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Worst Case Scenario

2010-05-13 17:23:14.192701+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

I mentioned that I recently took a CERT class. It was a good experience, I think everyone should do it, and it was especially interesting hearing tales from people who'd been involved in the Loma Prieta quake, but there was also more than a little apocalyptic thinking, and it, once again, got me thinking about the costs of preparedness. Yeah, a major earthquake could happen in my lifetime in Petaluma. It probably will. Is it a good idea for me to make sure my house is strapped to the foundation? Yep. Is it reasonable for me to prepare for a week or three without outside access? Maybe. The New Orleans folks certainly should have, but we're starting to get into shaky territory.

Of course the Mormons are working on two years of food storage, and I'm not averse to keeping a lot around and having systems in place to filter my own water (even if that's not much more than a Giardia capable backpacking pump), but at some point there's a risk/reward trade-off that's targeted towards millennial events. How much a part of that do I really care to participate in?

So with that in mind, I present Bruce Schneier on the hazards of worst-case thinking. Via RC3.

[ related topics: Food Earthquake Hurricane Katrina Real Estate ]

comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2010-05-15 15:57:18.87699+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think some of this relates to cultures surviving, more than just individuals. Will the 500 year event happen during my lifetime? Less than a 20% chance of that. But the culture that carries the memes that helps individuals survive a 500 year or millenial event has a greater chance of surviving.

Many of those cultures are tied up with things that probably don't have anything to do with the long-long-term survival, and technology is changing fast enough that the applicability of those memes is changing faster than the events that they survive through, which throws the whole damned thing into disarray. A century and a half ago, Joseph Smith exhorting his followers to keep two years of food around might actually impact someone's life. Now, a couple of generations have gone by without it mattering much.

My bigger feeling is that it's the ability to react to the event more than having specific materials for an event around, and the attitude that "the authorities" will not be there to help when an event occurs. I don't know how you teach that or instill those skills and attitudes in your neighbors without coming off like a tea-bagger.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-05-15 11:57:53.173781+00 by: Medley

I struggle with this question a lot. I blame my upbringing on my predilection for apocalyptic thinking. My theory, though, is that most humans are wired such that even non-religious people need some sort of Rapture-style event to worry about (and/or look forward to.)

But there is a cost-benefit question, as you say, not just monetary, but time, attention, re-stocking, refactoring, and so on. So I go through phases where I do a bunch of prep - jump bags, spare food, contingency planning and such. And we have Deer Park deliver jugs of water every month and keep a few full spares in the basement.

But .. useful? worth it? I don't know..

#Comment Re: made: 2010-05-15 04:24:38.663771+00 by: Dan Lyke

Jeff, but geologic time is so huge relative to human scales that "if it'll happen in my lifetime" remains a question.

Which is why figuring out which resources to allocate to it is tough: with emergency food, I'm totally fine with keeping canne stuff which we use around. It's harder to justify a closet full of MREs. A couple of jugs of water (+hot water heater) makes sense, as does the backpacking filter, but beyond that?

And I haven't figured out how to work HAM radio gear in there, but I could see a local mesh WiFi grid...

#Comment Re: made: 2010-05-14 22:32:26.893+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Dan--one of the reasons that I moved from Point Richmond to Novato is that I wanted to take the Richmond Bridge out of play as part of my commute to work (I worked in Novato the last year or so in the Bay area).

I was not a homeowner then, but I still took the threat of a major quake seriously as it could affect my ability to work. The "little" 5.5 tremlor in Napa caused $100M damage there in 2000, and by the time the quake had modulated to me 30 miles away all I could feel was a gentle swaying of the 2nd floor apartment I was living in at the time. It was enough to awaken me at 5:30 in the morning.

Of course, it's not a question of "if" a large quake will strike the Bay area again, it's simply a question of "when" and "which" fault will rupture. But, that's the risk/reward of living in paradise...

#Comment Re: made: 2010-05-14 18:38:29.732816+00 by: petronius [edit history]

There's a deep psychology at play here. Some people will be isolated in a fearful community and let the fears resonate with them. For example, I have heard that the 90s militia movement fell apart after the Y2K disaster failed to take place. Thousands of guys hiding out in the bunker surrounded by crates of MREs and bags of silver dimes woke up on January 2nd and realized the world didn't end, and they gave up in disgust. Will you feel sheepish if the Great Petaluma Quake never takes place? On the other hand, the Little Petaluma rumble is more likely, and will be handled nicely by that water filter and some camping supplies.