Category Archives: Disaster planning

Storing Water

Some European countries are advising people to stockpile a minimum amount of water and food in case of emergencies. This certainly makes good sense in a rural area like Somerset. Our civil contingency plans recommend looking at two weeks’ supplies before normal services can be resumed, in a general worst case scenario.

We’ve had the mains water cut off before. If you’ve got enough bottled water to last a whole fortnight, it’d be easy to cope for a day or so. Where could you keep it? Any dark place will do – under the stairs, in the loft, out in a shed. Be careful in a loft as the floor is not safe to walk on, nor strong enough to hold full water containers. You’ll have to put planks across the rafters.

The five litre (gallon) bottles are the best ones to keep. The empty containers will be useful if the authorities bring a bowser or outside tap. Ideally you should have two litres of drinking water per person per day. For a fortnight, seven of these large bottles each will do.

This is quite a lot of storage for a family of four! If you simply haven’t the space for a full supply, keep a couple of the 25 litres (5 gallon) plastic water containers as well, such as people use on caravan holidays. Store them dry and empty; keep a bit of hose and a funnel with them as they’re hard to fill up from a sink tap. You’ll probably get some warning if the mains supply is going to fail, so you can get these full before it does.

a selection of water containers for an emergency

Make sure your bath plug fits and fill this up too. Extra water for washing would be nice! Remember full baths can be dangerous for small children. Add a couple of buckets and a large jug to your list and you have an excellent emergency kit to cope with quite a long interruption of mains water supplies.

For more information about emergency planning and community resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Calderdale floods – how to help

Campaign to help the independent bookshop flooded out in Hebdon Bridge….

hebden bbcpic 1

The comic shop took a hit too….

comic shop hebden

Here’s the donations site for the Community Foundation for Calderdale; monies raised to help with the clean up in general.  More news on the Calder Valley Flood Support facebook page.

Hebden Bridge features in the Resilience Handbook as a top example of a town with independent local businesses, and nearby Todmorden (also flooded) is the home of the inspirational Incredible Edible movement…they deserve your support!

Resilience Soup

Watching ‘The Island with Bear Grylls’, it appears that apathy caused by culture shock can lead seamlessly to exhaustion from lack of food calories. Part of a Resilience Plan is to keep a small store of tinned and dried supplies. I recommend keeping enough for three weeks, if you have the space.

Inspired to inspect my own collection, I found it was a bit haphazard and resolved to organise it. Counting calories and working out recipes…. I’ll have to write another book.

The stores have to be rotated as sell by dates are reached. Check through them every three months, take out anything that needs used before the next check, rearrange and restock. Never store food you don’t like. Storage conditions are often far from ideal; lofts suffer from stifling summer heat and freezing winters. You couldn’t store butter, for example.

If you ever need to rely on your stores, it’s useful to do some menu planning. Here’s one recipe..

Resilient Lentil Soup

A large pan. This recipe is easier to make in larger amounts. A tablespoon of cooking oil, some tamari (soy sauce). If you have any fresh meat or onion type vegetables to add, chop them up and lightly fry them.

If you are lucky, you may have some stock; otherwise add hot water and a couple of stock cubes. Add about four ounces [112g] of dried red lentils. Don’t pre-soak them.

How much liquid? Depends how many people you want to feed; this recipe is enough to fill four bowls. Remember the lentils will soak up some of it. If you have any root vegetables, put them in now. Grated carrot is nice.

Stir. Bring it to a low boil, then turn the heat right down and let it simmer. Mind it doesn’t stick; pans with thick bottoms are best for this work. Stir in four teaspoons of instant gravy mix and a quarter 130g tube of tomato puree. Keep an eye on the sticking as the soup thickens. You can add more water at any point.

Add any green leafy veg, shredded, just before the end. The soup is done when the lentils are soft, but can be kept simmering to wait for people for as long as you care to keep stirring it.

This soup really needs to be kept in a cold place to last over two meals, so it’s best made fresh and left overs eaten early the next day. Without the added fresh food, this recipe provides an unimpressive 550 calories* between four. If you’re completely unable to access any other ingredients, increase the lentils.

lentil soup calories
*all calculations are strictly back-of-the -envelope

However, what of your neighbours who don’t have stores? Remember, freezers depend on electricity. Could they help you forage to add to the meal? Bacon goes very well with this recipe; it may be available after less thoroughly preserved meats have spoiled.

A basic soup provides an expandable framework for a variety of fresh food.

Resilience.

There’s quite a lot to it.

Resilience and The Island

The Island is a TV series designed and presented by survival expert Bear Grylls. Fourteen men and fourteen women are marooned on separate Pacific islands with the minimum of training and equipment. They have to work out how to survive there for six weeks.

Watching the teams of ordinary Westerners struggle in the wilderness is a good resilience exercise. Could you have avoided their mistakes?

How much would previous learning count? Practical experience with a fire drill? Quite a lot. Trees can’t grow fast enough to let everyone become expert at forest shelter building, though.

And when would you need this skill? If you find yourself in a survival situation, it probably won’t be on a remote Pacific island. It’ll be more like a weirdly twisted version of your current comfort zone. The electricity won’t come out of the walls any more, and the taps are dry.

