Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Disasters (jefftk.com)
24 points by luu on Jan 27, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

>I'm guessing below 5%, but I think this level of preparedness would be a good goal for most people who can afford it.

I never understood this attitude (very common in the US popular culture for one), or the same idea about stocking food, utilities, ammo and such, and taking of to some kind of bunker for emergency scenarios (from a storm, to "when the government comes", to the zombie apocalypse or similar).

While it's prudent to be prepared as a family, it's even more prudent (and it's always missing even as a though from such descriptions, posts, etc) to push and make sure your country/city/community is prepared.

It's the complacent "everyman for themselves" mentality I don't understand.

And with such a mindset, most of these "everyman for themselves" won't last a day. They'd have their stuff stolen, or even be killed, by people with more guns and larger teams. That you have guns yourself wont matter much, they'll have more, or smoke you out, or kill you from afar when you're not aware they're even watching you, or any other such technique.

If the prevalent idea for making it safe, is going at it alone (as a single person or family unit), then others will be all for themselves too, and if they can get ahead by screwing you, they will. Harder for them to do so when a community works together and shares their preparations.


In a disaster I would help my neighbors, which is also what you see in most real disasters. Having supplies let's me do that. We have tenants downstairs, and when I figure out supplies I count them too. While I don't try to store enough of things for the whole neighborhood, it often makes sense to get extra ones.

A community where individuals are prepared is a community that is prepared as a group.

I'm not opposed to the government preparing for disasters or anything, but that's also not where I would spend my advocacy efforts (I think there are other policy changes that would be more impactful).

>In a disaster I would help my neighbors, which is also what you see in most real disasters. Having supplies let's me do that.

This also means that your supplies are limited to your individual capacity -- and diminish when you help neighbours that haven't any (whereas the community could organize and make sure everybody puts in and eventually gets their share, or redistribute as needed, etc.).

>A community where individuals are prepared is a community that is prepared as a group.

A community that is prepared consciously as a group though is even better (and doesn't prevent individuals for adding their own extra preparations).

But this needs communication and coordination. Without communication one doesn't need know whether their community is one of "prepared individuals" (and not e.g. one where only them and a few others are).

So I don't think that "a community where individuals are prepared" is as good as "a community that is prepared as a group".

Besides the necessary communication and coordination (to ensure individual members are indeed prepared, and not just a few), a community prepared as a group is a more cohesive community, explicitly set to help each other in such times - making hoarding and conflicts for resources less likely.

I think of it as defense in depth. Civil institutions are indeed the place for disaster preparedness but in an actual disaster there will be transient problems of recognizing the problem, distribution (say) water, etc. in an earthquake immediate first aid may be needed when ambulances may be overloaded or sent to more critical locations etc.

Worrying about managing complete civil breakdown and indefinite self reliance seems absurd to me, especially in an urban setting.

What a backward take. The real complacency is "I will do nothing to prepare individually because a community response plan is hypothetically more ideal".

Well, if you're involved with such a program then it would add to the discussion to share the details. There's always a social critic when this topic comes up but it always seems to coincide with complete inaction, which makes it look like an excuse to defer responsibility. In the meantime other people have found that it saves a lot of bureaucratic headache and provides a lot of personal security to have their own, nontheoretical plans in place. Which is always an advantage over the alternative even if there are larger community plans too.

Ultimately I do agree, the people that will survive in a post-apocalyptic scenario are the ones who can collaborate as a tight group. Pre-existing trust is much more effective preparation than any bunker or stockpile.

However, there's no shortcut to creating a tight group. If the zombie apocalypse comes and you just go to your neighbor and say, "Hey, we'll have a better chance of surviving if we collaborate!" there's nothing that keeps him from saying "Sure, let's collaborate!" and then killing you in your sleep and taking your stuff. And in fact, from his perspective, there's nothing that's keeping you from saying what you're saying and then killing him in his sleep and taking his stuff, so he's got a strong reason to do that to you before you do that to him.

And I don't think that just living next to someone and saying "Good morning" is enough to counteract that. You have to actually know someone at a deep level, and have shared ideology, and possibly even shared trauma, before you're willing to take a risk trusting them with your life. One of my frustrations as an atheist is that there's not really a cohesive atheist community, but I don't really see how their could be: we don't have a cohesive ideology (beyond "there's no god") and no real shared goals. If the SHTF, my guess is that the groups that will survive will be the religious groups, the gay community, the addiction/alcoholism recovery community, the military and veterans, immigrant communities and various groups that cross over between those: all these are large groups with cohesive group identities, and in some cases shared trauma that has given them opportunity to be there for one another.

