How to Survive the California Blackouts

Or any other opportunity to experience the 19th Century first hand. Calpocolypse 2019.

Or maybe I should say, “How to avoid revisiting the 19th Century.”

That link is to a video on the Blancoliro channel. I would embed the video below, but WP, in its continuing effort to protect me from myself, won’t let me take advantage of the “start=” parameter available in YouTube. I wanted to skip about the 1st half of the video in question. You are of course free to view it, but I wanted to shunt people directly to the portion of interest.

Kincade Fire Evacuations Start To Be Lifted

And the power is coming back on. Kincade Fire: Relief washes over Sonoma County cities once in blaze’s path.

Containment is up to 30% on the Kincade Fire.

In Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, tens of thousands of people were allowed to return to homes that many spent days worrying they might never see again, after Sonoma County authorities lifted mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday afternoon.

And the lack of cash was an issue.

“Unfortunately, without gas and money, many of them were stuck here,” said Kate Young, CEO of the fairgrounds. “And personally, I couldn’t just close the gates. The community needed this.”

Now lack of gas could be no power to the pumps. Lack of cash is a proxy for lack of understanding and a lack of preparation. “I always use Apple Pay,” doesn’t work when there is no internet. And there is no internet with no electricity. You should take that into account. And by that I do NOT mean having a stack of 20s. You need various bills and change, or everything will cost you 20 bucks.

Kincade Fire, Power Outages, and the Complete Lack of Preparation

So the good people of California are not prepared for living in the 19 Century. Strong winds stoke flames, fears as Kincade Fire rages on.

This update was posted by the Mercury News Tuesday night, but in typical newspaper fashion it sounds like it was written on Wednesday morning. Deadlines are a funny thing I guess. Anyway, there is a lot of good info on what took place on Tuesday. Apparently during the day winds were in the 40MPH range. When I checked at about 9:30 Tuesday night (Windy.com) they had dropped to about 14 knots (or 16 MPH).

But this is the part that really caught my attention.

At the same time, temperatures around the Bay Area are expected to drop significantly this week — in some places hovering at freezing or below — potentially making it hard for residents without power to keep warm.

Now partly this is a media organization fanning the flames of panic. OMG!!! Freezing temperatures? Humans can’t survive under those conditions! But there is probably a lot of truth in that statement as well. If 10 percent of the population was prepared for anything like this I would be very shocked.

Now granted, even though PG&E has been talking about preemptive power outages for a year, or more (certainly since before the Camp Fire), the real test will be next year. Now that they know power outages are real, that they will last more than 4 hours, and that there may be more than one a season, will they do anything? Will they have kerosene heat? Or a wood stove? (Though California frowns on those) Will anyone buy a propane refrigerator, or a whole house generator? Will they have canned goods on hand, and a way to cook? Or will they be as completely helpless and useless as it seems they are this year. My guess is that they will do nothing, except bitch and moan about how it is all completely unfair, or that the .gov should take care of everything. Or something.

Rule one of prepping. Have something to drink on hand that doesn’t require ice. I have Scotch, and Bourbon. And a few other things. After a day or 2 of living in 19th Century conditions, you are going to need a drink. OK, OK, maybe that’s rule 4, not rule 1.

PG&E Power Outages, and the Complete Lack of Preparation in California

Pacific Gas & Electric has shut off power to large swaths of Northern California, in an effort to not cause fires, and it highlights that people are not prepared, even when they have been warned what is coming. PG&E Power Outage: Live Updates as Californians Confront Blackout.

So I thought I was done (for the moment, anyway) writing about Americans’ complete lack of preparation. But then PG & E had to go and shine a bright light on the issue.

PG & E has been saying since BEFORE the Camp Fire (which was just about 11 months ago) that the utility would be turning off the power when fire hazards were high. And still no one was prepared. Why? Too busy during the whole of the year? Thought it would never happen? You have a strategic time-frame that is a week from Tuesday? What? (Do you know what a round tuit is?) And so now, when they complain, how much sympathy should they expect? (Exactly none from me. How about you?)

Long lines at the gas stations. (Keep your car’s tank more than ½ full.) But my favorite one is thinking about generators at the last minute, because they just have thousands in stock, sitting there waiting for you to wake up to the reality of the situation.

CD & Power, a company that sells generators in Northern California, has seen an uptick in sales and rentals, said Lisa Carter, the general manager.

