Is America Prepared for Disaster? Are You?

Boys and girls, I’ll warn you now:  this is a LONG missive and best read with a few drams of some good single malt scotch in hand.  The question that I would ask all of you to ask yourselves is this:  Who is responsible for your family’s safety in a time of crisis?  The government?  Or does your sincere and actual survivability in any given critical situation ultimately rest in your own hands?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would happen, how life as we know it would be compromised when America is faced with another large-scale disaster.  Just what in our national disaster preparedness has improved since September 11th and Katrina?   And, more importantly, just how prepared are we to deal with various crises in the time it would take our government to resolve them and return order amidst the chaos?

Let us presume Rosie O’Donnell is right and those radical Jihadists are actually really wonderful people, family-oriented, and bereft of any hatred toward America.  Let’s presume that terrorism will never against strike this land, despite threats released this week vowing “you and your people will- Allah willing- experience things which will make you forget all about the horrors of September 11th, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Virginia Tech.”

Let us presume that we will never again experience the week-long grounding of air flights in the US, moreover the absolute chaos (however exceptionally well handled by NYC and the Pentagon) in thousands and thousands of people walking out of Manhattan to safety, those stranded for many, many hours waiting to cross into Jersey home turf by ferry, the massive enduring power outages, and the long weeks before “normalcy” was even envisioned on the horizon to everyday life across the Northeast.

Actually, can we ever be “normal” after September 11th?  I don’t think so.  But it sure stuns me to read of and even talk to people who seem to have forgotten its incredible impact upon those who survived.

Let us also presume that the newest form of warfare, called “cyber terrorism,” can’t happen to the US as is happening right now in Estonia.  Right now, their entire Internet system is overwhelmed by an avalanche of spam that has totally disabled their exclusively online government (that means banking, government operations, no emails to Mom, etc.).  Estonia says the attacks began after they moved a Soviet war memorial that the Kremlin condemned them for doing.   Even NATO has sent a cyber terrorism expert to help them end the barrage, but doubts the villains will be uncovered since cyber attacks are virtually untraceable. 

Hmmm…  Heaven knows we’ve seen a LOT of instances where spam and trojans have crashed vital computer networks in this country in the last decade.  Russia was even blamed for a couple and are renown for having a large community of hackers and virus writers, yet they are in very good company with hackers and virus writers worldwide, especially in Asia.  Could it happen again in the US?  Could it happen on an even larger scale than before?  Could this be one of the options Little Johnny Jihad has in mind?

We face more than terrorism attacks as American citizens.

Natural disasters with large human casualties are not a question of “if,” but “when.”  Our country’s history is full of them, as related in this incomplete listing on Wikipedia.  Earthquakes in abundance in California and hurricanes like Camille, Andrew and Katrina are but a few and frequent.

Geologists know it’s just a matter of time before another 9.0 earthquake hits somewhere between California and Canada.  While the shaking would be catastrophic around its epicenter (or hypocenter), it’s biggest threat to human survival would be from the tsunami that would come from the coastal fault line that is seismically identical to the one in Indonesia that killed 200,000 people on December 26, 2004.  Remind yourself about the devastation that impacted more than a million people and that took months and months to return even a shred of normalcy to their region.  Doctors Without Borders mobilized large teams of healthcare workers from across the globe and arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia two days after the massive earthquake there and to help tsunami victims in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  They have maintained an historical account of all of their updates from the time of their arrival to date and I encourage you to read liberally and remind yourself of the devastation and ensuing disease outbreaks when there was no food and no water for weeks amidst decaying bodies both human and animal.

What if a similar tsunami hit Los Angeles or San Francisco?  How long would it take to evacuate a couple of million or more people who speak 100 different languages?  This area, with its extreme seismic volatility, is one of the mostly densely populated regions in our country.  The New York times speculated on this very subject after public chaos during Hurricane Rita and Katrina that made a mockery of evacuation plans in New Orleans and South Texas that had people stuck in unprecedented traffic jams on escape highways and interstates so long their cars ran completely out of gas.

