2011 March 18 Friday
Cheap Tsunami Survival Ideas

Suppose you are going to choose to live in a zone at risk for a massive earthquake in an offshore subduction zone. Given that a tsunami can travel at 400 mph if the quake occurs within 200 miles of your home you will not have a lot of time to evacuate. The 2004 quake off of Sumatra took just 15 minutes for the massive wave to reach shore and for the quake off of Japan the arrival was just 30 minutes. Not a lot of time to evacuate on damaged roads full of other evacuees.

If you can not evacuate over land then what are your choices? I see 4:

  • Boating: Head out to sea in a speed boat. That means: after a severe earthquake get to a marina where you keep a speedboat and hope you can get it launched into the ocean before the water recedes in advance of the tsunami. Then get into deep water where the wave won't be as high. Unless you've got hours of warning this approach does not seem viable.
  • Duck and cover: Create an underground shelter under your home that is waterproof. One danger in this approach is that even if your shelter can survive the tsunami your path back up to the surface could be blocked. So how to guarantee you'll be able to escape?
  • Skyward: Up, up, and away in your beautiful balloon. But and store a hot air balloon where you live and/or where you work. But a cruise thru eBay turned up a 12 year old hot air balloon for $12,500.00. Pretty expensive. Plus, how long does it take to get one airborne? Also, what if the prevailing wind is toward the sea? Also, how long can you store the fuel?
  • A life raft sphere: Think of the Boston Whaler boats that can't be sunk because of their use of foam in their seats and hull. Well, imagine something more spherical or in a shape similar to an Apollo command module and with the ability to seal it from the inside. Situated on a roof top the life raft might hang together when the tsunami sweeps though. Then you'll ride the wave inland.

The speed boat seems the most expensive option. It is not clear to me the relative costs of the hot air balloon, underground shelter, or specialized life raft.

Both the hot air balloon and the underground shelter get out of the way of the high speed mass, either above or below it. After the quake happens the hot air balloon seems the safest approach if it can be executed fast enough. But keeping the fuel for it stored nearby poses a long term risk and you might not have time enough to pull it out and get it inflated. Plus, the basket where the humans stands probably better float because you are likely to land on the water.

The underground shelter does not work for apartment dwellers or those who do not plan to live where they are living long term. It is a considerable investment.

I find the life raft idea most appealing because of its relatively lower cost and ease of use. It does not guarantee survival. The wave could easily push along debris that would pierce the enclosed life raft right as the water hits it. Also, the acceleration of the life raft as the water hits could be so severe as to kill any occupants. But if every person in the affected area of Japan had been in such an enclosure when the wave hit most who died probably would have lived. Putting these special life rafts on roofs would increase the odds of getting a good lift-off that keeps you riding on top of the advancing wave.

The simplest version of the life raft could be pretty cheap. Imagine a big ball made from hard thick plastic with a heavy bottom for ballast and with foam seats built into it.

Got any other ideas on how to survive a tsunami? Or insights into the practicality of the ideas above?

Update: Tall buildings: In the comments Bruce and LAG suggest using tall buildings. It seems doable given building codes aimed at making the buildings strong enough to survive tsunami waves. In the Japanese town of Minamisanriku even the 4th floor of the hospital was flooded and only those who went up to the 5th floor survived. You can see at that link how few buildings survived. It appears only bigger buildings survived. So in theory fishing villages could be restored with 6 story tall and extremely well build structures. Then people could move up to the 6th floor.

Update II: Off-road bicycles or motorcycles: Looking at a map of the extent of the flooding (see also here it looks like the speed of a bicycle or off-road motorcycle (and an on-road motorcycle would probably work in a pinch) would let you cover enough distance to outrun a wave even if the roads are in a shambles and jammed with cars.

The off-road motorcycle runs the risk of not starting when you most need it. So an off-road bike could work as a back-up plan. Two wheel escape plans seem best out of the ideas so far. But for larger groups of people either extremely strong 6 story buildings or spherical escape pod lifeboats would be better choices.

Update III: Floatable houses: If a house not designed for floating can float out to sea with much of the house above water then imagine how well a house could do if it was designed to float. For example, use foam insulation and include foam insulation in the floor. Before you laugh click thru and look at the picture. Someone could have survived in that house's attic.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 18 10:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (63)
2011 March 16 Wednesday
Empty Store Shelves As Japanese Hoard

You know all that advice you hear about stocking up before a disaster? Events in Japan demonstrate the wisdom of advanced preparation. Even in Tokyo Japanese shoppers are cleaning out grocery stores by buying everything.

