Still awe stuck by images of the terrible earthquake/tsunami this week in Japan, I’m also amazed at how tens of thousands of people were likely saved from the initial onslaught be preparedness. And staggered by the work still needed to avoid further calamity—people need water, food, shelter.
One thing is clear from the coverage of the devastation. The Japanese were a lot more prepared than we would be for something of this magnitude. They have well-rehearsed emergency plans and supplies in place. And despite the shaking, there were many modern building that stood because of stringent codes and practices.
I think one thing that the FEMA guide is weak on, though, and we’re weak on as a country, is the further complications due to weeks—or months—without power and water. Do you have a way to get safe drinking water should you lose the public supply or power for your private well? And how long wood you and your family and your home be OK without power? In the middle of summer? In the middle of winter?
Energy-efficiency can play a big role in disaster preparedness. Generally, the more efficient your home is, the more livable it remains if you are without power for extended periods. Some homes can maintain temperatures in the 50s and 60s in subfreezing weather for months, even with no heat. Others drop quickly—raising a variety of issues including freezing water pipes and difficult living conditions. Some homes become unlivable in hot summer months without air-conditioning—while others can coast along well in the same heat. If your utility bills are high, or your house is uncomfortable during normal circumstances, what happens when electricity or gas supplies get disrupted? And what natural disasters can trigger blackouts or brownouts, a variety of other causes put us at risk.
This isn’t just speculation. Many people have experienced severe winter weather without power for extended periods–it happens most years somewhere, and this year was no different. In some parts of the country, cold temperatures and much higher than normal gas use caused some people’s homes to not have enough fuel to stay warm this winter. Compound that with something like terrorism targeting our infrastructure, and things could get ugly fast.
I don’t think this stuff should rule our lives. But we shouldn’t ignore, them either. And doing things like making ourselves less dependent on energy supplies makes sense anyway, and we clearly ought to be doing better, don’t you think?