Just how better prepared are our cities in a post-911 and post-Katrina world to handle mass evacuations and tend to their residents in the midst of and after a crisis?  How long does it take to evacuate each of the many vulnerable cities countrywide that have exploded in growth in the last decade?   Do the warning triggers provide enough time to escape?

Remember 1999’s Hurricane Floyd?  It tracked all the way to New York causing flooding of historic proportions all along its track, killing power for days to 400,000 people in North Carolina alone and contaminating every source of drinking water.  The flooding of the EDS Data Center in New Jersey brought ATMs to their nonfunctional knees all the way into South Florida and caused long outages at ATMs across the country. 

In the May 30 Washington Post, columnist Brian Jackson penned a eye-opening read examining if America is prepared for disaster after we taxpayers have remitted billions in funds since September 11th to make America more secure.  Just what improvements have been truly realized?  Mr. Jackson, by the way, is the Associate Director of the Homeland Security Research Program at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization that has been keeping track of such issues since around World War II.  I find his conclusions as to our state of national preparedness to be exceptionally bleak.

Wake up, folks.  Our own President dramatically revised existing Federal disaster response plans on May 9, 2007 in the National Security and Presidential Directive No. 51 that now gives his office the absolute authority to direct operations in the event of a national emergency.  In short, this directive shows that citizens had better be prepared to take care of themselves until the government brings things back under control…and that just might take a while.

We face more than terrorism attacks and natural disasters.  We face infectious disease outbreaks.

You’ve heard by now of the Atlanta, Georgia personal injury attorney infected with exceptionally drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB), who didn’t want to miss his long-planned Greek wedding and honeymoon in Italy over a little ole epidemically potential disease and exposed about 900 people on TWO trans-Atlantic planes and their crews.  You might find that early account, while Andrew Speaker was still anonymous, to be interesting.  A lot of information has surfaced since, not the least of which has been the revelation of just how infectious this disease is, despite the initial downplay by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the gullible media.  Good grief:  we even now know Andrew Speaker’s brand new father-in-law is a microbiologist for the CDC and works prominently in its Tuberculosis Laboratory.

I know that Speaker did NOT contract tuberculosis from his father-in-law’s research.  How ridiculous!  Those labs are more secure than the Federal Reserve and lead the technological world in safety measures and precautions.  But I would sure like to know whether Dr. Cooksey knew himself of Speaker’s infection.  Don’t you think a leading microbiologist in the field of Tuberculosis research would place a few precautions in the marriage of his precious daughter to a man infected with XDR-TB?  And, at the very least, don’t you think he would do everything he could to prevent travel, knowing more than anyone else the transmission dangers of same?

Trust me when I say the CDC and the media was initially playing down the danger this fellow placed his fellow travelers in and, in a few days, they will probably do the same to calm a disquieted public.  This man knew he was infectious and deliberately traveled internationally through five nations over a period of about two weeks.   Now you will soon see (or maybe it won’t be that visible) the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) going nuts trying to track down every single person on these flights for testing…and then trying to track down the other innocent folks who just happened to come in contact with each of them.  This man has caused huge problems for several nations and the medical undertaking to try and contain these exposures will be equally huge. 

By the way, you and I and those folks from France, Greece, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Canada will be paying the bill for much of this man’s unbelievable arrogance.  Talk about your personal injuries!

TB is very virulent and saying this man “was not highly infectious” is an oxymoron and a talking point diluted to prevent hysteria in the public.  TB is extremely infectious and the number one killer worldwide.  Period.  And it can take up to two months after exposure before a person will test positive on a PPD.  In the interim, prior to onset of symptoms, said positive person can be very infectious.  On one day, their sputum tests will show little, if any bacterium, while the next day the bacterium counts are off the charts. 

