Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prepare: Wyoming Apocalypse Bill

Wyoming Apocalypse Bill

A lawmaker in Wyoming introduced a bill this week which would have allocated $16,000.00 in state funds to study and plan for the collapse of the U.S. federal government and the dollar.

The plan would have funded studies for a state-run alternative currency, emergency food production and military preparations.

The bill was ridiculed (another lawmaker appended a requirement that the state get its own aircraft carrier) and failed when it came up for vote.

Unfortunately, the problem was not the messenger, but the message. The lawmaker was correct; Wyoming, and other states, need to make emergency plans in the event the federal government can no longer finance its activities and thus, can no longer continue operations. The fact of the matter is, the U.S. federal government borrows over forty cents for each dollar it spends - that's unsustanainable.

Critics of the bill argued that emergency planning was already funded by the state through existing agencies. Fair enough. But most state planning consists of dealing with weather emergenicies like snowstorms or natural disasters such as wild fires.

Once upon a time ago, progressive cities and towns used to make plans for a nuclear strike during the Cold War. It was not the Fed's role to ensure continuity of government, it was theirs or so the conventional wisdom of the day went.

Today however, If they were faced with multiple widespread terrorist attacks, a nuclear or biological weapon, or worse, an EMP event, most local planning involves calling FEMA for instructions. That's not a plan, that's a wish.

All states, and cities and counties for that matter, should consider the question, "What would we do if we were cut off from the outside world and had to go it alone for an extended period of time?". Afterall, this happened in New Orleans after Katrina when it took over a week for help to arrive in large enough force to actually make a difference.

Which would then lead to:

How long would the food in the grocery stores last?
Where could we get more food locally?
What about fuel supplies? How long would they last?
Do we have the authority to commandeer supplies owned by local businesses and individuals?
Should we be stockpiling supplies normally used by local government so we can continue to function?
Will our law enforcement resources be enough? What about other emergency services such as medical facilities?

Governments of all sizes are doing a disservice to their citizens when they don't make plans for things so terrible, the average person does not want to think about them. While it may not be prudent to spend $16,000.00 to study scenarios, it does make sense to figure out how your people will be fed and stay warm in an extended emergency.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prepare: Storm drains, sewers, underground tunnels

When I was a kid, a new shopping mall was built near my home and like any one my age, I found the construction site fascinating. I was particularly drawn to the massive drain system they put in place underground before they built the actual mall. The tunnels were big enough to traverse from one side of the site to the other and spread out to other drains in the area. I crawled around in those tunnels for a few weeks before the site was fenced off and my access ended. 

Our urban and suburban landscape is littered with manhole covers and storm drain openings on every street. I read once in an online forum where a poster questioned whether or not these underground chambers should be considered for ad hoc shelters in an emergency like a nuclear event. First, we all need to identify the difference in underground infrastructure and then discuss why employing them in an emergency is not a good idea. 

Storm and sanitary drains have been under humanity's feet for thousands of years. The underground drains and sewers of Rome and Paris are legendary for instance and most were built upon older structures dating back hundreds or even thousands of years ago. However, these drains and sewers served a very specific purpose: to transport excess water and waste AWAY from people and urban centers. They were not designed to be shelters of refuge although they have been used as such by different individuals and groups. 

Storm drains - storm drains are designed by city engineers to carry large amounts of water underneath a city during rainy periods. While they are mostly dry and empty during dry times, they quickly fill with water to the point they are able to carry a fully grown person away through their twisting labyrinths. Storm drains comprise of street side openings as well as manhole access points on the streets. They then open underground into larger and larger drains which eventually empty into natural rivers or manmade ones like the urban canyons made famous in Los Angeles. 

Sanitary sewers - these openings are seen on most streets and are the foulest of all. Sanitary sewers carry human waste from our toilets to waste centers where the waste is separated and the water cleaned for reuse in the water system. If you have ever seen one of these things backup, you know what comes out of them and its pretty gross. I would never go near one of these places. 

Utility tunnels - these vary in size. Where I live, the phone company has several large openings to the underground where phone lines are run between buildings. While the manhole covers are large, what is below is cramped (room for one technician to work at a time) and not very safe as they run both electrical and phone lines through the same tunnels. There are often batteries and leaking chemicals in utility tunnels which make them more dangerous. 

There are other utility tunnels in some older parts of the country which were used for transporting coal or fuel oil beneath the cities. And finally, there are utility tunnels which were used to connect subway tunnels for workers; these are completely different and might be useful. 

The problem with storm drains and sewers is while they may protect people for a short amount of time, eventually, they will become inhabitable because of their intended purpose. Water and human waste will back up and flood these chambers driving residents out into the open. Even the famous storm drains beneath arid Las Vegas are emptied a few times a year because of rain and the homeless population below is sent packing to high ground. 

If there is a nuclear event, like a dirty bomb, it is better to head for a real basement or parking garage for cover. The water and utility tunnels underground are not intended for shelter and could end up being a tomb rather than a haven. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Time To Start Spring Planting

The weather across the United States during the 2011-12 winter has been much warmer than the previous year. This has also been a wetter winter for much of the country as well. I checked the online almanacs and it appears, (cross your fingers) that we may have much of the worse behind us. 

