Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fragility and Preparedness

After just emerging from three days without power due to a windstorm in Washington, State, two things stand out.

One is how fragile the infrastructure of our civilization actually is. We mostly stuck together through this one, neighbors helping neighbors and not many deaths from cold, even with one million houses out of power at the height of the problem here. Sporadic and minor civil unrest did occur, mostly fights at the few gas stations that were open. But by the end of three days we were tired of it, and while we well prepared and basically fine our tempers were fraying a bit at the edges. I think it might have gotten tough around here if the outages had lasted much longer (and many customers are still cold). City-dwellers are just not used to being without major portions of the infrastructure that keeps us going. If you think back to Katrina, there were spots of heroism, community, and unrest there, too. For at least a while, it looked like civilization frayed to breaking in New Orleans. We should acknowledge the fragility of our civilization, even though there is also much to celebrate in its -- and our -- resiliency. The severe weather patterns may not all be attributable to climate change, but climate change will include severe weather (from drought to heat to cold to storms). We need to understand it may take a Herculean effort to get through the effects of the next decade and maintain a civil society at all times.

Which brings me to the second thing: preparedness. We fared pretty well, and had what we needed (ground coffee, creamer, flashlights, radio, emergency candles, extra blankets, available food that didn't need to be refrigerated). But how many people in the Pacific Northwest were less prepared? I bet it was a bunch. Another Katrina lesson: have seven days worth of emergency supplies. Not three (the old guideline) but seven. Be able to drag your supplies into your house or your attic or put them into your car.

Let's acknowledge our fragile infrastructure and the effort required to be prepared to live without it.

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