So, you can see that this is an exposure of potential epidemic proportions and will increase exponentially because no one is going to quarantine everyone on these two planes for the next couple of months before their resistance to TB is conclusively determined.  Fortunately, only about 10% of people exposed to TB develop the disease.  That’s the general statistic you’ll hear cited often now.  The reality of just how many people on these two flights come down with TB will be determined by their own personal level of health, any immune deficiencies they may have and certainly their age — children under 10 and adults over 60 are especially vulnerable.  So are diabetics.  The most vulnerable of all are AIDS patients.

This story absolutely underscores how vulnerable we humans are from a medical standpoint, and certainly as a world from a security standpoint.  When the CDC and WHO finally caught up with this man ten days after his arrival in Europe and traipsing across several countries to (finally) Italy and he faced mandated quarantine there, he and his bride skipped town as quickly as their feet would carry them, boarded a Czech plane in Prague, flew to Montreal, Canada and re-entered the US by car…to EVADE capture by those who would prevent his infecting others.  Regardless that his passport was flagged as a “No-Fly,” he skated right through every checkpoint along the way unimpeded.  Here’s a little light reading on the matter from the International Society for Infectious Diseases relating a lot of information on this fellow and his XDR-TB.

Here was a fellow clearly identified with an extremely dangerous and infectious disease by the CDC, who alerted Homeland Security, who alerted US Customs and beyond and no one during his entire European Vacation stopped him once.  Not the border crossings, not Customs, not the airlines.  In fact, when Mr. and Mrs. Speaker re-entered the US in Champlain, NY, the scan of his passport triggered an alarm and clearly revealed to the customs agents that he was highly contagious, to approach him with masks and to DETAIN him until the CDC could arrive.  Believe it or not, the customs agent claims he thought this warning was “discretionary” and, since Speaker didn’t look sick, the agent let them go right through into the US.  They were at the checkpoint for two whole minutes. Said customs agent is presently under administrative leave.  Wow.  My fiance’ wonders if Speaker didn’t have a $500 bill inside his passport when he presented it at the border.

Hopefully, this fellow’s story of amazing arrogance, selfishness and abject stupidity will gain enough air time to wake people up.  By the way, may it also awaken people’s naivete’ in presuming that Tuberculosis is under control.  It isn’t.  Not in the United States, and certainly not anywhere else in the world.

The “likelihood”, not “possibility” of a pandemic is hugely underplayed in our world, despite the myriad of diseases with pandemic potential given the amount of traveling we humans do across the globe.  But the greatest threat of all, from a pandemic stance, remains through a future mutation of influenza.  We’ve all heard of Avian Flu and the diligence required in watching this strain and potential mutations cannot be understated.  On May 29, 2007, the AP released a story about four human cases of bird-type flu discovered during the last week in Great Britain that has Pandemic potential, even though the cases are relatively mild.  Way back in 2005, the National Geographic wrote a piece entitled, World Unprepared for “Bird Flu” Pandemic” that is even more apropos today.

Last, but not least, our own food supply is constantly threatened and which I have written about here and here and even here.  But yesterday’s (May 30th) Wall Street Journal had a wee post on page A7 that had me spitting my coffee across the floor.  The headline reads, “Agriculture Department to Fight Ruling on Mad-Cow Testing.” 

WHAT??

To offer the Cliff Notes to this article not available beyond subscribers, a Kansas-based company called Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows for mad-cow disease so they can truly and safely (from litigation) advertise their beef as “safe.”  Well, the USDA filed suit on the basis that Creekstone could begin a movement toward wide-spread testing that could “lead to a false positive” in the results of said testing.  A federal judge ruled in March of this year that Creekstone could go ahead with their testing of every cow they slaughter for sale to US markets and commended them for their initiative.

But the Bush administration has now vowed to fight this ruling allowing meatpackers to test their cows.  Right now, the USDA tests fewer than 1% of slaughtered animals for mad-cow disease.  Larger meatpacking companies have been complaining and say if Creekstone tests its meat and advertises it as safe, they might be expected to perform the same wide-spread and expensive test, too. 