> While it's prudent to be prepared as a family, it's even more prudent (and it's always missing even as a thought from such descriptions, posts, etc) to push and make sure your country/city/community is prepared.

A friend of mine is active in the San Francisco Fire Department Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. The first and most important thing NERT teaches you to do is to be individually prepared with stocks of emergency supplies in your house. So I think your criticism is exactly backwards.

Given things like https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/briannasacks/puerto-ric... or the concentration camps that were set up after Hurricane Katrina, it seems like even in everyday disasters it would be imprudent to assume the government will step in and save you in the US. And of course nobody who sees how the SF cops treat the homeless has any illusions about the benevolence of the local government toward the vulnerable.

Here in Argentina it would be even more imprudent. The government is apparently incapable of reliably delivering even basic public utilities like electricity and water even without disasters.

> It's the complacent "everyman for themselves" mentality I don't understand.

It's a classic prisoner's dilemma game: you don't know what's the winning move is until you see what others are doing. And this kind of preparation is just getting ready in case this prep is needed. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and etcetera.

Prisoner's Dilemma posits that you can't talk to the other party. In most real life situations, you can talk to your neighbors and what not.

I used that fact to good effect during my divorce, which involved no lawyers and was amicable. So I have first-hand experience with how well it can work to actually talk to the other party instead of waiting to see what they will do and reacting, based on an unnecessary assumption that it's clearly a hostile situation and we will be enemies.

> you can talk to your neighbors

There's over a thousand people living in my building, and a lot more in just a few hundred meters around me. I have very similar experience with my divorce, but I don't think I would be able to effectively communicate with this community, or to trust all these random people.

Sorry, I can't really relate. I'm dirt poor. I attend public meetings and do pro bono work trying to help make my community healthier and better.

I don't think I need to personally speak individually with the thousands who live in my town to do something constructive or to effectively communicate with people around me.

That would make sense if efforts were made and posts were written about making the state/city/community more prepared. Of course, one could always prepare for themselves too.

But most I've chanced are mostly ignoring the community/city/etc aspect, and go directly to the "how I, personally me, and my family at most, will survive, and screw the rest of them suckers".

At best they don't think they can influence the community/city/etc preparedness (or think it's already great). At worst, they don't care as long as they are prepared.

There's already a whole population which pays taxes and funds the community effort. Your family side of the equation, though, is empty by default.

This isn't a prisoner's dilemma: you benefit from preparing even if no one else prepares.

If you prepare, and your preparations were unnceccessary, you just spent a lot of resources for nothing. (Of course, this could start a whole converation aboud hindsight and a priori knowledge, but point still stands).

This is just the nature of risk, it's not about defection and cooperation.

The US still has a frontier mentality. It's embedded in our culture, and in the case of groups like the Mormons, it's actually part of their religious obligations[1]. If you've been outside of the coastal urban cores, you can understand why: the place is huge, mostly empty, and most of it, the climate can be extremely hostile (compared to, say, central or southern Europe -northern Europe actually has something like US prepper culture). The US also has racial fault lines which have periodically broken out into civil insurrections and outright warfare; the last Indian wars were in the 1920s [2], and inner cities periodically break out into riots. It's fairly well known that general social trust in the US is on a precipitous decline, which of course encourages this sort of thing.

A consequence of the size and frontier mentality: the US also has a huge hunting and gun culture. Tens of millions of people actually hunt, and many tens of millions more people have hunting family and friends or do similar outdoors activities that encourage the "prepper" mentality of being able to survive in the wild without any help from civilization. Western Europe, for contrast, has a comparable population and about a third the number of hunters, and the history of hunting in Europe (maybe aside from France) is more of an upper class game preserve thing than a frontier thing.

Americans also have a fundamental mistrust of government. Lots of fairly rational reasons for this. Many people live fairly far away from any real government officialdom. You aren't far from police or firemen or animal control in a big city. If you live in the countryside, believe it or not, coyotes might eat your children. A guy 100 miles from me, in a fairly urbanized area, had to strangle a coyote who was trying to eat his kid[3] just the other day. Also, generally speaking, the US civil services do not have a reputation for diligence or efficiency. The types of people who are into prepper mentality generally falls into the set of people who has profound mistrust for government's ability to provide any social services efficiently in event of a disaster or in any other situation.

For recent history, various civil defense initiatives have also encouraged the tendency: in the 1950s peak cold war, many otherwise normal people built nuclear fallout shelters in their back yards, encouraged by the government and the media. We don't have those cool centrally planned underground parking garages the Europeans built to deal with this sort of thing. Ham radio is also a part of all this: there are nearly three quarter of a million active amateur radio licensees in the US, and all receive some formal training in disaster preparedness.

