Sunday, January 13, 2013

Natural Disaster Experiences in Australia‏

Hi Ferfal,
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.

Hi P,
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!


Scott said...

Thanks for sharing. In West Virginia we had a storm that knocked out power (and some water services)across the entire state. We went without power for 7 days and there was not any looting or anything of that nature and that is in a region that has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the United States.

Maldek said...

My 2c on the topic.

The australian dollar is bull strong. The australian wages are sky high.

The country may be in a sea of debt but until now has experienced a loooooong time of boom.
Even low qualified workers will earn upwards of $ 15/hour.

Under such conditions the people can afford to be nice and care for strangers they do barely know.

The key difference to south america (or africa or parts of asia) is exactly that. They can afford to be good and honest.

If you live in a country where prices are lower but wages are MUCH lower - say $ 5 per DAY and you try to survive, in that country you will be lunging for the next cyclone.

Know why? Because it will give you a chance to go looting. A chance to get your hands on things you otherwise can only see through burgler bars (from the outside), things you would not be able to get through hard work. Never.

In these places people have a hard time to survive, without their children going to bed hungry. These people can not afford to help a stranger, they can not afford to be honest. They will do whatever it takes to survive. Natural desaster are a chance to improve. Thats the difference my friend and thats why guns and amno are so high on the list.

Lance said...

I was close to getting a 457 visa to work in Australia. In their word the economy 'plateaued' and the importation of Gringos ended. When Australia has gangs of foreign drug dealers having gun fights in Australian cities perhaps they will understand. Since Australia is isolated by oceans, not rivers or lines on a map, from millions of third world immigrants, or the homegrown equivalent, I can see where point #3 is not important there. To elaborate I recall a Korean merchant walking the rooftop of his store during the Rodney King riots. He carried an AR-15 with a magazine. As I remember his store was not looted nor did he shoot anybody.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maldek,

I agree with what you say there. There's a world of difference between Australia and much of the world and having lived in Asia and Africa, I am aware of that. The thing that triggered was my post was another one I read that was written by someone in the USA. I don't think of the USA being on a par with poor parts of Africa and I was really surprised to see that guns and ammo were high on the list for hurricane preparedness. But perhaps I am both naive and fortunate...regardless, I second Ferfal's statement about the importance of neighbourhood and community ties, no matter where on the planet you are.

Anonymous said...

A gun is not the end all be all in life. It’s a tool best suited for defense of life or property just like a shovel is best for digging a hole. Whether you choose to have one or not is a personal preference in an ideal society. Sadly, in most countries in the governments have removed that choice from citizens. I sense from your tone that you implicitly question the need for a gun in a moral society where both the government and the people do their civic duty. So my question to you would then be why shouldn’t such moral society be free to own guns? Second, at the risk of second guessing your thoughts and feeling, and more as an invitation for you to explore them, I got the impression that you believe that the absence of guns makes for a moral society. This line of thought is contradictory to the premise that Australians are moral people, which I believe they are, since a gun is incapable of making society immoral much like a shovel cannot dig a hole by itself.

On a broader note, I think the Australian government made a huge mistake disarming its population. You may not have anything to fear from your fellow neighbor or your own government, but how would you feel about China invading Australia for its natural resources. Nothing is written about the future, but one thing is for certain those who don’t have take by force from those who have. And if those who have are not armed they stand to lose a lot more than just property.


Don Williams said...

1) I spent 3 weeks in Australia a few years ago on holiday --mostly eastern side -- Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs and northeast around Cairns. Lovely country -- enjoyed it and the people.
2) Survivalwise, it has vulnerabilities that I've noted before:
a) Jared Diamond thinks the land can only support 10 million people long term and its current population is around 20 million. While they have exported beef in the past, they are now also importing foods when drought hits
b) Speaking of drought, some scientists think Australia is highly vulnerable to drought if global warming raises temperatures
c) Speaking of food, Australia has 3 billion people just a short distance to the north across an island chain. She would probably have been invaded by the Japanese in WWII if not for the US Navy battles at Midway and elsewhere.
She has an excellent Navy for her size but 20 million people can't fight the resources of 3 billion,
including 1.3 Chinese.
d) Plus defense studies indicate that Australia and New Zealand may receive large number of refugees as global warming melts the ice caps, sea levels rise and low-lying Polynesian islands (6 feet above sea level) are submerged.
e) When I was up near Port Douglas, a local guy told me that a lot of people in conservative Northeast Australia did not give up their guns when the national government passed the gun ban --
that they hid them.

Scott said...

People can get desperate during a disaster so I like to be prepared. I also survived a home invasion 3 summers ago when there wasn't an emergency. Merely brandishing my pistol thwarted the attempt. Again, thanks for sharing both comments. I always like to see the thoughts and experiences of people from different parts of the world. You were very informative.