SHOOT ME NOW!  We have a US meat producer wanting to voluntarily test all of their meat for safety (sharp marketing idea that!), and has fought vigilantly and at great cost in our courts to be able to do so, but our own President is vowing to fight so they can’t??   Just so the other meat producers don’t have to follow suit to remain competitive??? 

What in the blithering Hades is going on?

Okay.  I think I’ve offered enough citations by now to show you some of what deeply concerns me.  Unfortunately (for me especially, pardon the selfishness), I don’t have any solutions to offer that would prevent any of these scenarios from occurring, but I do have a few plans to try and minimize the vulnerability of my own family.  (I’ll get to that in another hour or two…)

Unfortunately, my neighbors haven’t awakened to their own vulnerabilities yet…

We live in a very narcissistic and laissez-faire world.  Most Americans in my neck of the woods live hand-to-mouth, mortgaged up to their receding hairlines, but possessing the latest and greatest of cell phones, wireless home networks, Le Cuisine cookware, Lexicon receivers and Monster Power Conditioners driving their large-screen LCD TVs and home theater systems, and the wives all carry Gucci and Dooney-Bourke purses.  Their daughters wear Prada.  They grow their credit card debts while racking up miles on American Airlines with every purchase, regularly have their dentists bleach their teeth and wouldn’t dream of missing a Botox party.  They’re driving our economy and I say more power to them.

But when the next “not if, but when” strikes, they’re screwed.

These folks don’t even know what Civil Defense Sirens Testing is all about.  Last month, when 80+mph winds and storms hit the Dallas metroplex one evening, the sirens went off and people were “confused” by what the sirens mean. I presume they, like me, hear these sirens being tested at Noon on the first Wednesday of each and every month, but they don’t pay attention.  So, when the sirens wail to alert folks to impending tornadoes and the like, people are “confused.”   I kid you not.   What idiots.

So I have reasonable doubts they they will have cash, flashlights or even food to last them a few days when the lights go out the next time and the ATMs close for business.

If there is any resounding lesson for individuals to learn from Hurricane Katrina — irrespective of the ad nauseam politics — is that people should not, cannot depend upon the government to immediately bail them out and make everything better.  Heck, New Orleans became a model for looting and thuggery for weeks after the city flooded and what few police remained were powerless to defend the residents, moreover the businesses that suffered huge theft losses.  The logistics are simply too great to prevent suffering.  There are some things you just have to take care of yourself.

We can’t escape the world we live in or the Earth we live upon.  Most people in America have been very fortunate in not having to live through earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks or disease outbreaks, instead being able to watch vicariously through media coverage of same.  That doesn’t mean, however, that disasters — both large and small — couldn’t happen to any one of us at any given time. 

There are so many things over which we have no control.  On those, I leave in the hands of God.  But there are many quite simple actions we can take now to help ourselves later and ease, as much as possible, a burden to come.  Doing so doesn’t require breaking the bank either.

From a Murphy’s Law standpoint alone, the best insurance of all against being impacted by a disaster is simply to be as prepared as possible.

1.  Gather the family and designate a place to meet, should disaster strike while everyone is scattered to the four winds.    Every week, repeat the location and plan to each other, over and over, week after week, until it is completely ingrained.  Chances are, your cell phones won’t work if there are large electrical outages or floods.  (Remember Katrina?)

2.  Get a large gym bag and fill it with a good first aid kit, extra ACE bandages, rolls of gauze and Telfa pads, Neosporin, DEET, Advil, Rolaids, a weather/am/fm radio, a couple of flashlights, a battery cellphone charger, an ample supply of various batteries your devices require, a couple of blankets, a couple of rolls of toilet paper, a box of emergency candles, a box of kitchen matches, a bar of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, a couple of bottles of isopropyl alcohol, a small bottle of bleach, a can opener, a medium-sized plastic bowl, a Leatherman multi-tool, a camping shovel, a container of anti-bacterial wipes, some washcloths and/or hand towels, and a change of jeans, a shirt, socks and underwear.  Have this bag (including anything else your family must have) ready and maintained to use at any given moment.

