22 November 2008

A Community of Survivors: Competence in Groups

Ever since Adam Smith, economists have understood that division of labour allows for greater community productivity, thus greater prosperity. But if each person only learns one specialised skill, he is in trouble if something happens to the organisation (merger, buyout, bankruptcy, etc) he was trained to fit so well. Like a biological species evolved to too narrow a niche, once the niche is gone the species dies out. Modern westerners are in a similarly precarious position, living in societies of interdependent affluence that could be too easily disrupted by too many different stressors.

Billions of individuals live in the dysfunctional third world under hardship conditions not imaginable by most young westerners. Either no electricity at all, or only an hour or two a day. No reliable clean water or hot water. Undependable food supplies. Subject to crime and all manner of indignity--often perpetrated by "police" or other authorities, or persons essentially above the law.

If you think the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was bad, perhaps you should take another look at how things are every day in much of the third world. Most westerners simply could not cope--they would not know where to start. Third worlders generally accept the unpredictability of their existence, the need to improvise and be resourceful. They develop backup networks of suppliers for essential needs, to deal with the caprice of daily life.

In modern North American cities, food supplies on hand will typically last for only a few days. If electricity is lost, frozen foods will be lost, further reducing reserves of food supplies. If the city is not likely to be re-supplied soon, civil disorder is quite likely to break out--depending on the particular city and how cohesive its community may be when under stress.

Most North American cities are at least somewhat self-sufficient, for short periods of time. As long as power and fuel are supplied, water distribution should continue, and heating, cooling, cleaning, and cooking are supported. Hospitals can maintain operating rooms, emergency rooms, intensive care units--with power, personnel, and supplies. Schools can teach as long as they have power, teachers, students, and basic supplies. Most businesses can operate as long as they have power, personnel, computing/networking, supplies, and reliable currency transfer. And so on.

The problem cities would be those where most doctors, nurses, police, firemen, teachers, administrators, skilled workers etc. live outside the city and commute in to work. Particularly the cities where the more successful someone is, the farther outside the city they will likely choose to live. Such cities should probably be avoided by persons who are beginning to keep one eye on the "civil disorder potentiometer."

Some cities are relatively functional--even under stress--and other cities are badly dysfunctional even at their best. New Orleans was an example of a very dysfunctional city--long before Hurricane Katrina came to call. You will no doubt be able to think of other dysfunctional cities that you may want to avoid when the civil disorder potentiometer begins to peg.

Likewise, communities smaller than cities can be quite functional--containing mostly high energy multi-skilled, multi-competent persons. Such communities that are able and willing to learn how to survive severe stresses that the modern world may soon be subject to, will not happen by themselves, without planning or prodding.
An emergency survival community is a group of people who help each other out in emergency situations. Your emergency survival community may be just your family members who live nearby, your neighbors, or even your entire town (if you live in a small town). Having a community is beneficial to everyone. Almost every member of a community can offer something that other members can't do on their own. It could be a skill no one else has learned, expensive equipment others can't afford, or even just as a labor resource to make the work lighter. Humans evolved because of our social skills, and those same skills can help us all survive. _Source
Basic community cohesion, complementary skills, and general helpfulness is something that every community should strive for. But the ability of a community to withstand severe stresses such as extended loss of power, clean water, food re-supply, and civil order enforcement in and from the outside world, goes far beyond basic community spirit. When members of a community begin seriously weighing the immediate survival of themselves and their families against the survival of other community members, community cohesion has already broken down. When considering survivable communities, think about how easily the cohesion of the particular community might break down under stress.