"Preppers" are a cultural part of all these tendencies. Maybe their preparations seem silly or misguided, but it's deeply American in the same way the Blues, free speech absolutism and PTA meetings are deeply American. I suspect it will fade with increasing urbanization and social pressures, but it will always be there in some form. Heck, we even have chain stores which cater to this outdoors/survivalist mentality[4]. I myself am half redneck and kept a bug out bag ready when I lived in Berkeley (an earthquake zone). I wasn't envisioning holding off hordes of cannibal hippies after my canned goods; more like hiking into the woods and living off pemmican and the local animal population for a week or two until the shortwave said to come back. There are a few recent history events which seem to justify this sort of thing; floods where city officials fled and fishermen provided emergency services[5].

[1] https://mormonrules.com/list/mormon-rules-emergency-prepared...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_Wars#Last_conf...

[3] https://abcnews.go.com/US/hampshire-father-strangles-coyote-...

[4] https://www.basspro.com/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cajun_Navy

I don't know. It seems to me like we keep getting better at making the system more resilient. Disasters seem to be less problematic now than when I was a child. Even regional disasters get aid brought in on a scale that simply wasn't possible when I was a child.

As an adult, I've witnessed disasters routinely get remedied quicker, better etc than predicted. And we are incredibly meh about it.

Y2K was supposed to be a global financial disaster. It gets remembered like "Ha! Can you imagine those dummies stocked their basements with 5 years of flour like this was supposed to be a disaster?!"

When Iraq set Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, it was predicted that they would burn for years and be a global environmental disaster. Instead, crack teams from around the world converged on the country and invented new techniques to resolve it. They were all out in six months, with essentially no fanfare for this miracle.

Afterwards, the desert bloomed from the combination of fertilizer (soot from the fires) and water (from putting them out) like no one had seen in twenty years. That was also given no fanfare.

I'm in no position to do disaster prep. My life is an ongoing disaster and crisis management is all I can arrange for myself currently. But I also mostly just don't really see unmitigated disasters in the news of the sort that were the norm in my childhood.

Instead, I often see "Disaster In The News! Prediction: 200k Will Die!!!" Follow up: "200 people died. Meh. On to more exciting News."

Many of the Arab countries are now in a state of permanent disaster. Something like three million refugees are now spread across Turkey and Europe. 200k dead there won't even make the news.

Not something that stockpiling food in the basement would have helped with.

Across the Atlantic, Puerto Rico is in a disaster state again, and the flow of refugees is from Honduras and Guatemala. Part of the news response is complaining that not enough of them are dying on the way.

Puerto Rico crossed my mind after I posted. Also, fires in California, a state I left a bit over two years ago.

So I'm aware there are terrible things that go on in the world that no one really does anything about. I was openly homeless for years. No one did any fundraisers to rescue me and I continue to see comments on HN that basically dismiss homelessness in the US as "just a bunch of junkies and crazies, not a systemic issue."

I guess I'm more wondering out loud how much it matters to me personally to do this kind of prep as an American who is no longer in California. The world currently seems to divide up between disasters that do get mitigated handily and those where, as you say, some provisions in your basement wouldn't have protected you.

As noted above, I'm in no position to do disaster prep currently for myself. I still live hand to mouth.

Yet, I participate in community meetings and try to help make the area I'm in better in some ways.

I do wish the US had more humane policies for dealing with refugees from Central and South America. I hate what little I read about that stuff.

But I don't tend to comment on it because I don't really have a solution and I imagine a real solution would involve interceding at the source -- ie sending some kind of aid to the countries these refugees are coming from. I don't imagine that would go over well. I imagine that would get mocked a la "Don't piss off the US or they will bring freedom to you, too."

Middle of the night half-baked thought kind of wondering how much it matters to me that I can't currently do this kind of disaster prep. Is it just one more thing I should be helplessly wringing my hands about and feeling sorry for myself over? Or is it sufficient that I do what I can to try to be a resource for my community for issues like homelessness?

My mother grew up in Germany during WW2 and it's aftermath. She never say still. She was constantly doing something. She only watched TV while ironing.

A lot of what she did involved helping people around her to make their lives work better. I think she understood something many Americans don't about how civilized life can come apart at the seams overnight and she invested her time and energy in saying "Not on my watch, it won't."

I think that's basically where I'm at mentally as well. I participate in public meetings locally and develop homeless resources online, etc, even though I am frequently broke because those are things I can do much more effectively than I can earn an adequate living for myself. Though an adequate living is probably around the corner, so hopefully I will keep investing in fostering civility as an antidote or prophylactic to disaster without continuing to live with ongoing personal crisis myself.

