters. We live in an area that has few severe disasters, and are so used to long winters that most of the time we can cope.
For whatever reason, Irene prompted me to get curious as to what the latest thinking was with regards to disaster preparation. I don't know why - perhaps photos of stores charging $10 per bottle of water or some fool buying 52 frozen pizzas had something to do with it.
Anyway, I poked around a little bit. And, you know, it's a bit disappointing.
Now, don't get me wrong. The basic "disaster preparedness" lists out there - many of them furnished by various levels of government - are helpful and pretty good. They list all the basic things, along with a few useful guidelines. If you use them, you should be good for most of what life may throw at you.
What amazes me, however, is what these lists do not say.
It looks to me like these lists are antiques from the 1950s. Aside from updating them to include bottled water, every one of the items might be found in a mid-fifties pamphlet on how to survive - well, anything.
So let's take a bit of a look at a few staggeringly obvious omissions.
Top of the list: the car. Yes, your humble automobile is a nice resource to have when you're in a bit of a pinch. And you don't even need a Toyota Prius to do it. The modern auto does a lot of things on the emergency checklist besides providing transport.
First and foremost, it takes the place of the battery-powered or wind-up radio present on every disaster checklist in the modern world. You have a self-charging, high quality radio sitting right there all the time, no need for stockpiling lots of AAs or dropping cash on a "disaster radio".
It also provides shelter, heat in the winter, and a bit of welcome cool air in a heat wave. Moreover, it will charge your portable essentials like your cell phone or smartphone, even if utility electricity is unavailable. For the price of an inverter, it will even power your laptop or TV.
Not to mention that many vehicles have a fair amount of storage space, much of which sits completely unused. Not a bad place to stash a few essentials you might need. The dome lights can provide some light for reading. A few even still have a lighter in them. And with a full tank, it'll probably run for 20-30 hours to boot - more than enough to weather the 3-day "base case" disaster.
Wow, amazingly useful gadget. And it'll even take you away from the disaster area, too! Funny how it never rates a mention on any disaster checklist I've ever seen.
So, sure - not everyone has a vehicle. Many NYC residents don't, for example, going to show that urbanization does not automatically mean car ownership. But face it - the vast majority of the population has access to some kind of personal vehicle or other. Sad how nobody in the "emergency preparedness" business wants to tell you - maybe they figure it's obvious, I don't know.
Another odd omission is the effects of electricity loss. Sure, you'll have no TV or DVD player for a while (although higher-end vehicles even include those items these days). And no internet, so you may actually have to talk to your spouse or kids for a while. You might keep a laptop going if you want to work on your diary.
Unfortunately, your fridge and freezer won't be working either. Maybe it was an ice storm, and you can just carry stuff outside to stay frozen until the disaster passes or you get around to grilling it all over an open fire. Or maybe not. Better get ready for some food to go bad - you can't make that leg of lamb on a propane camp stove, my friend. The kids will like eating the ice cream before it spoils, though.
A power outage sounds trivial, but it's not. Most extended power outages occur in winter and no electricity means no furnace, therefore no heat. Some homes are lucky enough to have a gas or wood fireplace, but most don't. Without electricity, heaters won't work. So unless you feel like building a bonfire in your hibachi, you have a real problem - particularly for infants, young children and the elderly.
What is one supposed to do about this? Who knows, the lists certainly don't say. Buying a generator and a good big drum of gasoline would be prudent, but beyond what most people will spend for the off chance they need it. Solar is amazingly costly for what you get, and likely won't work so well in wussy winter sun anyhow owing to sunlight attenuation and poor cold-temperature performance of SLA batteries. The car is good, but it can't heat the entire house without risking poisoning the family with CO fumes. And apartment dwellers will have no options to speak of.
So I guess it's candles and bundling to keep people freezing to death in the long cold nights? Good if you're with the SO, bad if you have to keep the mother-in-law warm.
What else is missing... ah, yes, the question of sanitation. I suppose that even though water main breaks do occur, the municipalities assume that water trucks will take care of things, because no list appears to handle the problem of the sewers not working.
Seems even stranger these days, with the recent example of the Carnival Splendor still "fresh" in the minds of those who had to endure four long days with no electricity or flushing toilets. One can only imagine the situation as entire decks became overflowing with refuse and "waste". Interesting stories, indeed. Which would be interesting again if a natural disaster interrupts or contaminates the water supply for any significant length of time - a very common occurrence, by the way, when flooding happens by way of storm or hurricane, as in New Orleans.
In days gone by, the outhouse would have served - but now? Don't know. I guess it's left as an exercise for the reader.
Come on, people. We can do better than this.
More later in another rant.