Usually, she said, the company sells a few Honda generators a month. In the last two days, it has sold 13 and has exhausted its rental inventory. “We are buried this morning dispatching equipment,” Ms. Carter said.

“As many people as we’re helping, we’re having to tell many no, because there’s physically no equipment,” she said.

Congratulations for thinking about what you might need in the event the power goes out, but you lose points for waiting until the last minute. Do you have a generator? Do you have fuel? Is there Stabil, or some other fuel preservative in the fuel? When was the last time you started the generator? When was the last time you rotated the fuel? Candles. Lanterns. You might need these things. How about some canned goods, and a non-electric can opener? Can you cook without electric power? Board games? Books that don’t require you to charge your Kindle, or have an internet connection, which if the power is off, will also be tough in some places.

Okay, now that you know they were SERIOUS when they said the power would go off, you can plan accordingly. Did you know that they make propane powered refrigerators? Oh, they’re expensive? Well then, don’t complain when all the food in your fridge gets thrown out. You’re saving money. (Google may be the enemy, but web searching can still be your friend.)

Oh, and they say that the power will be out for a few days.

Maybe they will be prepared for the next time, but I doubt it. People in Florida were never prepared for hurricanes, and that was never the first time. As I’ve said before; you’re an adult, so you should start taking adult responsibility.

The Sad State of Disaster Planning

A short time ago I penned a screed/rant on “Why can’t people just prepare?” And with some back and forth, mainly with friends via email, I don’t know the answer to that question. The overriding assumption is “the federal .gov will take care of everything.” Even for stuff that is clearly local government. People just don’t want to think about what might happen. It’s uncomfortable. Even if taking a few, simple actions could make their chances of survival much higher. If they ignore it, it will go away, or it will never happen.

So let’s back up a couple of years. There was finally a relatively easy to read article on the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), which was published by The New Yorker of all places, and what will happen if when it releases a major earthquake. The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. One friend used the word “terrifying” to describe the scenario. Think The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Like that. Except Japan has some systems and defenses in place. We have none.

The CSZ is not the San Andreas fault. It is an order of magnitude worse. San Andreas might someday release a quake in the 8.2 range. CSZ will be 8.7 to 9.2 on the Richter Scale, which is logarithmic. So the San Andreas has about 6 percent of the potential destructive power. The CSZ releases those quakes on regular basis. (Regular in geologic times, of approximately every 241 years. The last one was over 300 years ago.)

In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.

Now while the Powers that Wanna Be don’t read scientific journals, they do read things like The New Yorker. That article came out in 2015. In 2016 there was a regional FEMA exercise, Cascadia Rising. You can find the After Action Report at this link. It’s a 26 page PDF, but that said, it is remarkably readable and forthright for a document produced by a bureacracy. The only thing that is truly amazing is that they actually talk about what went wrong. The exercise included things like a loss of electric utilities and a loss of communications infrastructure, but even when that wasn’t an issue, communications still broke down. They even make mention of how some egos got in the way when multiple agencies needed to coordinate. Anyway, the whole report gave me some hope that the .gov may be learning. But I think, overall, that is a false hope.

Continue reading

How Many Times Do We Have to Pay for the Same Disaster?

So a few days ago, I had a rant about “Why won’t people prepare for emergencies?” And while I’m working on a longer rant, that may or may not see the light of day, one of the things I tripped over in wading through the morass that is FEMA documents, is a failure in the whole idea of planning and mitigation.

We are currently paying taxpayer money to some people for rebuilding homes and businesses in the path of a future hurricane. We are probably paying to assist the rebuilding of Paradise, California. I know FEMA was involved at some level, but I haven’t dived into that. In Russian River, California, one business has rebuilt 4 times due to flooding. With federally-subsidized flood insurance of course. When is it time to move? (Pay him his money on the condition that he not rebuild in a flood zone.) We know that another hurricane will hit Mexico Beach, Florida. We just don’t know when. Houses being constructed in Paradise, CA are exactly the kind of 2 X 4 stick construction that went up like candles. The next flood in Russian River will come. When, not if. Why are we not either paying to relocate these people or ensure that building methods are more sensible?

When do we say that we are going to stop subsidizing your bad decisions?

Everybody is a First Responder

The referenced article is on the long side. It covers the decreasing numbers of police and firefighters nationwide, and it does touch on the impact that will have on regional disasters. As police and firefighter numbers fall, officials urge disaster prep.