When I was living hand to mouth, I found that having some food stored up in my house was a big help with spending less on food: I succumbed less often to the temptation to buy convenience food, I could spend less time traveling to buy groceries, and I could buy what was on sale and buy in bulk, thus decreasing my costs. If there's any way you can trim your food budget by 5%, you can use those savings to build up a one-week stockpile in the next six months.

But maybe my endpoint was your starting point, since you were trained by your mother, and maybe you're already a black-belt tightwad I'm foolishly mansplaining to. But hopefully my comment will be useful to someone.

Living hand to rent is in my experience more difficult, and of course there's not that much food you can stock up in a tent on the King Street sidewalk.

The food situation is complicated by medical stuff that significantly impacts dietary choices. That's not something I know how to succinctly explain. Suffice it to say that what may look like "foolish, expensive" food choices for a poor person are often the dirt cheap answer, healthwise.

I was homeless for nearly six years. I got into a room initially where cooking wasn't going to work and then we moved to a room last summer where cooking a bit does work, but the fridge died our second day here.

So for over a year, we had a fridge but no means to cook and then for several months now we've had the means to cook but no fridge. This meant that whether we got takeout or cooked, food had to be purchased just prior to having a meal.

I'm trying to be philosophical about the whole thing and view it as An Experience, among other things.

When the tax refund gets here, we plan to upgrade to a larger George Foreman grill (our limited means to cook is a too small grill) and buy a working fridge. That should make the logistics of my life work substantially better, including making it possible to do a little stocking up, and start easing some of the financial pressure.

Yeah, everyone's circumstances are different, and it's hard to tell from the outside. Are you on a meat-only diet?

I sort of also don't have a fridge at the moment, as it happens. The things I've found store most easily are small pieces of dried plants: mung beans, rice, yerba mate, flour, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, texturized vegetable protein, sugar, dry minced garlic, dried onion flakes, black-eyed peas, tiny noodles, polenta, that kind of thing. I usually store them in cleaned plastic coke bottles, which are beetle-proof but not mouse-proof; details are in Dercuano if you're interested. Storing meat is considerably dodgier, since without refrigeration, it pretty much has to be canned (heavy and expensive) unless you preserve it with really aggressive chemicals, like traditional hams and sausages. Yogurt-making can sometimes help both to stretch milk out for longer and to help with certain medical stuff, like lactose intolerance and some intestinal microbiome problems. But maybe not your medical stuff, since I have no idea what it is.

For people who can eat them, fresh fruit and vegetables are often much cheaper and healthier than other options, but you have to really keep on top of them if you or your neighbors are sensitive to decay. It doesn't take long for a perfectly delicious orange to turn into a fly-breeding ball of mold, especially in a hot climate.

In case somebody else reading this is facing the "no stove" problem, well, the apartment where I woke up today had the gas cut off for a while, so a few times I cooked dinner here on a "penny stove" built to Mark Jurey's design. It's fiddly, and the smell of partly burned alcohol is unappetizing, but it's easy to improvise from garbage in any urban area. You can use it if you can get liquid fuel and if you aren't at too much risk of burning down the house or being kicked out of it for trying to cook. It can run on alcohol, which is a pretty low-risk liquid fuel, since it's nontoxic and you can put out alcohol fires with just water. Butane stoves that run off butane cylinders can also be an option, but storing butane cylinders indoors makes me nervous. And truck stops still sell dirt-cheap immersion electrical heaters with which you can boil a cup, a bowl, a thermos, or a pot of water without any fire, at least, if you remember to unplug the heater before you take it out of the water. They do pose a nonzero risk of serious electrical shock. Electric teakettles can be a safer and more convenient way to do a subset of this; for example, at the moment, I'm munching on a bowl of Maruchan ramen cooked by pouring boiling water onto it from an electric teakettle, then soaking for a few minutes under aluminum foil.

Ziploc omelets are a very-low-effort and tasty way to leverage a boiling pot or even bowl of water into a reasonable simulation of grilled eggs: eggs, cheese, maybe some vegetables, and seasonings in a sealed ziploc bag cooks the eggs quite nicely into a reasonable simulacrum of an omelet. (Moreover, it's sterile, though I wouldn't count on that for long.) The company recommends against it, saying the plastic may not be safe for food contact at high temperatures.

Just to repeat, these are things that have worked for me, and they aren't guaranteed to work for anybody else, but it might be valuable information to somebody.

> I'm trying to be philosophical about the whole thing and view it as An Experience, among other things.

You're not dead yet, which is more than I can say for many of my friends. Every day you're still alive is a victory!

No, I'm not on a meat-only diet. You can cook more than just meat on a grill and we often do.

You're not dead yet, which is more than I can say for many of my friends. Every day you're still alive is a victory!

