Sunday, January 13, 2013
I really appreciate what the information you share, this is by far the best blog on the subject and I have no doubt that harder times are not far away – or have already arrived in much of the world. However, there are so many sad, often tragic, stories here that I wanted to share something a little different.
I live in northern Australia, an area that has gone through several category 5 cyclones in recent years. It is a terrifying experience and there has been an enormous amount of destruction to infrastructure and the economy. In the rest of Australia we have had record-breaking floods and catastrophic bushfires – we have no shortage of life-threatening natural disasters in this country.
The death toll from Cyclone Yasi was expected to be in the hundreds but civic preparedness was so efficient that it was capped at one – that person died after the event because he ran a generator in a closed space. Some of the things that happened: we didn’t have electricity for 10 days (much, much longer for the hardest hit communities). It was stinking hot and fresh food and ice was impossible to find. 65% of trees were lost and driveways and roads blocked – the sight of all those twisted, torn trees was incredible. Roads, houses and businesses were decimated in some areas. Road and rail access to the north and south was blocked (we are 1300km from the state capital).
Where I live there were some people who had power (because it was underground) and they helped those who didn’t. People we barely knew dropped in with frozen water containers so we could keep our food cold. Others took our dirty clothes and washed and ironed them (they did a better job than I do…) Local shops and the library allowed people to recharge and use mobile phones and laptops. Pubs and shops opened up food stalls and bbqs to feed people for free. The morning after the cyclone, volunteers and the defence force were out chainsawing trees so the clogged streets and driveways could open again. Coffee vans came round. The local government organised a city wide volunteering day to fix up people’s yards. In my street, a man appeared with a truck full of chainsaws. He’d driven 2,500 kms as soon as he’d heard about the cyclone and was there to help out. He wasn’t the only one.
Nobody went crazy, despite devastating and ogoing hardship for some. There were a couple of isolated cases of looting that were quickly stamped out. The crime rate didn’t rise, in the hard hit places or the ones that took in evacuees.
This isn’t an isolated case. These stories are repeated again and again, whenever there’s a natural disaster – like I said, there are lots in Australia and they hit all kinds of places, from the poor and remote to the wealthy and central. So when I read a post on your site about someone’s advice for surviving a hurricane I was mindboggled to see that ‘guns and ammo’ was no. 3 on the list. I’ve never once heard guns mentioned in disaster preparedness (in a potential apocalyptic future, yes, but never in all the disasters that have taken place here so far).
Why the difference? My guess is: strong social capital, less inequality than in many other places, good public infrastructure, excellent disaster management at the civic level, a tradition of rolling up your sleeves and looking after your mates (which can include strangers), and last but not least, very strict gun laws. The day the average citizen has to put ‘guns and ammo’ on their cyclone preparedness list will be a tragic one for Australia.
I know that bug out bags and Glocks may be necessary at some stage. I am not naive about human nature. But I also know that community, connection and robust civic structures count too and whatever we can do to strengthen them is a vital part of personal preparedness.
ps – have enclosed a pic of our house/st after Yasi
Thanks for your blog – it is great.
Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences!
It goes to show how great people in Australia are, definitely a strong contender for one of the best countries to live in in my opinion.
As you noted, most people tend to be good, caring human beings that will come to the aid of those in need. I believe that Australia is particularly good in that regard with very high standards of living and relatively low crime rate. As you notice yourself, there’s always some social parasite looking to commit crimes. Those couple isolated cases of looting probably affected someone already struggling with the disaster itself. No matter how few of them there are, or how rare it is, you have to prepare for it because it may be you next time. Australia gun laws are strict but you can still have some serious firearms. I have no doubt that more guns wouldn’t have meant more post disaster looting over there. Guns don’t brainwash people into doing evil deeds.
Another factor to keep in mind is that as you said, people helped, the government was well organized and they basically had things being taken care of in spite of the disaster. One thing that I learned is that the worse the conditions are, the more desperate people you will see. If help doesn’t arrive in time you will see people fighting over basic things such as water and food like we saw in Chile after their last big earthquake.
You mention the importance of community and networking. I couldn’t agree with you more. How many people don’t talk with their neighbors beyond a “hi” and waving their hand? It takes time, its not easy, but guys, you have to get to know the people around you now, not after a disaster!
Thanks a lot for your letter. All the best for you and all the blog readers from Australia!