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  • Wake-up Call: Mild Earthquake Spurs Unprecedented Demand for Emergency Kits

    Hurricane Katrina Seeing the effects of Hurricane Katrina helped many people start preparing for emergencies.

    For Shelly Robertson, of American Fork, Utah, seeing people on TV during Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath caused her to begin preparing an emergency kit. For Tina Koeven, from Pleasant Grove, Utah, a practice earthquake evacuation taught her she needed to make an emergency kit portable. For people in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, a mild earthquake December 29 prompted enough demand for emergency kits that one store temporarily sold out.

    All these people learned to be prepared from their experiences.

    “To be effective learners we must (1) perceive information, (2) reflect on how it will impact some aspect of our life, (3) compare how it fits into our own experiences, and (4) think about how this information offers new ways for us to act,” wrote Marcia L. Conner, who trains organizations about how to help their employees be effective

    BC Earthquake - via CityNews The 4.3 magnitude earthquake in BC reminded folks how close they are to impending disaster. - via CityNews

    Let’s use her model of learning to break down the case of the British Columbia earthquake as a wake-up call. The earthquake was moderate: Natural Resources Canada measured it at 4.3 and there were no injuries or damage. One man said it felt like a truck passing by. It took place late at night about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city of Victoria, just over the northern border of Washington State.

    So, some people in British Columbia perceived information: there was an earthquake. They reflected about how it would impact them: What damage could a large earthquake cause? They compared how it fit into their experiences: they might need to leave their homes or be without resources. And they thought about how to act: We might need an emergency kit.

    The result: a British Columbia emergency preparedness company, 72 Hours, had to backorder personal emergency kits because so many people bought them, reported CTV News, a Canadian TV news network.

    "We hear people say they've been meaning to get prepared and they've procrastinated, and this was the wake-up call," 72 Hours employee Brian Fong told CTV.

    Tina Koeven had a wake-up call from a mistake. Her church held an earthquake drill. Congregation members pretended an earthquake hit and evacuated to the church building with their emergency supplies. Koeven, who lives next door to the building, had her emergency kit in a large duffel bag.

    “By the time I’d dragged the bag to the church … I wanted to lay down and die because I couldn’t go anywhere else,” she said. “Or be like the [early American] pioneers and throw stuff out along the trail.”

    She’s considering other ways to carry her emergency kit.

    It’s possible to learn from others’ mistakes too. In fact, a brain imaging study published in 2010 in the online journal NeourImage suggested it might be more effective.

    Brain Our neural activity tends to be stimulated by our competitor's errors (as in the example shown here) rather than their successes. Credit: Dr. Paul Howard-Jones and Dr. Rafal Bogacz

    Researchers had study subjects play a simple game. They found that when a player’s computer opponent was taking a turn, the player’s own brain was activated as if they were performing the action. The study found players’ brains were more active when their opponent made a mistake.

    “This suggests that we benefit from our competitors' failures by learning to inhibit the actions that lead to them,” the study authors said.

    Shelly Robertson decided to build an emergency kit after seeing TV accounts of people stranded during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A cascade of mistakes kept them from getting assistance for days.

    “There wasn’t any way to get people help, and we live in the U.S.,” she said. “It really unnerved me.”

    She built an emergency kit containing things like food, emergency blankets, cooking and heating gear, and a radio. She also included candy and toys for her children.

    “You don’t want to just survive,” she said. “You’ve got to give them something to do while you wait for help to arrive.”




    What events have given you a wake-up call to start preparing for emergencies? Let us know in the comments!



    Marcia L. Conner, "Learning from Experience." Ageless Learner, 1997-2007.




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  • El Niño vs The Arctic Oscillation: Opposing Weather Systems Bring Extreme Weather

    In the U.S., this year’s winter weather has been like a boxing match, with the southern El Niño sparring with the northern Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation for temperature and precipitation supremacy.

    May the best oscillation win?

    El Niño is a once-every-several-years warming of the eastern Pacific. A major El Niño event, like the one we’re experiencing now, commonly brings buckets of precipitation to the southwest, buckets of precipitation and colder weather to the southeast, and slightly warmer, drier weather to the northern Rockies and Midwest.

    In December and into early January, El Niño had commanded the match. Temperatures in the northeast reached the 60s and even 70s, smashing record highs. At the same time, tornadoes in the southeastern U.S. – a common El Niño phenomenon – killed two dozen people in four days. The severe storms continued into January in the southeast, as a tornado touched down in Florida on January 9.

    Shirtless - USA Today - Arctic Oscillation And then there was this guy... "What Arctic Oscillation?" - via USA Today

    Here’s where the match got interesting, though. The same storm system that brought the Florida tornado also brought extreme cold temperatures and blasting wind to the Midwest. A January 10 football playoff game in Minnesota was the third-coldest NFL game ever played, with a kickoff temperature of -6 degrees F. The storm left more than 120,000 people without power across several states.