More than you would probably guess, given how deadly my condition is. :)

Very good link. I think a lot of people get intimidated by the idea of emergency preparedness because it feels like such a big, overwhelming thing to deal with. One cause of this is perhaps the Hollywood/media image of "disaster" as a singular extreme event that obliterates the average person except for a few plucky heroes. In contrast, there's a full spectrum of severity, and any small amount of preparedness can help.

In case anyone here hasn't seen it before, I'd like to share the article "Doomsday planning for less crazy folk" [0]. It's a good, sober-headed step-by-step guide to evaluating one's own threat model and making actionable steps toward improving one's emergency preparedness -- both small-scale and large-scale. I have a routine to-do item to re-read one section of this article every few weeks and think of ways I can make myself more resilient.

[0] http://lcamtuf.coredump.cx/prep/

There is relatively compact pamphlet by the German government on disaster preparedness that is aimed at ordinary people with no prepper ambitions and mostly limits itself to practical advice like a minimal food stockpile and stocking up on candles. It doesn't try to shame the reader into becoming a whole different (much more paranoid, completely no-fun) person, which is a nice change from the usual prepper reading lists. Some parts only apply to Germany (e.g. how to call for help in an emergency), but most of it should be relatively widely applicable. They refresh it periodically, the current revision from fall 2018 is vailable in German[1] and in an English translation[2] that seems to capture the extremely arid dryness of German government language even better than the German version, but is still quite readable.

[1] https://www.bbk.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/BBK/DE/Publikat...

[2] https://www.bbk.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/BBK/DE/Publikat...

Something I learned while living in Tokyo is that the two major risks here are not the disasters themselves, but the "side effects" of those:

- Earthquakes, yes some houses fall down and people die, but in general the bigger risks is the fires that spread from broken gas pipes and broken water pipes. Oh, and tsunamis.

- Typhoons, some people die from a direct hit from flying debris, but it's normally the floods and earth slides that are the issue and kill most people.

I'm from a quiet calm part of the Mediterranean so I'm not used to this at all. Many of the cities around there even moved the rivers away from the cities to avoid floods in heavy rains.

As for prep, I can live 1 week easily in my home (lots of water, enough food). Which I hope not, but might need those if the coronavirus hits Tokyo as strongly as China. And I'm thinking of buying some more just in case since some companies are sending their workers to work from home for 2 weeks.

My big beef with disaster prepping is the rabbit hole aspect of it. The prepper community is nuts, but also remarkably intelligent. Perfectly good articles like this one are going to keep convincing me that I'm not doing enough.

Ignorance truly is bliss.

> Why don't people plan for potential disasters? [...] even people who do have more time and money also haven't generally thought through simpler preparations.

I can't speak for everyone, but despite having money and discretionary time, my list of priorities has an event horizon entry called "relax and recharge ready for tomorrow" and very few things below that make much progress.

Should I plan for potential disasters? Sure, it's on my list of priorities, just after 'do a proper cut to increase my abs definition' and 'get to know my neighbours well' and just before 'finish that online Spanish course I started' and 'write down the serial numbers of all my electronic gadgets'

(Of course, I live in the UK. So to me it seems extremely unlikely I'd ever face the kind of disaster where I'd, for example, need 15 litres of drinking water.)

Why don't people plan for potential disasters?

It's not a high enough priority for them. People might occasionally think about low likelihood, high impact events. But they rarely make a detailed plan for how to reduce the risk.

"Risk management" is not just for projects and organizations. If you're a parent you probably do risk assessments (https://teamsuccess.io/risk) every day, without realizing it. And ultimately, just like managers, you too as a parent, are ultimately responsible for managing risks. :)


"It's not a high enough priority for them" doesn't get us very far. Why isn't it a high priority? The post has several guesses ("They don't think disasters are likely", "It's weird") and I'd be curious what you think?

In companies, the biggest problem is their "risk culture". Some of these aspects apply also to individuals and families.

In short, a company "Risk culture" is the sum of the company's "shared values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and understanding about risk, shared by a group of people with a common intended purpose..." (as described by the Institute of Risk Management).

Bona fides first, then my posture on this issue. So, first, here's the major disasters I've been through:

* I was on a ship in 1999 that lost all engines in the middle of the Pacific. Waited 2 days hot and quiet in the sun waiting for repair parts to be airdropped.

* 9/11 (and the response thereto)

* Hurricane Katrina (bought a house in New Orleans 5 weeks before, evacuated; let people we still have never met live in our house because we couldn't go back for a year. They stole nothing.) Went back shortly after, SMS worked.

