Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Being the best at preparing for the worst

GOOD HARVEST: Good harvest: Gardener Sam Buchanan believes community is the key to self-sufficiency and a quality lifestyle. This cornucopia is a mix of his home-grown produce and gifts from his neighbours.

What would you do if a huge earthquake struck? How long could you last without mains water, electricity or gas? If you lost your job tomorrow, could you rely on your own resources? 

When Christchurch was hit by its destructive earthquake in February 2011, many Wellingtonians started planning seriously for a disaster in the capital.

And they're not alone. Preparedness and self-sufficiency is becoming a hot topic in countries across the globe, especially those deep in recession.

In the United States a community of "preppers", or survivalists, numbers in the millions, stockpiling food, learning bushcraft and planning escape routes from cities.

It's not just natural disasters people are preparing for - economic collapse, climate change and warfare worry many preppers.

While there may not be an organised community of preppers in Porirua, self-sufficiency has a long history here, emergency management officer Trevor Farmer says.

Porirua Lunatic Asylum ran as a self-sufficient farm, and community gardens around the city are the modern equivalent, he says.

Middle-class people tend to plan for disaster, whereas the richest and poorest in society are unprepared, Mr Farmer says.

"In my experience it's those at the very bottom and those at the very top. The rich are used to just going out and buying things, and the poor don't have the money for it."

Some people think Civil Defence centres have vast stores of food and water to hand out in an emergency, which is not the case, Mr Farmer says.

"Civil Defence stocks no food, no medical supplies, no blankets, no beds. We don't have hundreds of tents. We're there to manage the response. That's our role," he says.

Emergency management is about encouraging people to be self-reliant.

"We're helping people to improve their lives. If you give everything to people, they'll just take it. We want people to take care of themselves."

Power play

Whitby man Barry Ryan built his home in 2007 with resilience and self-sufficiency in mind.
Ireland-born, Mr Ryan wanted a healthy, energy-efficient home that gave his family the best possible chance in a natural disaster. Minimising the family's reliance on fossil fuels was another consideration.

"That price is going up and up and up," he says.

The family - Mr Ryan, wife Nicky, children Eoin 4, and Gemma 2, and Nicky's parents who live in a self-contained flat on the ground floor - spend a maximum $200 a month on power in winter. Much of their hot water, heating and electricity is powered by 13 solar panels on the roof.

The house is so fuel- efficient, however, that in summer months the family often sells surplus power back to the grid.

Mr Ryan installed double thickness insulation on internal and external walls, and imported the best double- glazed windows from America. In winter the house is usually 18 degrees without heating, and when friends are round the lounge gets so warm windows need to be open.

Mr Ryan had to fight council planners to build his eco-house: some of its imported features are so unfamiliar in New Zealand, like spotlights covered with transparent insulation, that even the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) was reluctant to approve them.

"You're not doing it exactly the way they want to do it, and the way they want to do it isn't always right," Mr Ryan says. "New Zealand might be ahead of the game for many things but it's following the party line with regards to fossil fuels."

If a disaster strikes, the family will move into the downstairs flat, which can draw power from a generator and use any excess power stored in the house's foundation slab. If power gets low Mr Ryan will limit electricity to the family's deep-freeze, full of food. A greenhouse should supply some fresh food in a disaster.

The house is likely to stand up in an earthquake - Mr Ryan designed zig-zag steps into its external walls to increase their stability.

"You're hoping your house has a fighting chance in an earthquake."

But if the house does become uninhabitable, the family has a huge store of camping equipment, water, dried food, torches and medical supplies to enable them to live outdoors. Mr Ryan is a tent enthusiast.
"You're warm and you're dry and you're really safe."

He urges people to take advantage of sales at camping equipment shops - the gear can be used for holidays and usually costs less than one night at a motel, he says. "It's just smart."

Practice and planning

Once a year, members of Tawa's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, gather at their Main Rd church with enough emergency supplies to last them three days.

They are given just 10 minutes' warning for the drill but that presents few problems for this well-prepared religious community.

There are 3000 Mormons in Porirua and Tawa, most of whom are prepared for unforeseen events, says Elaine Harvey, the church's lower North Island emergency response liaison.

Churchgoers keep a "grab bag" of essentials to last them 72 hours and are encouraged by church leaders to store a year's worth of food and have three months' living expenses saved.

There are telephone trees set up for emergencies and the church promotes resilient communities through neighbourhood support and street party events.

"It's a great, well-organised church, really," Mrs Harvey says.

Self-reliance is a key Mormon philosophy. Churchgoers try to be prepared for any emergency, from a sudden redundancy to a natural disaster.

"The big overall reason is when we're able to help ourselves we're more able to help our neighbours," Mrs Harvey says.

She stresses the church is not preparing for the second coming or the end of the world.

"Our emergency preparedness focuses on the here and now."

If a Mormon cannot help themselves, their extended family is the next port of call, Mrs Harvey says.
Church members fast once a month and donate the money they save on food to provide an emergency fund for members, she says.

"The church wants our people to be conscious of always being prepared and to plan ahead, not just live from one week to the next. Nobody's immune from challenges and trials," says Elaine's husband George Harvey, the church's Wellington stake president.

"Our job is really to teach people to make good decisions about self and family preservation."

Grow your own

For gardener Sam Buchanan, self-sufficiency is as much about freedom as survival.

"There's a whole lot of different motivations, like saving money. My main motivation is having a better life without money."

Mr Buchanan tutors at Kenepuru's Te Rito Organics and at home in Paekakariki maintains a flourishing garden.

This autumn he grew more than 30 types of fruit, nut and vegetable, from garlic to hazelnuts, strawberries and cape gooseberries. He keeps chickens, brews beer, hunts, fishes and makes pesto and preserves.

Self-sufficiency is about more than preparing for economic or natural disaster - it creates a richer lifestyle, Mr Buchanan says.

"I don't think everything's going to come crashing down in the next few years. I think we're going to see a slow erosion of living standards," he says. "With a little bit of skill you can make things a whole lot nicer.

"The vegetables will be fresher, probably tastier, and I think when you've grown your own vegetables you want to make the best meals from them - you don't just want to throw them in a pot."

Communities have to band together for self-sufficiency to work, Mr Buchanan says.

"Self-sufficiency is a very bad term. No-one has been self-sufficient since humanity evolved. We have always been a community species," he says. "What you don't grow you can get from your neighbours across the fence."

Paekakariki has a strong community spirit, with locals regularly sharing produce and staging parties and gigs at their hall.

"It's not just about food. Entertainment is a real need for people."

Gardening isn't difficult but people often expect too much as beginners, Mr Buchanan says.

"It's about raising the level, what can I produce, what am I interested in producing and what's going to make my life better?" he says. "We don't have to look after ourselves but I prefer to think we'll choose to look after ourselves a lot more because it's a better way to live."

* For more information on preparedness read the booklet "It's Easy - Get Prepared for an Emergency", available online at pcc.govt.nz, search word "It's Easy".


Do you think you are well- prepared for an emergency? If so, you could be in to win one of six double passes to Light House Pauatahanui Cinema courtesy of the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO). Email wremo.resilience@gw.govt.nz with details of your preparedness at home, at work or at school.

Entrants should have a household plan and emergency stores, and WREMO would like to hear from people helping their community get prepared too. The competition closes on September 18.

- Kapi-Mana News


Related links

* Labels:Survivalism