Firefighter numbers are falling because people are no longer volunteering. And volunteer firefighters cover most of the country.

“In most of the country, volunteers are the predominant workforce protecting the country,” Donahue said. “And so even during disasters, a lot of the help and work is done by volunteers.”

Of the nearly 30,000 fire departments in the U.S., about two-thirds are all-volunteer. Since 2015, the number of volunteer firefighters has fallen to 682,600 from 814,850, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

And expecting the federal.gov to fill the gaps is just insane. (“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”) There is an interesting interview with a fire chief from St. Bernard Parish District Fire Chief Mike LeBeau about the post-Katrina response from FEMA. Virtually all of the help went to New Orleans.

So what does this mean in the event of a disaster? It means that 72 hour mark that the federal.gov used to talk about is unrealistic. It will be a week or two before you get help.

Barrington said states have been told to expect up to 72 hours for a federal response, but in some cases it will take days longer.

“We’ve learned through some of our exercises, through Cascadia, which was a national exercise, that maybe it’s more realistic to expect that help in a week and maybe two weeks,” Barrington said. “With those kinds of time frames, it’s very important that the citizens be able to have the resources available that they can survive and live for multiple days without help.”

Here’s a look at what it was like on Day 3, after Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. Consider that the people in New York had DAYS to prepare. New York City water is actually some of the best in the country, and yet people were relying on (very small stockpiles of) bottled water. Hint: You can drink tap water collected BEFORE the disaster strikes. And no, water does not go bad in any way, unless algae grows in it. (Store it in a dark place, or a dark container. And make sure you have enough stored.)

But back to the original article. ‘EVERYBODY IS A FIRST RESPONDER’

“We’ve kind of built up this mythology that somebody is going to be there and save you,” former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said. “And the person that saves you is maybe yourself or your neighbor.”

In parts of the country, ordinary Americans are learning about what disasters they can expect and how they should be prepared for the aftermath.

You’re an adult. Start taking adult responsibility for the safety of yourself and your family. Big Nanny is not going to wipe your nose after a disaster.

At this point it seems appropriate to include the Graham Combat Killhouse Rules.

People Need to Have Respect for the Wild Places

These are stories about people who went “for the day” into the wild. They are lucky to be alive. I won’t even touch on the people who broke legs, etc. and had to be rescued. Just the folks who got lost. I used to read these stories all the time, but I think the last time I wrote about one was in 2007.

Wilderness is not like walking across your favorite city park. Wilderness is dangerous.

First up, grandsons “abandon” their grandfather on a trail at Mt Washington. Hiker rescued from Mt. Washington may have to foot the bill.

He will likely be billed because lack of preparation = negligence.

Because they wanted to reach the summit, which they did, but then they returned by a different route. Their 80-year-old grandfather was in early hypothermia when he was rescued. He had no supplies, not even correct clothing for the trails.

“People think it’s a walk in the park,” said [Lt. Mark Ober of Fish and Game], noting there have been 150 deaths around Mount Washington since the 1800s.

“They don’t understand that it could be 70 degrees (21 degrees Celsius) at the base and it will be 12 degrees (minus 11 degrees Celsius) with blowing wind and snow potentially at the summit.” he continued.

The two grandsons may face criminal charges. (Sadly not for Felony Stupidity.)

I will only mention the New Jersey hiker who perished on Mt Washington. You can find stories easy enough if you want to.

Then there is a case in California. ‘Don’t Leave Your Partner,’ Lost Hiker Says Following ‘Terrible’ Night in Angeles National Forest.

“It was terrible. I was sleeping over a rock with a towel over me … I was freezing,” Andrews said

Finally we have the guy missing for 6 days. Hiker missing for 6 days in Arkansas woods details fight against ants, prayer for survival.

No supplies. He did manage to stay near water.

McClatchy, 38, had planned his hike in the in the Caney Creek Wilderness region, near Mena, Arkansas, for weeks. But somehow the Dallas native managed to get off the beaten trail and disoriented. He texted his mother June 1 to say he needed help, but due to spotty cellphone service he couldn’t reconnect with her.

Don’t go into a wilderness area, even for a day, without some basic supplies. Don’t leave people by themselves. Don’t count on cellphones. Maps and a compass can be replaced by a decent GPS. (Not your phone.) Be sure the batteries are good. You want batteries for days. (As the last guy on our list proves.)