3. Keep a good first aid kit, a blanket, a flashlight, a can of Fix-A-Flat, jumper cables, and some water in the trunk of your car at all times.

4.  Always keep a couple of cases of bottled water or several gallons of same on hand.  This is ALWAYS the first thing to sell out of and run out of when calamities occur.  Read more from the National Safety Federation on creating, keeping and storing safe drinking water during an emergency.

5.  Get yourself a basic camping propane stove with a few extra cans of propane.  Then you can cook to your heart’s content when the power is out.

6.  Keep extra canned foods on hand.  Buy just one extra can of chili, tuna, soups, vegetables, fruit, etc. each time you go to the grocery store and it won’t be long until you have a nice backup selection.  Also stock up on rice, dried beans, powdered milk and a container of Gatorade/Tang powder.  Keep the rice and beans in Tupperware.  All of these contained foods store long and can save your hide in extended power outages.  Read the USDA’s Food Safety Organization’s Fact Sheet on ensuring and keeping safe foods during an emergency.

7.  Keep some cash on hand.  Store the cash in a home safe, suture it up in a mattress, bury it in a tin beneath the dog bowl, whatever.  But have a couple of hundred or so readily available.  You’ll be glad you did.

8.  Go buy yourself a couple of 5-gallon gas cans right now when the prices are low and availability high.  Then, when you need to, you can fill them up when you fill up your car the next time something happens.

There are a lot of folks out there with additional ideas and a ton of knowledge they could share on the subject of preparedness, and I dearly hope they will here.

I have no qualms admitting that I have always taken anal retentiveness to an unusual level.  As I’ve written before, I have no confidence in the safety of our global food supply found commonly in our neighborhood groceries.  I’m not about to boycott or even do without, but I am trying to be as smart as possible over the foods we eat.  And when I find a means of controlling the quality and purity of my foods…well, I tend to go overboard.

So, right now I am canning my little heart out, as I love to do each Spring through Fall.  Jams and jellies are set aside.  Even homemade peach hooch is under brew.  I will continue to search out truly local sources of vegetables and fruits that will be canned or frozen for use in the winter.  I’ll be using my own canned whole tomatoes and tomato sauces during the cold days ahead and enjoying my own canned or frozen peas, beans, brussels sprouts, corn and a wealth of homemade pickles and relishes.  I will also share a few of them this Christmas in gift baskets.

If that isn’t anal enough, I’ve now set my sites on a nearby grass-only-fed dairy farm that is a certified provider of raw milk.  From that I will make my own butter (which freezes very well) and my own cheeses, that I hope will be tasty.  I’ll let you know how the cheese thing works out…very iffie thing that.

If only I had my own farm…  Of course, then I would learn the hard way just how hard maintaining one really is.  Something tells me milking a goat is about as difficult and dangerous as kayaking in Class III water.

Get prepared, folks, while doing so is cheap and easy.  May you not find out personally that most people won’t.

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4 responses to “Is America Prepared for Disaster? Are You?

  1. Rock on! There are only a few antenna picking up the future, but you’re one. Blogs like this give me hope that some people will survive into the future. You strike a good balance between folks like Al Gore “blah, blah, end of the world, blah, blah” and nutty fundamentalists, “Isn’t it wonderful? My SUV is bringing Jesus back!”
    Personally, I’ve been teaching basic skills like black smithing and dynamo building. The storm is on the horizon. Read Christopher Knight’s Uriel’s Machine. I’d love to talk.