People in the capital, home to 12 million, snapped up radios, torches, candles, fuel containers and sleeping bags, while for the fourth day there was a run on bread, canned goods, instant noodles, bottled water and other foodstuffs at supermarkets.

This is highly advanced, affluent, and civilized Japan. People in Tokyo fear a full reactor meltdown followed by winds blowing radioactivity into the city. They want to have supplies if the stores stop getting deliveries.

Think where you live makes you immune to, say, nuclear reactor failures triggered by tsunamis? Okay, but that doesn't take you off the hook. The 1970s oil crisis triggered panic buying in Japan.

Retailers said the panic buying was reminiscent of the oil crisis in the 1970s.

So imagine what a revolution in the Persian Gulf would do for your supply of gasoline and food when your neighbors start panic buying. Sound far fetched? Sure. North Africa isn't going to be convulsed by revolutions and civil wars either. Oh wait.

Even emergency supplies available to be sent to the disaster area aren't getting thru due to lack of fuel and damaged roads. Therefore Sendai is short of food, fuel, and water.

The panic buying isn't restricted to Japan. In the United States a run on potassium iodide pills has suppliers running out of pills. Don't wait till the radioactive fall-out threat becomes imminent before trying to get some iodine. Though if you live near an ocean you could go and get some kelp to eat.

In the comments of another recent post SkippyTony of Christchurch New Zealand discussed what he found useful for survival when Christchurch was recently struck by a strong earthquake. Sounds like he discovered too late that he needed to bolt his wine rack to the wall. All you people living within a few hundred miles of the New Madrid fault should take note. He also has a sobering set of Christchurch before and after photos.

One thing to note about supplies: You'll die of thirst weeks or months sooner than you'll die of starvation. So stock up on water if an earthquake or other failure can cut off your water supply for days. If you can lose water for longer then think about means for filtering and purifying dirty water.

If you lose power for an extended period of time and have no way to cook frozen or refrigerated food without utility power then you lose out on a way to prepare perishable food before it goes bad. A big water supply and a camping stove with fuel seem like useful things to stock. Though if you have wood and a suitable place to burn it you could get your cooking heat that way.

Imagine your government some day giving this advice:

“Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged the public. “Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don’t turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors.”

With a tightly sealed home what do you do for oxygen as it gets depleted and the CO2 builds up? A HEPA air purifier purchased in advance would work - at least as long as you have electric power. Want to go all survivalist? Get photovoltaic panels on your roof so you can use the electric power to run outside air thru HEPA filters during the day to get fresh filtered air.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 16 11:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2011 February 20 Sunday
Personal Responses To Large Scale Collapse

First off, the purpose of this post is not to argue that a collapse of society is in any way imminent or definite in the foreseeable future. I just want to raise the level of discourse I see on blogs and other venues about how to respond to larger scale collapse and assorted disaster scenarios. I'll spare you links to comments on other blogs that were irritating enough to make me write this post.

The term "collapse" covers a wide range of possible future scenarios, each with varying degrees of severity. For example, we could go thru a period of higher inflation all the way up to Weimar-style hyper-inflation. That can cause economic collapse. Or declining oil production could cause economic contraction that might be severe enough warrant the term "collapse". Such a contraction might come with revivals as part of a long economic descent.

Natural physical events could cause societal collapse. A large coronal mass ejection from the Sun aimed at Earth could cause a Carrington Event like in 1859. Such an event today could cause most of the electric grid transformers to melt (though we could mitigate much of that risk, and fairly cheaply). As a result, cities would become uninhabitable for months or years due to lack of electric power. Or a VEI 7 volcano like Tambora in 1815 would cause crop failures for a year or two combined with very cold weather with resulting food and energy shortages. Or a VEI 8 volcano like Toba of 74,000 years ago would cause collapse at a level that makes Weimar hyper-inflation a walk in the park in comparison. Still other civilization-threatening scenarios can be imagined.

We've got lots of ways for things to go wrong. We can debate the probabilities of each. But regardless of whether the cause of collapse or decay is due to financial events, natural resource depletion, natural disaster, or even thermonuclear war each of the possible causes come in varying levels of severity (e.g. the size of the volcanic eruption varies over a wide scale, the size of solar coronal mass ejections similarly vary in severity, as do nuclear war scenarios). Those different levels of severity are too often elided. Therefore important nuances about how to respond to lesser levels of severity are often lost. Given that probabilities of disasters are inversely related to their scale (i.e. smaller scale disasters happen more often than larger scale disasters) this is unfortunate.