* Hurricane Rita (no direct impact, but ran a packed-to-gills special needs shelter as a first year medical student -- mainly because ex-military and had accidentally evacuated from Katrina into Rita's path). Ran the shelter with 184 patients, 30 other medical students on shifts, a secretary, and an Open Office spreadsheet. The network worked, but the county's emergency shelter patient tracking software could only do input, no output. And it was to be sent to a central database, but they had never plugged in an ethernet cable, so I guess all the data went to /dev/null. Didn't matter, couldn't read it. When I left, I wiped their system and moved the patient database (i.e. spreadsheet) to their brand new Ubuntu desktop.

* Hurricane Isabel (flooded our basement, lost power for about 48 hours - sump pump no good if no power. Oh ... someone had stolen our generator. Keep those things locked up).

* The 2007 Witch Creek fire (San Diego) burned the house directly behind ours.

* 2011 Southwest blackout in San Diego. In the middle of the blackout I was still able to send an editorial project back to client in Tokyo.

* Fukushima Daichi. Volunteered to deploy for Operation Tomodachi because my brother lived between the reactors and Tokyo. They were happy to send me. Aftershocks for over a month.

* The 2014 Bernardo fire. I watched this one from the Canyon rim before fire fighters arrived, fire planes so low they were below me. Nothing between the fire line and my house except fuel and favorable winds.

* Typhoon Mangkhut (lost power for about 4 days, lots of trees down)

We currently own a generator and we keep some extra bottled water and batteries on hand. We have UPS units on the router/modem cluster and a couple others around the house (network usually survives power outages, if you can connect). I have stabilized gas for the generator. Regularly check the generator. A couple of hand crank radios just in case. We probably round up a bit on paper towels and canned goods and dry pasta. We have two propane tanks for the grill (power outage = time to grill all the meat in the freezer).

Basically, even on a third world island in the middle of the Pacific with the worst storm in a generation, we didn't run out of fresh water or food, and nerves were much calmed by the readily available network. I have universally found network to be more reliable than power.

Could something worse happen? That never occurred to me (like the worst interpretation what (1) could have been). If it's markedly worse than what I've had to deal with so far, evacuation is generally the best viable option. If the situation is so bad that evac is not an option, my experience is that you're just going to have to deal with it. And, as it turns out, humans are reasonably good at not dying.

(1) https://www.kuam.com/story/41500001/initially-thought-to-be-...

For those behind a corporate firewall like myself:


(I'm not sure this give the entire article)


Your corporate firewall blocks jefftk.com? Does it say why?

URL: www.jefftk.com/p/disasters Category: Personal Websites and Blogs

Powered by FortiGuard.

Your IT department decided that "blogs" are forbidden? Any clue why?

The flipside of this is: how effective is preparing actually going to be? If you look at what most preppers are doing, not very.

As an avid hiker and rock climber, when I watch a lot of prepper videos on YouTube, I find a lot of laughable ideas.

* About 50% of the preppers I see have seemingly no concern for cross-contamination of their water system, and no anti-diarrheals in their med kits to deal with the giardia they aren't preventing.

* Paracord is popular among preppers, but it's pretty unclear why. I've literally never seen a prepper demonstrate hanging a bear bag, which is literally the only reason I've ever used paracord in the wild. Lashing together structures boy-scout-style requires a lot more cord than they are carrying, and having hiked a few thousand miles in my hiking career, I don't think I've ever felt that lashing together a structure was necessary or even worth the effort, despite that being a skill I'm proficient at. The fanciest paracords out there have metal wire (for electricity) and fishing line inside the paracord--maybe it's just me, but I would rather just carry the fishing line separately, and I can't imagine a situation where I have access to electricity and not wire. It's also unclear to me whether any of these preppers actually have any skills as electricians.

* Knives: the number one item I find left behind on trails are these giant Bowie knives. People buy them at an army surplus or sporting goods store, and then a few miles onto the trail they realize their pack is really heavy, and the item that stands out as the most weight with the least usefulness is the 3 pound knife. I carry a CRKT NIAD[1] when rock climbing, and a Snow Peak knife (part of a cutlery set--I think an older version of this[2]). What these knives have in common is that they are extremely light. But what do preppers have? In some cases, the Bowie knives aren't even close to the largest things.

* Guns: while preppers seem unconcerned with the weight of their knives, when it comes to guns, weight suddenly seems to be a concern. To achieve low weight, it seems most preppers are willing to settle for the idea that they're never going to hunt for, or defend themselves from, anything larger than a jackrabbit. Almost all the popular "prepper guns", i.e. this Henry AR7[3] are in caliber .22LR, which beyond being a tiny round, has reliability issues. Of course, there are also preppers who go to the other extreme[4]; if you've got your 9mm handgun, .22LR rifle, 12 gauge shotgun, .308 bolt action, and .223 AR15, I hope you're in your gun bunker when the apocalypse happens, because you're not moving anywhere with a quarter of of a ton of firearms and ammo. Personally, I think fishing would be far more consistent for food, and I don't have the stomach for violence even in self-defense (maybe once, but on a consistent basis?) so I'd probably rather use the weight for carrying a light fishing kit and more food.

