Following the traffic chaos during and after the solar eclipse last week, and the damage and destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey, I thought it might be worthwhile to do a "lessons learned" article, seeing what they confirm about my previous posts on emergency preparation, and whether they add anything new.
First, the eclipse. In my article "Lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005", I wrote about the hazards of trying to evacuate the danger zone when everyone else was trying to do the same thing. Karl Denninger wrote about his experiences driving home after observing the eclipse, and came to very similar conclusions.
The return trip home was something else. There was literally no movement over 25mph from Andersen SC southbound until we hit the 85/985 junction north of Atlanta and plenty of time spent at walking speed or less. You probably could have bicycled faster. Worse, attempting to re-route around it manually was pointless; all the state highways and similar were also jammed solid and worthless to try to use as alternative routes. During this time there was no congestion of any sort evident in any of the northbound lanes.
The mapping apps all said there were wrecks everywhere although we never saw one; by the time we got to wherever it had been flagged the wreck was long-gone but the impact remained for the entire rest of the day and evening. Cellular data was worthless or extremely spotty until, once again, we hit Atlanta metro. Voice calls and text messages were fine, but not data; the networks were simply slammed well beyond capacity.
. . .
Let me further remind you that it was nearly 100F out on that highway too with zero cloud cover for most of the journey. My Mazda has an excellent AC system and while it was keeping up it wasn't digging it. What's in your go-bag? There better be drinkable water in there and a means to purify more of it, because at that temperature you're going to go through a hell of a lot of it in a really big hurry. Oh, let me remind you that water weighs 8lbs/gallon and I'm willing to bet that had we needed to bail a gallon per person would have likely been consumed in a few hours. In terms of water demand it probably would get close to (if not exceed) what I experienced while hiking out in the Grand Canyon on Kaibab South - brutal, in other words.
Next, consider what happens if someone else didn't have water and you do? Got anything effective to defend that water supply with and are you willing to use it?
Finally, how are you physically? Could you get out of that car, get away from the highway by a good quarter-mile or more and actually make time on foot, even if slowly, in that situation, toward somewhere safe? Oh, and where is "somewhere safe" in relationship to where you are?
Better have "yes" answers to the above because if not you would be a corpse.
. . .
You got a freebie lesson in this regard if you ran into even a fringe of it, in terms of exactly how under-capacity our so-called "infrastructure" is in response to even relatively minor loads and under friendly terms. In short our so-called "civilization" is nothing more than a thin veneer over a really ugly reality, protected by nothing more than the fact that over the last 150 years it has never been challenged on the ground by heavy load during an ugly natural or man-made incident over any sort of materially-wide area.
Think Katrina times 100 and you might be getting close.
If it ever is challenged that infrastructure will collapse instantly and trap you.
There's more at the link.
Those are very sobering thoughts . . . but they're true. I saw them reflected in my part of the world just yesterday. Gasoline supplies are drying up fast; we had reports that Midland and parts of San Antonio were already out of gas altogether. As a result, panic buying ensued at local gas stations. People were pulling up in pickup trucks, towing trailers loaded with one, or two, or a few 55-gallon gasoline drums, and filling them all, hundreds of gallons at a time. As a result, gas stations that normally get supplies once or twice a week were running out within hours of receiving their latest shipment of fuel. I expect that sometime today (Friday), many local gas stations will close down. Those who still need gas will be S.O.L. That applies particularly to traffic heading through this area to other major centers. Yesterday afternoon, vehicles were turning off Interstates and regional roads whenever and wherever they could, to fill their tanks at local gas stations before going on, because they had no idea whether they'd be able to do so later that evening or this morning. Panic buying was the order of the day.
Another example came from Walmart yesterday morning. I was in a local branch when store managers started coming around to every till, explaining that the card payment system had gone down "company-wide". Those who were buying with cash or by check could do so; all others could not have their payments processed, and would have to wait until operations were restored. Fortunately, I had sufficient cash on me to pay for my purchases, so I wasn't inconvenienced; but the screams of outrage from those relying on debit, or credit, or EBT cards, were epic. Yet another example of why it pays to keep a couple of hundred dollars on you at all times, just in case. (Don't carry bills larger than $20 - many businesses won't accept them, for fear of counterfeit currency.)
Evacuations before and during Hurricane Harvey also echoed those 'lessons learned'. We've read many reports about so-called 'price gouging', although some defend it as natural economics of supply and demand in action. That's all very well, but if you're desperate to get to safety, and don't have enough money to fill your tank with gasoline that's suddenly priced much higher than normal, or to pay for a room at a hotel that's just tripled or quadrupled its rates, it's cold comfort!
As for personal security, we've read reports of criminals posing as government officials, trying to force people out of their homes so they could rob them. Others have tried to rob rescuers of their boats and vehicles. A curfew was proclaimed in Houston, in an attempt to stop looting of empty homes and businesses. All this is very similar to what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as described in my "lessons learned" post and contemporary news reports - although the problems in Houston appear to have been rather less widespread and intense, for which thanks be to God.
In short, those who got clear of danger zones before Hurricane Harvey struck did well. Those who kept emergency supplies at home, and were able to use them there while traffic was at a standstill and stores were closed, did well. Those who did not get out in time, or did not have sufficient emergency supplies, did poorly.
I hope and trust all my readers will take these "lessons learned" to heart:
- Keep at least a couple of weeks' supply of emergency foodstuffs, medication and other needs on hand. I strongly recommend at least 30 days' supplies; up to 3 months would be better, because it gives you enough to share with family and friends if necessary (something I learned the hard way after Hurricane Katrina). If you aren't sure what to keep on hand, refer to any of a large number of emergency supply checklists that are available. This one from FEMA is a good starting point.
- Keep sufficient cash on hand to buy what you need when other methods of payment are not available. I strongly recommend a minimum of one months' normal expenditure, in cash, stored in a safe place in your home, and never touched for normal use. Reserve it for emergencies only, and if you have to draw on it, replenish it as soon as possible. Even if you can't afford a month's worth of cash, set aside whatever you can. It may be a life-saver.
- If you can store it safely outside your residence (e.g. in a locked garden shed, or something similar, to avoid the fire hazard), keep enough gasoline on hand to fill the tank(s) of your vehicle(s) at least once, so that you can remain mobile when normal supplies of gas run out or aren't available. If evacuation is part of your emergency plan, keep at least two tanks' worth of gasoline on hand for every vehicle you may use for that purpose, and take it with you when you leave - gas stations may have run out by the time you reach them. Treat it with a fuel stabilizer, rotate it once every year (i.e. put the gas in your vehicle's tank and refill the storage containers with fresh gas), and don't waste it on casual use. You never know when you might need it the hard way.
- If you plan to use propane or other forms of gas for emergency cooking, keep one or two cylinders of it in the same safe location as your fuel. It's no good having emergency food supplies that need cooking, if you haven't made arrangements to cook them! Don't expect firewood and charcoal to be available. Everyone else will be looking for them, too.
- When the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller, and looters begin targeting your area, it's too late to look for a gun. You need to already have on hand the means you'll need to protect your family and your home. Local laws and regulations will affect your choice, of course; but you need to make preparations now, so that when you need them, you'll have the necessary tools and supplies available, and the training required to use them effectively. Don't leave it until the last minute.
All common sense measures . . . but we've just seen how many people lacked common sense, and were caught short when an emergency arose. Let's not be like them.