That means... drum roll please.. It's time to get ready for spring and with that, spring planting. 

With gasoline prices expected to soar both in the U.S. and E.U. this spring and summer, now is the time to get a green thumb and start growing some of what you eat. Gas prices mean the cost of food will go up (delivery trucks, farm equipment and farm laborers driving to work all run on gas and diesel) and the best way to offset that expense is producing your own food. 

I know some who grow big crops (wheat, corn) and small crops (garden vegetables) who produce most of what they eat. However, if you do not have a green thumb or have a history of killing grass, feel free to take small steps. But hurry up and learn to walk because your life and your families may depend upon what you pull out of the soil. 

To start, growing food requires soil, seeds, water and sunlight. By soil, we mean healthy soil. Most of the soil we see everyday is good for growing grass or weeds. To properly grow tomatoes or peppers, soil needs to be amended with living material, most notably, compost. However, good compost takes time to develop, so get a jump start and purchase some high quality soil from the garden store and amend it with some compost purchased at the same place. 

If money is an issue (when is it not?), search out a local source such as a friend who might have some good soil available for hauling. Local farms are good for obtaining manure and other natural soil foods and with some labor and gasoline, you can develop your own healthy soil for planting. In the meantime, start a compost heap - add old soil, some yard debris like grass clippings and leaves and plenty of kitchen waste i.e. vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells and coffee grounds. That way you will have your own healthy compost to feed your next garden. 

If you have the space, build a raised bed for optimum production. If that is not an option due to health, space or time, get some large planting pots or if push comes to shove, some empty five gallon buckets with a few holes drilled in the base for drainage. I grow plants in almost anything which can hold soil and which can be drained naturally of excess water. 

Seeds - Seeds cost one to two dollars a packet. Yes, this is for hybrid seeds and not heirloom. The difference? Hybrid seeds generally will not germinate after they are collected from the plant thus, they cannot be reused next year. Some hybrid seeds will regrow, but won't produce fruit, so they are worthless next year. This is a big deal, unless you have never successfully grown anything and my advice is get some hybrid seeds from your local mass merchandiser and try them. 

After your soil is ready and the seeds have been planted, water the plants regularly and make sure they get plenty of sunlight. That's it. Sure, there's more to it that what I have written here, but this is ninety percent of growing food. 

So what is easy to grow? Tomatoes, peppers, melons, almost all herbs and cucumbers. I have found grapes and berries, particularly raspberries, are easy to grow. What's neat is much of what you can grow is expensive in the stores. A pint of cherry tomatoes can be priced as much as $3.99 each; a cherry tomato plant can produce dozens of pints in a single season. This isn't hard, it's just basic math. 

What is hard to grow? Corn and potatoes. Both require lots of room. I have grown both and the potatoes were cheaper in the store when compared to the total amount of work and space I devoted to my potato crop. But there's a warning with this: Food prices are rising and if you have the space, it might be wise to try your hand at both. And there is nothing better than an ear of sweet corn right off the stalk. Yummo. 

In some parts of the country, there are still sub-freezing temperatures at night. No worries, just start your seed trays in March so you will be ready for warmer weather in April. You can also cover your tender young plants with plastic sheeting during the night to lock in warmer air. 

OK, so I did not cover simple greenhouses or what to do with too much home grown produce, but you get the idea. It's time to plan and start that spring garden before gas prices hit five dollars and the grocery stores are selling wax fruit. 

Happy gardening! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prepare: Long Lines

Every heard of Long Lines? This was an ATT/DoD project from the 1950's and 60's which built thousands of microwave communications facilities across the United States. Why? In the event of a nuclear war, the Pentagon wanted to ensure that dial tone phone service was still available.

Long Lines consisted of dozens of interconnected facilities with line of site microwave communications between each other. The first facilities were constructed in the high population areas of the Northeast in proximity to Washington DC, but eventually, they were found throughout the US.

Long lines facilities were and still are easy to spot. They have these trademark microwave antennas on top which were sometimes called "sugar scoop" antennas. You have probably seen one of these facilities when travelling or maybe one is near where you live.

What happened to Long Lines service? First, it was limited to government use only. In fact, may service members used Long Lines to make calls home from remote locations. However, after the introduction of fiber optics and other high speed communications mediums, Long Lines was eventually decommissioned.

Most of the facilities were sold in the early 1990's to American Tower, a cell phone tower company who in turn, sold many of the facilities to the general public.

Why does this matter?

Long Lines facilities were hardened facilities built to withstand a nuclear war. While most are above ground., many featured large underground areas with sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities for crews who were expected to continue working on site after "The Big One" dropped.

While some Long Lines facilities are still in use, many still come up for sale at times and while they may need work, most are found in remote or rural areas which makes them an interesting possibility for a bug out location.

Don't pull out the checkbook yet. Early on, some of these locations were priced as low as $25,000.00, the larger sites with underground facilities were much more expensive and many have already been reclaimed as data centers and records storage sites.

I checked out a couple of sites including the great Long Lines site which features the whole interesting history of the project and the great people who worked there and found they have many of the locations identified as well. It's worth research and learning more about our Cold War past and what we were willing to do to keep the phone lines open during a crisis.

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