I don't mean all of this to come across as super harsh on the prepper community. If you enjoy collecting this stuff, do it. I'm not criticizing what anyone does for fun, and it's pretty unlikely that you'll ever have to rely on this stuff, so there's no real harm. I'm just saying that if my experience in the outdoors is any indication, a lot of attempts to prepare for life that doesn't rely on civilization are pretty ineffective.

[1] https://www.crkt.com/niad.html

[2] https://snowpeak.com/collections/cutlery/products/titanium-f...

[3] https://www.henryusa.com/rifles/u-s-survival-ar-7/

[4] https://prepperswill.com/5-guns-every-prepper-should-own/

> Paracord is popular among preppers, but it's pretty unclear why

Rambo cosplay.

More charitably, paracord is a known quantity, and they idolize ex-soldiers, who are of course familiar with its uses.

If you wanted to maximize strength to weight ratio, you'd be a lot better off with gel-spun UHMWPE braid, like Dyneema or Spectra, in your pocket; nylon breaks around 200 MPa, while Dyneema is 3–4 GPa, about 15–20 times stronger. For the 249-kg load of type-III paracord, you can use 1-mm UHMWPE instead of 4-mm type-III paracord, so you can carry 16 times as much of it by length, or 20 times as much if weight was the limiting factor.

It's not a simple drop-in replacement, though. UHMWPE is much more vulnerable to ultraviolet degradation, is much more slippery, and is enormously less stretchy than nylon. Also, it floats in water and melts at a much lower temperature. These can be disadvantages, but they can also be advantages; for example, due to the elasticity difference, if the limiting factor is shock absorption, nylon is vastly superior, but if it's a matter of holding things in place, UHMWPE is vastly superior.

> giant Bowie knives

Yeah. Your choice of a 17-gram Cro-Moly knife with a titanium handle is clearly more reasonable if your objective is to cut things. But the Bowie knives fit better into the Rambo cosplay.

In both cases, though, some of what you're seeing is conservatism and tradition: people are choosing a particular article because it's been used for three generations and its weaknesses are known. Paracord isn't going to surprise you by melting when you pull it around a tree branch too fast, and UHMWPE can totally do that.

> More charitably, paracord is a known quantity, and they idolize ex-soldiers, who are of course familiar with its uses.

Such as?

I'm not saying that there aren't uses: obviously in a general sense, "tying things" is a use. But how often do you need to do that, and does that justify prioritizing paracord over other things? Are there any places where you have to tie things that are absolutely vital?

Sure, there are other alternatives to paracord, but my question is, why carry any sort of cord at all?

Of course, there are always situations where there's something that would be nice to have: gas masks in a gas attack, a flare gun if rescue is possible, etc. But moving light and fast is also valuable, so it makes sense to cut off the list of things you're bringing at some point, and I don't think cordage of any kind is a high enough priority that it makes my list (fishing line, however, does).

> "tying things" is a use. But how often do you need to do that

I'm not sure how to answer this. Your life is clearly very different from mine.

How do you fasten your shoes? Your belt, when the buckle breaks? Furniture to the inside of a truck? Your backpack, when the straps break? Your shade structure, when the joints break? How do you carry ten two-liter bottles? How do you leash your dog? When you need a grippy handle on something that is a little too slippery, what do you wrap it with? When your arm is hurt, what do you want to be holding it up with until you can get treated? How do you finish up a seam in clothing, if not by tying it off?

Tying things is the physical world equivalent of copy and paste.

As a thoroughly non-prepper person in the military who has been through a number of disasters, I definitely go through paracord enough to consider it a staple. It's just handy to have some "rope" (1), and paracord is decent at holding a knot but doesn't take up as much space as "rope" .

(1) I'm in the Navy; I can go on for hours about "rope". I'm using "rope" as a massive placeholder.

I'm curious what you're actually using paracord for? Is it primarily nautical uses?

Obviously rope is super useful for sailing and rock climbing, but as I said previously, I've only ever needed cord for hanging bear bags when hiking.

Rope? This sounds interesting.

UHMWPE braid is shitty at holding a knot.


I agree that paracord, knives, and guns shouldn't be a high priority. I listed storing extra water (~15gal/person), food (buy extra non-perishables and rotate through them), and daily medications, and linked to https://theprepared.com/prepping-basics/guides/emergency-pre... ; do you think that's a reasonable starting point?