Since most discussions about disasters and survivalism tend to focus on severe scenarios (it being more fun to imagine total collapse) most proposals about how to survive collapse miss out on what to do about disasters that are moderate in scope. To counteract that tendency I would like to present a first cut attempt at a typology for different levels of response needed for different kinds and severities of collapse. These responses are at a personal level (since most of us do not have our hands on the levers of government) so that w can think about our options as individuals and as members of smaller social groups and families. I will set aside preparations for disaster and collapse and focus mainly on responses.

A proposed collapse response typology:

  • Stay put, live frugally and defensively.
  • Migrate.
  • Hide in plain sight (this can be added to either of the first two options).
  • Form a defensive perimeter for an armed camp.
  • Form a raiding gang.
  • Hide out of sight.
  • Tunnel down and surrender the surface to nature.

Okay, probably not what you were expecting. But let me explain: A great many disaster novels focus on groups migrating across a post-apocalyptic landscape or forming a sort of Fort Apache to fight off marauding bands of scavengers. But these options do not make sense in most common disaster scenarios. For example, if your country descends into high inflation with an economic depression (think Argentina in 2001) what point is there to moving around? Also, few people will gain any advantage by creating not only gated communities but heavily guarded neighborhoods with barbed wire and lots of gunners guarding the perimeter. Other options make more sense.

A garden variety financial crisis with a mild depression thrown in probably is best handled by staying put and adopting a number of defensive tactics against an inevitable rise in crime rates. Fernando "Ferfal" Aguirre, who lived through the Argentina financial crisis and depression that began in 2001, wrote a book about his experiences, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse (and the book needs a good editor but makes useful points). Aguirre argues that in financial crises moving out from cities to the country makes you easier prey. Formation of an isolated defensive community requires a considerable number of people to stand guard in all directions. It is hard for a very small group to defend themselves on an isolated ranch. Though the extent of the danger when living in a rural area depends in part on the sort of nation you live in, what region you live in, and other considerations. A small town (not a single farm house) in the middle of farm fields might be much safer than a city.

Less severe disasters (whether economic, political, natural or other) are more frequent than more severe disasters. The smaller disasters are also easier to prepare for. Plus, some of the forms of preparation for smaller scale disasters are also quite useful for larger scale disasters. Therefore it is not sensible to buy an abandoned missile silo and turn it into an underground disaster ark before buying candles, enough food to last for months, and a way to purify water. Get ready for earthquakes, hurricanes, and several day power outages before preparing for combat or a retreat from the surface of the planet.

Some localized crises are best dealt with by migration. Move away from the trouble. A volcano flowing down on a village or a smaller scale Carrington Event with only localized damage to the electric grid would leave most of the world still functional. So if you can go to a nicer place then it makes sense to go where you can get fresh water and electric power?

The options I find most interesting are those that amount to different variations on hiding. Hiding has a major advantage over defense: less attention from predators. When defensive perimeters get set up to guard really valuable assets (e.g. food, drugs, fresh water, solar panels) these perimeters attract raiders. The visibility of a well-guarded perimeter sends a message saying "We've got good stuff inside". Groups big enough to take down your perimeter will be tempted to try. Also, in a severe crisis you are as likely to be raided by a security and military units of a desperate government as by desperate private groups. If you can hide it works much better because nobody comes knocking to take what you have.

Hiding starts at the most minimal level with hiding in plain sight. This is the trickiest option to pull off. It means stay where you are with valuable resources but make it seem as if you have nothing. Act poor. Appear as poor and destitute as everyone else. The advantage is that nobody tries to take what you have. You can keep your dwelling and swap favors in your familiar and trusted circle of friends. It also enables you to engage in commerce and do work if what you do is still useful after some disaster.

Hiding in plain sight does not work if you can't really hide what you've got. It works better if you can plan in advance and create false walls that hide, say, a secret underground room that has your food supply. That way, even if someone forces their way into your home they won't find much.

Hiding in plain sight only makes sense if you have stuff worth hiding and if you can maintain your subterfuge for as long as the crisis requires. Even if you have great techniques for hiding your stuff and have many months of supplies this approach won't work indefinitely. Your own obvious success will eventually doom your strategy if most other people can't get enough food. For example, imagine (and for hard core survivalists no imagining is even necessary) before a disaster you stockpiled a few years of food in well hidden locations easily accessible only to you. Then a VEI 8 volcano knocks out most photosynthesis for a few years and it looks like most people in your community are eventually going to starve to death. Does hiding in plain sight work? For a while. But your own lack of emaciation will eventually blow your cover as everyone else becomes gaunt. Bottom line: You can't hide your stuff while presenting yourself in public if your own appearances will reveal that you must possess a survival cache.

