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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Losing your storage to disaster

Haitians Retrieve Deceased from Collapsed Building by United Nations Photo.Photo Via Flickr User un_photo
Recently we had a reader ‘Lonnie’ write in with the following excellent question, that I’ve heard asked in other forms too;
Was thinking about the earthquake in Haiti, and if that happened along the wasatch front. I live in Utah county in a 2 story home with a basement. My food storage is in my basement. What if the earthquake totally destroys my house and my food storage is buried under the rubble of what was my house? It won’t do me any good when I can’t GET TO IT! Any suggestions on mitigating that problem?
Well Lonnie, it looks like I’m finally going to get around to addressing your question, and hopefully in a helpful manner. I think your question itself gives the necessary questions you will need to ask yourself in order to solve your concerns.  Today of course, you are worrying because of the recent disaster in Haiti, but similar questions ocurr after hurricanes, flooding, and most any other form of disaster. The more news coverage devoted to the disaster, the more people begin to question their own security. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all solution to any complicated, personal issue. Each individual must consider what disasters they are most likely to encounter, then which of those to begin preparing for. No one can cover every scenario so don’t waste your time trying. Stick with those issues you believe are germane to your situation, research your options and begin preparing. Not only does this guide you in what food and supplies you will need, but how you store them.
As you have mentioned, here on the Wasatch Front, we are surrounded by fault lines that could cause any number of problems, and thus are a condition we should prudently prepare for. Lonnie, like most of us along the Wasatch Front stores her food in the basement. This makes sense, there is usually more space; stable, cooler temperatures, and it’s not ‘in your face’ all the time or competing with your decorations for attention. However, that’s a lot of house sitting on top of everything should it all come down due to a geologic event. To me this brings a couple of things to mind:
  1. Should you put all your food storage in a single location?  If possible, spread things around a little.  Maybe that means doing something like having an attached cellar if you somehow have the space and time, but I know many of us don’t.  I have a part of my garage that is well insulated so I can put certain canned goods out there.  A lot less house will land on it in that case.
  2. Support and Protections. In the case of an earthquake or other event, houses rarely completely collapse. Based on their position in the house and proximity to supporting structures, furniture, etc. your preps may be well protected. You can keep that in mind when you situate your food storage area. And if you don’t have enough support already, you can add some protective devices either to your house, or just around your storage locations (better containers, shelving, etc).
  3. Accessibility.  Even in a really bad earthquake, and if your house really does fall down, that doesn’t mean all your food is lost.  You will actually have more concern about food damage from fires, or from any water damage than from the collapse itself.  Sure some cans, and definitely glass jars will break, but many will still be good, just hard to get to.  But I’m sure it will be possible to do so with some work.  If you’re hungry, and you know you’ve got a years supply (mostly) of food under a floor or two worth of scrap lumber, you just know you’ve got some great seasoned firewood to cut before the BBQ, and that’s the *worst* case.
Now, the best thing to know before it happens is how to prevent losing your food storage, or other supplies in the case of a disaster (in this case an earthquake, adapt to floods or any other region’s favorite flavor of doom). Remember that if everything you have is in a single location, then Murphy will cause that to be the epicenter of whatever disaster you have. We all know that’s how he likes to work. Find out ways to possibly take advantage of more than one place in your house. If you are just extra lucky, maybe you have close family that you can trade storage space with, or maybe you have a storage unit, or somebody with property might have a cellar, barn, or shed.
Second, remember that some storage items shouldn’t be kept together. Maybe you have a nicer generator, or camp stove. Well of course you don’t want to keep that fuel near your food. Even without a natural disaster, that is a potential disaster on its own. But also think about what other things won’t mix well if shaken (or stirred). Are your liquid filled glass jars located above cardboard cake mix boxes or are those sealed mylar bags protecting your dried mixes?
The worst case in an earthquake means you don’t have *any* need for that food you’ve been storing.  As our friend the Preparedness Pro says, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if I was crushed under my wheat in a disaster?”.  Let’s step back one level though and say you were lucky enough not be killed during a major earthquake.  The time immediately after that earthquake is really important.  We should all know that it’s not safe to just go back into a building right away, and after ensuring the safety of our family you should of course make sure the gas, electric, and water to your house are turned off.  You have a much larger chance of losing everything you have to something going wrong with those than you do to the direct effects of the earthquake itself.  This is something you will likely need some basic tools for, and must learn how to do ahead of time.  Now, if you are standing outside your house, people are physically safe, and utilities are off, then this is the time that your ‘72-hour kit’ was designed for.  During that time you can use the resources in that kit to make sure your family has what it needs, and you can begin to assess the situation.  Aftershocks are likely in the few days following an earthquake, so you don’t want to be poking around in a house that is now more likely to collapse, but you can begin to assess the situation. Maybe your house really wasn’t that damaged, and you can move important resources outside. Maybe everything looks just fine, and you can begin to look closer for any harder-to-find damage points.
There are some disasters we can never be truly ready for, and others where you might just get the short end of the stick and lose everything.  But in giving honest thought to the problem, you’ll see that we can take basic steps to improve our chances for even large disasters.