  2. THIS IS AWESOME.
    I was a young mother of a MARINE pilot when I was stranded in Hurricane Floyd in NC. But I wouldn’t call it “stranded”. Everyone was so worried for me as HH flew his plane to Houston to shelter the assets. But WE WERE PREPARED. The moment we moved into our FAR MORE MODEST HOME THAN OUR FRIENDS WERE BUYING, we spent our last $500 to convert the stove to Natural gas and add a circuit breaker to re-direct our house grid to our stand alone generator (without killing some innocent lineman) in the event of a power outage. Do I need to tell you who was the ONLY (well armed) HOUSE FOR THREE BLOCKS WITH HOT SHOWERS, FANS AND HOT CHOW FOR SIX DAYS IN THE BLACKOUT AFTER FLOYD??? Just me and my baby in the dark, waiting on HH to return. We were camping! It was fun!
    First BERTHA, then later FLOYD. I was alone BUT PREPARED.
    I KNOW what Uncle Stupid WON’T do for me in a disaster. HH works for him and KNOWS better. KATRINA made me double over in LAUGHTER (except, OF COURSE, for the TRULY INNOCENT sick, aged, and children).
    SCOTT>>>>you are so smart to know basic country skills>>>A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE!!!
    I chose to give up a LUCRATIVE job to blog about this stuff and PREPARE MY OWN NEST FULL TIME. IT TAKES TIME to GET OUT OF DEBT (an overlooked key)>>>stash food and money, make plans and inform yourself.
    You have THOROUGHLY hit all the high spots and PLEASE don’t feel like Chicken Little. I personally feel like NOAH. God has spoken to us in many ways that most have IGNORED. NOT THIS HOMEGIRL.
    I am not PARANOID (a word used by the scared and unprepared) I know what is coming. It is not IF, it is WHEN.
    We have sold and invested and rearranged so that when HH retires we are going to live on about 30 acres of VIABLE FARM LAND with a water source and an off-grid solar/ wind powered home, built energy efficiently from the get go. I am no commune dweller, but I will damned if I will sit in suburbia and endure the anarchy that will be INEVITABLE for simple things like WATER.
    So yes, part of me can’t wait for the suburban housewives that surround me (who turn a deaf ear to my warnings and entreaties) to get caught in an “I told you so” moment. The only problem with that is that the disaster that will have to happen will be able to get that satisfaction WILL BE HORRENDOUS. Of course I don’t wish that.
    THERE ARE MANY SURVIVALIST WEB SITES, some are nutty, some are right on. Surf them and you will find like minded folks so that you don’t feel like such a freak.
    There is a book out there called “AMERICA AT RISK” and I am reading it, but can’t see the author’s name from my comfy perch. It is scary , but has a great bib in the back fro resources.
    GREAT ESSAY !!!

    EHeavenlyGads: Okay, Jane. You just earned yourself some homemade peach and plum jams! If you’re brave enough to send me a shipping address to eheavenlygads at gmail dot com, I will send them post-haste!

    I sincerely appreciate your most kind comments and am especially glad to get this post. Always knew somehow you were one Hell of a real woman! But make no mistake that I pale in your own greatness. I have so enjoyed your blog since the moment I found it. YOU keep up the fantastic work there, please! And please give HH and the younguns my best for having the good sense to marry you and good fortune to call you “Mom.” 😉

  3. OH>>>I FORGOT>>>>YOU WILL NEED A GOOD PORTABLE TOILET TOO.

    They run about $175 and you can “flush” them about 67 times with about 2 gallons of stored waterwithout using your VALUABLE DRINKING WATER to force flush the house toilets (which you can do for a day or so >>>BUT WHY WASTE WATER?)

    Not TERRIBLY pleasant to dump, but neither is dying (LITERALLY DYING) of thirst.

  4. I’m another “paranoid” nutjob, and I recommend a nice portable camping toilet instead. They’re collapsible steel stools with a hole in the seat and little hooks underneath where you attach [bio-degradable] bags to catch your wet & dry waste. They’re lightweight, easy to take along, and require NO water. You can get a good toilet for ~$60 [there are plenty of good camping/hunting websites that sell them cheap], and the bags are VERY cheap, and easy to dispose of.

    EHeavenlyGads: A very excellent suggestion. Our local Bass Pro, Cabella’s and REI have this for $80, bags for $30. They also have a seat that fits over a five-gallon bucket, with bags, that costs only $40 for lid and bags. This is a much better option and, as you said, uses NO water. Thank you, Stemit.

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