    This extreme cold is more characteristic of a polar vortex, caused by the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation. And it’ll probably continue through January.

    Arctic Oscillation El Niño is causing massive flooding in California, but won't do much in drought relief - via CBS News

    However, in California, El Niño is still the big hitter. The state is in a brief pause in a series of storms that could last for a few weeks. The storms are bringing lots of rain – which, alas, creates problems for awards ceremonies’ red carpet preliminaries – and causing floods in spots.

    Meteorologists expect even this El Niño won’t make much of a dent on the multi-year California drought. For starters, rainwater doesn’t stay put. Once the ground is saturated, water flows away, often in storm drains to the Pacific. In Orange County, in southern California, about half that water gets captured for later use. The rest ends up in the ocean.

    Rain Barrel - Arctic OscillationMany agencies in southern California are trying to collect more of that rainwater. On January 6, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a plan to spend $200 million for projects to capture more rain.

    In California and many other states, homeowners can capture rain for their own use. A 1,000-square-foot roof can collect 600 gallons from one inch of rain, according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

    It’s not that hard to make a small rain capture system; WikiHow has directions. Basically, it requires making a platform for a rain barrel (or barrels), taking a barrel and adding a spigot and overflow valve, attaching it to a rain gutter’s downspout and putting a filter in the downspout to catch larger stuff that would clog it. To use the rainwater for landscaping or gardening, set up a drip irrigation system and run a hose out to it from the barrel.

    Professional installers can also make a larger rain capture system.

    A few caveats. First, this system is gravity-powered, so if you want to water higher than your collection location, you’ll need a pump. Second, this water’s not suitable for drinking. It needs boiling and filtering to become potable. Third, not all states and municipalities allow rainwater collection, and some allow it only on a limited basis. This is especially true in the west, where water rights are paramount.



    Disaster_Blog_Banner Arctic Oscillation

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  • How to Stay Safe in the Event of Nuclear Radiation

    North Korea radiationEarlier this week, North Korea claimed it tested a hydrogen bomb, a thermonuclear bomb so powerful that it uses an atomic bomb as a trigger.

    Only five countries are known to have hydrogen bomb technology, while another few officially have atomic bomb capacity.

    Atomic bombs are one type of radiation emergency. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes six types of radiation emergencies, three deliberate and three accidental.

    The deliberate sources include an atomic bomb or improvised nuclear device; a dirty bomb in which explosive materials are used to disperse radiation; and a radiological exposure device, which is a radiation source that someone has hidden. Accidental sources of radiation include a nuclear power plant accident like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; a transportation accident; and an occupational accident, involving radiation from a workplace source like a hospital. Not like this.

    The principles of preparing for radiation emergencies are the same no matter what type of incident. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they are time, distance, and shielding.

    Basically, this means limiting exposure to the radiation source by limiting the time you’re exposed to it, traveling away from the source -- even to a basement -- and putting a barrier of lead, concrete, or water between you and the radiation source. The middle of a multi-story brick or concrete building or a basement, are better places to shelter, according to ready.gov.

    Unless the radiation emergency is a pinpoint source, or unless you’re told to evacuate during a radiation emergency, you will likely be asked to shelter in place.

    In that case, the mantra for people and their pets is get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned, according to ready.gov.

    So, this means having an emergency kit. In addition to the basic supplies every emergency kit should contain: food, water, a radio, flashlight, copies of important papers and medical supplies, add things like plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors. These are useful to seal up doors, windows and all other places in a home where air comes in from outside. Also consider having Iosat Tablets in your kit to help block absorption of radiation in your body.

    The radio is especially important because you’ll be able to get directions and information. During the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, people were evacuated in waves. On the first day, March 11, 134,000 people were evacuated from an area about 12 miles surrounding the plant. Four days later, another 354,000 people were evacuated. Another group farther out was evacuated on March 25.

    Nuclear Plant radiationIn the U.S., nuclear power plant officials use two emergency planning zones. The first, within a 10 mile radius, is an area where people can receive direct exposure to radiation. The second, within up to a 50 mile radius, is an area in which radioactive material from the plant can contaminate food, water, and animals. If you live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, you might want to consider keeping a portable emergency kit for your car, suggests ready.gov.

    A nuclear explosion also produces an electromagnetic pulse that travels miles beyond the blast zone, according to a 2013 study simulating the impact of a nuclear explosion on a major city. This pulse combined with the damage from the blast can “shock” an area’s power grid, which can possibly cause power disruption and power failure up to 11 miles in any direction beyond the damaged area. In the large city the study imagined, this meant a blackout for up to 3 million people.

    In case of blackout, make sure you’ve got a way to charge your electronic devices and backup power systems for any vital battery-powered devices, like medical ones. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with any nuclear fallout, but in the chance that we do (and North Korea isn’t making it any easier), it’s best to be prepared for the worst.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - radiation


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