And what are basic supplies? Fire-starting equipment would be on the top of my list. Some food and a water filter might be a good start. But go ahead and fill up the backpack. (Tent, sleeping bag, whatever) A first aid kit. And remember, “Two is one, and one is none” when it comes to things that might factor into your survival.

And don’t be stupid about Wilderness.

California’s Camp Fire: The Breakdown in .gov Communications in Paradise, CA

They had drilled into people, “don’t evacuate until told to do so,” but most people never heard the order to evacuate, so a lot of them died in their homes or in their cars when they finally decided to stop waiting for the order. Escaping Paradise | California Wildfires: The New Normal. (From ABC 10 out of Sacramento.)

This is a long video – 20 minutes or so. But it is pretty good. And it highlights a couple of important lessons.

So the county (or city) had a plan. Call people via robocalls to tell them to evacuate. They never anticipated evacuating the whole town. The system was overloaded. And then the phone lines started to burn. They never used the Emergency Alert System (radio and TV). They never used the Wireless Alert System (Cellphones). Both of those are run by FEMA, which says no alerts were passed onto them.

The lessons?

First, FEMA says have a radio to listen for instructions from your local authority. But if the local authorities aren’t going to communicate via radio, what the hell is the point? How many of the hand-crank-charged AM/FM/Weather band radios have been sold? Most cellphones include AM/FM radio circuitry – which has been disabled. (Apple and the rest want to sell you their music service, so why provide free music?) If your local authority isn’t going to use EAS or the Wireless alerts, why are we paying for them? (Aside from the fact that it is a .gov jobs program, that is.) This lesson is for the .gov mostly. Use the news media. Use FEMA. That’s why they’re in place. For the rest of us, don’t believe that you always have all of the information. And really, really, don’t place too much trust in the .gov. They’re just as confused as you are.

Second, when you believe your life is in danger, don’t let other people make decisions for you. You’re an adult. Make your own decisions. Don’t follow the herd. I would say also don’t feel guilty that you survived and someone else didn’t, but that is easier said than done.

Finally, when you decide to run, run. Don’t walk. At least for the first part of the journey. Nothing you own is worth your life. And if your instincts are telling you to run, pay attention to the “run” part.

Coda: This is cellphone video of a guy evacuating during the fire. Language warning. He is freaking out because the fire is right on top of him.

And this is a compilation of drone video of the aftermath. Mostly burned structures. It is interesting to see one or two houses standing when everything else in the neighborhood has burned.

“What we do best is to stand there and look ugly.”

This situation around the fires in California reinforces something that many have known, but the majority seems to blissfully deny. Civilization is a fragile thing, and most are unprepared for even a partial collapse. Hellbent bikers provide security to Camp Fire evacuees at Chico church.

These evacuees aren’t street savvy, [Hellbent 823 chapter President Matt “Straws” Strausbaugh] said, “Two weeks ago their lives weren’t going in a direction that involved living in tents on the street.”

So the first task for the Hellbent club was to remove anyone who was threatening victims, causing trouble or scaring the children. Then, Strausbaugh said, “We switched from eject mode to protect mode.”

They had never contemplated the fact that they might have to stand up to addicts, and people threatening them or their children. And they were completely unprepared to do so when the situation arose. Enter the bikers, who take pride in standing up to people.

Craig Dunbar, with Hellbent 82 North, rattled off some of the dozen-plus clubs that have been volunteering their time and protection services. Their names are as colorful as their jackets; a few include the Jus Brothers from Oroville and Stockton, Sons of Hell out of Redding and the Street Outlaws from Red Bluff, Notorious from Chico, Henchmen and Hessians from San Joaquin, Curb Crawlers from Yuba City, Hells Angels from Sacramento and Dunbar’s fellow Hellbent brothers from Vallejo and Sacramento.

And he makes care to mention the Resurrection Motorcycle Club from Paradise, who nearly all lost their homes but have still been assisting with security.

Prepping for a disaster is as much about the idea as it is about having supplies. The “good citizens” mentioned in this piece are mostly unprepared – no supplies, no plans, no grit.

They didn’t know to try and keep the IV drug users away from their kids. The bikers found people shooting-up and discarded needles near where that kids were playing. The good citizens aren’t used to thinking about security; they take the security offered by society for granted.

People say that Thomas Hobbes was an unrealistic pessimist. But I think the state of that church/shelter before the bikers reestablished some level of order was exactly described by Hobbes’ State of War.

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Hat tip to Wirecutter.