Those seem reasonable to me. I think I'd prioritize bleach over water after the first four liters or so of water ("a gallon" in medieval units), but maybe in a desert you'd be better off with the water. If you have a hot water heater with a tank, that may provide enough water for quite a while. Cell phone power banks are probably pretty important, too; a friend of mine who recently escaped from Venezuela testified that these were extremely important on his journey.

I think a much more expensive, but also much more fun, preparation measure is to go to Burning Man. Basically, Burning Man is a highly innovative, well-supplied refugee camp, just without some of the shitty power dynamics that happen in regular refugee camps, and in a particularly hostile climate. So you can learn about things like walkie-talkies, dust storms, ad-hoc informal exchange networks, emergency medical care, dehydration, safe water storage, sunscreen, the importance of treating minor injuries, how to deal with people who are freaking the fuck out, and so on, in a very low-risk environment. For a few years after Hurricane Katrina, there was Burners Without Borders, which did a bunch of disaster relief projects; mysteriously it seems to have ended a couple of years ago.

> I think I'd prioritize bleach over water after the first four liters or so of water ("a gallon" in medieval units), but maybe in a desert you'd be better off with the water.

A ceramic micron water filter, i.e. this one[1] is a better choice IMO if you can afford it. It's expensive, but it's practically unlimited, and lighter than a gallon of bleach. And the water it produces tastes better than bleach water. It can also deal with water sources with a lot of particulate matter.

I'll also caution that if you're not accustomed to the "cap-full of bleach per gallon of water" method of creating potable water, the first few days of drinking bleach water is going to involve some intestinal issues while your body adjusts to the alkalinity.

> I think a much more expensive, but also much more fun, preparation measure is to go to Burning Man. Basically, Burning Man is a highly innovative, well-supplied refugee camp, just without some of the shitty power dynamics that happen in regular refugee camps, and in a particularly hostile climate. So you can learn about things like walkie-talkies, dust storms, ad-hoc informal exchange networks, emergency medical care, dehydration, safe water storage, sunscreen, the importance of treating minor injuries, how to deal with people who are freaking the fuck out, and so on, in a very low-risk environment. For a few years after Hurricane Katrina, there was Burners Without Borders, which did a bunch of disaster relief projects; mysteriously it seems to have ended a couple of years ago.

Yes! I hadn't considered that, but BM is pretty perfect for testing out your prep systems.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Katadyn-Pocket-Microfilter/dp/B01EOMM...

You're supposed to get the bleach out of the water before you drink it, although I guess that may be tricky if you're short on supplies! Also, if you're using massive quantities like capfuls, it might take too long; normally you only need a few drops, less than a milliliter ("a quarter teaspoon", in medieval units), which will outgas from the water in a few hours if you leave it standing. Hydrogen peroxide will neutralize (normal hypochlorite) bleach in water, but you have to be careful not to add it in excess, because drinking hydrogen peroxide is just as bad as drinking bleach.

I agree, filters are great for water. But bleach is also useful for sterilizing laundry, cleaning floors, sterilizing cloth to be used for wound dressing, deodorizing garbage cans, killing mildew, and so on. Its use in making contaminated water potable is the most important for human survival in emergencies, but its variety of other uses were the reason I suggested bleach specifically.

Generator and fuel. Also, if you expect much warning, you can fill a bathtub with water which should be ~60-80 gallons, which meets your 15 gal/person requirement for water for a family of 4.

Oh gosh, the official recommendations from FEMA are massive. I counted 25+ checklists and it includes bullshit such as “protect documents and valuables” which is great advice for getting killed. Nothing more than expected that most people will ignore that.


Where are you seeing the advice on protecting documents and valuables that you think is dangerous? I see: "Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container" which seems very reasonable?

Not to mention, there's a spectrum of disaster. Wildfire and floods are often not all-destroying, so you will have a life to go back to, and it would certainly be handy if your important documents had been backed up or protected. You could probably do it in a way that meant you don't need to actually think about it or action it during the disaster.

Make a Plan -> Step 4 documents

That links to: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/133454

It primarily talks about documents, but does have a bit at the end about valuables: "Think about where you store valuable belongings and ways to better protect these items. If you have valuable items stored in a basement, you may want to move them to a higher location and put them in waterproof containers to avoid water damage. Or you may want to keep small items in a flood/fireproof home safe. You may also want to secure items that are displayed on shelves or walls if your home may be subject to high winds or earthquakes."

This also seems pretty sensible to me, and not likely to get you killed?

A discussion of natural disasters and people's preparedness (or lack thereof), and reasons for this.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact