Thursday, February 7, 2013

Emergency Preparedness Fair
Published in the Sun February 6, 2013

In the event of disaster, do you know how to live without running water or electricity?  If lost in the woods, how long could you live without food or shelter?  What if you called 911, but nobody answered?

Mick Thurber and Emma Winners making arrowheads
We like to imagine that we are completely self-reliant, but modern Americans have become perilously dependent on our wonderful infrastructure of utilities, grocery stores, and emergency personnel.  Without sounding too apocalyptic, it is worth remembering that the infrastructure could fail.  Just ask the people in Haiti, or closer to home, the people affected by hurricane Katrina and superstorm Sandy.

Rudy Bischof with the most important tools in his survival kit, a sturdy knife and a fire starter
On Saturday, the Georgetown Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) hosted an Emergency Preparedness Fair.  In a grove of trees outside the church, members demonstrated techniques that would help a person survive an unspecified disaster for 72 hours.  Rudy Bischof, an experienced survivalist, explained to me that it is simply common sense to develop the skills needed to take care of yourself in the event that you have to evacuate your home.  Shelter would be the first priority, especially in cold weather, because hypothermia can kill in as little as three hours.  The most important tool in Mr. Bischof’s survival kit is a sturdy knife, used to build a rough shelter out of branches.  The second most important tool is a fire starter and he shows me how easily it sparks to ignite dry tinder.  There is no food in the 72 hour kit because a person can live for 3 weeks without food.

A cardboard cutout of a .22 caliber revolver represents the third critical tool in the kit.  No actual guns are present at this fair but Mr. Bischof quite reasonably argues that in an actual life and death emergency a gun would be handy if not essential.

Randy Brinley has dug a solar still to produce drinking water
 A person can die in three days without water.  Randy Brinley reminds people that if the tap water quits running, about 80 gallons of water remain in your water heater.  Another six gallons of pure water is stored in the toilet tank, so don’t be foolish and flush it away.  If all else fails a solar still can be built from a hole in the ground, a sheet of plastic, and a tin can.

Michael Winners and an oven made from a cardboard box and aluminum foil
 A troop of Boy Scouts are building ovens with cardboard boxes and aluminum foil.  A few glowing charcoal briquets in the bottom of the box can bake a pan of biscuits to perfection.  If charcoal and biscuits are not available, Maria Nicholls explains how to make nopalitos from prickly pear cactus, after removing the spines of course.  She likes them boiled with garlic and salt, but in a disaster plain prickly pear would be better than nothing, and there is plenty of it around here.

Maria Nicholls and daughter Danielle Peralta with edible prickly pear
Carl Robertson, a professor of Chinese at Southwestern, is showing his Chrysler minivan tricked out with tarps and cardboard to make an insulated shelter if he were to become lost or stranded in the wilderness while driving.  He has a sleeping bag made from a space blanket.  Too many people abandon their cars and end up dying of exposure in the woods.  Dr. Robertson recommends staying with your car and building some smoky fires to summon help.  Get that fire starter and keep it in the glove box.

Inside the church building the focus is less on disaster preparedness and more on long term self-sufficiency.  Bob and Janine Hall are giving a tutorial on aquaponics, the symbiotic relationship between fish farming and hydroponics.  Bob raises bluegill and catfish, and their waste fertilizes his plants.  I get to taste a delicious cherry tomato picked from Bob’s garden that morning.

Jeannette Cox and her homegrown eggs
Jeannette Cox, a city girl from Chicago, proudly displays a basket full of multicolored eggs from her hens.  Pat Dekay is letting people taste the variety of foods that she preserves herself.  Today she has dried pears, strawberry fruit leather, jerky, and tomato sauce.  She keeps at least 6 months of food in storage at all time, in accordance with her church’s advice to “prepare every needful thing” in case of adversity.

Nobody at the fair appears particularly worried about a specific disaster or a breakdown of society.  Nobody even mentions a “zombie apocalypse.”  This group is just enjoying learning new skills, taking care of themselves, and being prepared for any surprises the future might bring.

Carl Robertson knows the dangers of hypothermia

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