This leads us up to hiding out of sight. If an extended period of hunger becomes a certainty and you have sufficient food to survive then your need shifts toward how to get your non-emaciated body literally out of sight of everyone else. Do not let people see your obviously well-fed body while everyone else starves to death. Hide in an obscure location.

Those with a more martial bent might think a defense perimeter has more appeal. At first glance a defense perimeter seems like a viable strategy. But you need enough food for all the people needed to maintain that perimeter as well as the right sorts of people to create it (e.g. loyal, conscientious, good with guns, skilled in military tactics). That's hard to put together. But let us suppose you've got the needed quantities of food, guns, great location, and skilled marksmen in your survival group. In the early days of a great starvation that works for the same reason that when fleeing a bear with a group of people you don't have to be able to outrun the bear: You just have to be able to outrun everybody else. So it is with defense perimeters. If you've got a great defense perimeter then other less well defended groups will get attacked first by raiding gangs (unless raiding gangs are too stupid to accurately rank defense perimeters - and you can count on some stupidity). But eventually the easier targets will get wiped out. Then the best organized raiders (which could well be real government military units) will come for you.

The most severe collapse scenarios therefore require either the most sophisticated methods of hiding or membership in the most organized groups of military force or both. If you are not part of a special forces group or high group of military officers then hiding way off the beaten path is the ultimate survival strategy during a severe collapse scenario when trying to defend against depredations by other desperate humans. Hiding can be done by smaller groups than are needed to pull off defense perimeters. Hiding groups need fewer martial skills and less time spent outside on guard.

Given a big enough volcanic eruption or asteroid strike your need to hide takes on a different form: the need to hide from the elements. If sunlight is going to get blocked out for a while you need to go underground where the temperatures will not fall below about 50 Fahrenheit. Human artifacts have lasted longest underground because they are protected from plants, storms, and temperature variations. But the amount of resources needed to build up an underground survival community is so great that I doubt many groups outside of militaries and top leaderships would have the resources to prepare such a place after the initial disaster became known.

To evaluate the best responses to disasters and collapses you need to consider the severity and duration of the likely disaster period. Strategies optimal for some scenarios will doom you to failure in other scenarios. Keep in mind that much less severe disasters are more likely than the most severe scenarios.

If you want to prepare for the full range of disasters and collapse you need to accurately predict the level of desperation your fellow humans will feel, how many resources you need to survive, and who you should team up with to achieve needed synergies of survival skills. Crises develop over a period of time and you need to map out your succession of strategies and be prepared to switch to a new strategy when conditions deteriorate to the point where an early stage strategy ceases to be viable.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 20 09:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (37)
2010 April 13 Tuesday
Mass Market Survival Shelters

Too poor to afford to build a survival shelter for 2012's Mayan calendar ending? Worry that an asteroid will show up to blast everyone on the Earth's surface? Or maybe you just fear a total societal collapse due to the bursting of the latest financial bubble. Finally deep underground condo shelters are coming to market.

In what may strike some as an idea taken from Dr. Strangelove, Del Mar, California-based company Vivos (company’s motto: “You can’t predict, but you can prepare”) is providing you and about 4,000 other people the chance to survive the end of the world. The company plans to build a network of 20 shelters near most major cities of the United States. Each 20,000-square-foot shelter, which can hold up to 200 people, would be located about five stories underground with walls two to three feet thick. The shelters would be stocked with a year’s supply of “gourmet foods,” as well as medical and dental centers and flat-screen TVs.

Each shelter costs about $10 million to build, and Vivos is selling space in the price range of about $50,000 per person. So far, about 1,000 applications have been received for space in the shelters.

I wonder what they do about oxygen. A disaster scenario that would require living underground for a year might involve serious problems with air quality.

The biggest problem I can see with such a shelter is that its location will be very well known. How to keep out would-be squatters who want to shoot their way in and force you out or kill you?

Another problem with extreme disasters: You've got to be able to reach your shelter once the severity of a disaster becomes known. If you get a couple days notice of a big asteroid strike and the asteroid doesn't happen to be aimed at a target near your shelter you'll have the time. But not all disasters are known about in advance.

If one is going to spend as much as $50k per person I would supply a shelter with more than 1 year's worth of food. The yearly cost of food (at least if bought before, say, a VEI 9 volcano halts most photosynthesis) is much lower than shelter cost. So why not store 3 or 4 years worth of food?

Another approach for those with more money would be to build a smaller and more secret hide-away. Use a small number of construction workers and pay them to work longer so that few people need be involved. That way fewer will know about the existence of the shelter WTSHTF. Though word still might get around. The biggest problem with a survival shelter is keeping it for your own once people are desperate to survive.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 13 10:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
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