Survival-oriented groups or communities need to make advance plans for various types of disasters or upheavals, of varying durations. Here is an example of a short-term group plan for a limited disaster:
assemble personal survival kits for everyone

Each person should have a compact belt kit with them at all times. This kit should include a minimum number of items that will allow them to survive a disaster if caught away from their main source of supplies. Using this kit, it is assumed the individual will be actively attempting to reach a "known place," or is reasonably expecting others to come searching.

establish and conduct training courses in all basic skills

You should establish a training cirriculum and pursue it rigorously. Your knowledge is the only thing you have that cannot be lost, stolen, or broken. Learn to rely on what you know, rather than on what you have. I am currently looking into using a series of Boy Scout merit badge pamphlets as training material.

get all members "72-hr capable"

All group members should maintain *at least* 72 hours worth of basic supplies in their homes for each person who can be expected to be present in the house during an emergency. Basically, if you can inventory your house and say you have enough supplies on hand that you could do without going to a store for 72 hours, you are in good shape. These supplies should be stored in easily-relocatable containers such as footlockers or duffle bags. Ideally, these containers should be man-portable such as backpacks in the event a relocation is required and is limited to foot-travel. _Source
Reliable members of survival groups or communities need to be able to perform basic planning for short-term, medium-term, and longer-term disruptions in ordinary living conditions. The greater the number of members in a community who are unable or unwilling to plan for the unexpected, the less cohesion the community will have when the unthinkable happens.

There is a TEOTWAWKI disaster to suit all political and religious outlooks. There is no need to limit your community based upon politics, religion, or other superficial qualities. The most important qualifications for membership in a disaster-surviving community are competence and a minimum level of seriousness, reliability, and personal stability.

Begin planning for the small, local disasters--earthquakes, floods, severe storms... Then consider the possibility of more widespread problems accompanied by temporary breakdown of civil order. Once prepared for those more limited catastrophes, begin looking at larger scale calamities such as widespread disease outbreaks, severe long lasting economic disruptions, acts of insurrection, terrorism and overt warfare... Finally, consider the existential disasters--attacks by weapons of mass destruction, asteroid impact, ice age climate catastrophe, or other huge disasters that could make large portions of Earth's surface unlivable.

Different problem scales call for different scales of solution. The better your planning, and the more inclusive the skill set and resources of your community, the better your chances for surviving in good style.

Finding a stealthy "Galt's Gulch" or a stealth seastead or submarine to live out the disaster times may be difficult for most of us. But if you begin the process of building your community now--perhaps starting with family, friends, and a virtual community over the internet and working from there--by the time such a community is needed it may actually be half ready.

Survival Topics is an interesting site oriented toward wilderness survival in extremis. It is a treasure trove of survival information and links. Remember, just as the brain is the most important sexual organ, so is the mind the most important survival tool you can own. Train it well.

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Blogger Bruce Hall said...

We keep in storage a few weeks of canned meals [which can last indefinitely] plus water in bottles which is refreshed occasional.

But the issue of longer term survival is problematic if the social structure collapses.

The concept of a community tends to diminish with the size of the community until it is no more than a mass of humanity. As a nation, we have accepted specialization as the desired approach to economics... so much so that we are willing to let our basic capabilities disappear in the "knowledge" that we can rely on other nations to provided us what we need for survival much more cheaply than we could hope to do by keeping each other employed or skilled.

I'm afraid that your advice is and will fall on deaf ears.

But we will diminish CO2 as we continue to be "led" by our new visionaries. That will save us.

Sunday, 23 November, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comment, Bruce.

It's rather ironic that some of the mainstream masses have been motivated to make minimal preparations for emergencies due to their fear of global warming and peak oil.

As you say, global warming hysteria is more likely to cause shortages of supplies, fuels, and energy than any real climate change (other than an ice age).

Any peak oil we see will be secondary to political mismanagement (Obama, Pelosi, Boxer shutting down coal plants and blocking nuclear plants) or secondary to catastrophes--rather than being the cause of them.

Starvation in Africa, Myanmar, etc are always perpetuated--if not caused--by political incompetence, negligence, and hostility. Expect shortages of all types in the developed world to be caused by the same political factors.

Sunday, 23 November, 2008  

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