Attitude is everything when it comes to resilience. The people in the series weren’t fast enough to realise that they were in danger. Relentless attention to fire, water and shelter is no longer part of our lifestyle in Britain. People forget how much work it is, and that you can’t relax until it’s done.

Following a Resilience Plan increases your awarenesss of the facilities you take for granted, and highlights things you ought to work on.

Although I’m able to use a flint and steel efficiently, I’ve never tried lighting a fire with a bow drill. It could be important and it’s certainly interesting, so I’m going to target it in my plan under ‘Emergency Planning’. Then I’ll be reminded of this resolution until I actually carry it through. No matter how good you are at survival skills, there’s always something new to learn!

There’s a lot of focus on what the Island participants did wrong, but there’s one thing they all got spectacularly right. They were brave enough to have a go. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words – a TV series is a shortcut to hours of explanation.

Study the mistakes of others, realise what you ought to know, set about learning it, find a way to practise it.

Resilience is about doing as well as knowing.

Radiation Measuring Devices

One click on a Geiger counter signifies a single nuclear disintegration, but not the type of radiation released by it. This could be alpha, beta or gamma. The clicks per second can be easily translated into becquerel, and will give the rate at which the living tissue is receiving radioactive particles. The intensity of the radiation source is being measured here.

The biological effect of this, expressed in sieverts, depends on several other factors. A conversion between these units is not easy. Modern devices provide a ‘best guess’ of the sievert equivalent. Some may not detect alpha or beta radiation. Incorporating a mica window allows these particles to be measured, though calibration to sieverts becomes more challenging then.

Microsieverts (µSv) are the most common unit. American equipment may be calibrated in millirems (mrems). One millirem equals ten microsieverts.  Millisieverts (mSv) may also be used; one millisievert (1000 µSv) is a dangerous dose.  [100 mrem; the recommended maximum yearly exposure for the general public]  As radiation is accumulative, you should leave the area as quickly as possible.

Some Geiger counters will give data on dose per hour. The average safety limit for workers in the nuclear industry is 20 mSv/year. Firefighters at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant received an average 12 Sv over their period of exposure, from which all were ill and 30 died quickly.

Radiation on food or in water is harder to measure. Dust from a nuclear incident lands on these and contaminates them. Careful calibration against background radiation and long measuring periods, up to 12 hours, are required. Although the intensity of these sources may be low, the biological effect is compounded by ingesting them. Covering food, bringing farm animals indoors and filtering water can help.

A Geiger counter will not tell you what kind of radioactive sustance is present on food. Safety limits range from only 10 becquerels per kilogram when dealing with plutonium, to 10,000 Bq/Kg for tritium or carbon-14.

The best use of a Geiger counter in a serious emergency is to find a safe place, with a tolerable level of radioactivity. You should remain under cover until the majority of the fallout has dispersed. Four days is a recommended minimum, so a reading of 10 mSv would be the upper limit.

Remember you are keeping dust out, so you are better off in a building. Make sure there is enough water. The longer you can stay there the better, as fallout will now be covering the ground. The danger comes from inhaling or ingesting these fine particles.

Good luck with survival. You might wish you’d been less hostile to wind power.

 

Measuring Radiation – Sieverts and Greys

The International System of Units (SI) is the most popular system of measurement globally. Radiation units have been brought into this. Becquerels measure quantity and coulombs per kilogram are used instead of roentgens to denote exposure.

Grays (Gy) measure the absorbed dose. A gray is defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of any matter, not just air as with the roentgen unit. One gray is equal to 100 rads. Five grays at once is a lethal dose. Diagnostic medical treatments are usually measured in milligrays (mGy).

An abdominal X-ray gives a dose of 0.7 mGy, while a computerised tomography (CT) scan is higher, at about 6 mGy. Cancer treatments exceed the lethal dose, but in small increments. Up to 80 Gy can be given, in doses of 2 Gy at a time.

Any given amount of radiation may not have the same biological effect. This is influenced by differences in the type of radiation and the conditions of exposure. Where X-rays and gamma rays are concerned, the absorbed dose is the same as the equivalent dose. If alpha particles are involved, the biological damage is more severe and weighting factors are applied. The sievert is the resultant unit.

A sievert (SV) is the standard international measurement of equivalent dose, replacing the rem. Sieverts express the potential for damage to human tissue, and are related to grays. One sievert is equivalent to one hundred rems, which would be a lethal dose. A microsievert (µSv) is one millionth of a sievert. One tenth of a microsievert is the natural radiation found in an average banana.

part four ‘Measuring Devices’ to follow

Measuring Radiation – Roentgens, Rads and Rems

The roentgen is defined as 2.58 x 10-4 coulombs of charge produced by X-rays or gamma rays per kilogram of air.

A roentgen is a lot of radiation. A dose of 500 roentgens within five hours will kill you. So a place with a reading of 100 roentgens per hour or more is very dangerous. Shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, readings of up to 30,000 R/hr were recorded in some areas.

Devices are usually calibrated in tiny fractions of one roentgen. There are a thousand milliroentgens to one roentgen. The reading will often be given in mR/hr. Flying at high altitudes exposes passengers to around 25 mR/hr, due to cosmic radiation.

Rad stands for Radiation Absorbed Dose. The units used here relate to the amount of radiation absorbed by the irradiated material. This may be you. One rad indicates exposure equivalent to an energy of 100 ergs per gram. It is about the same as 1.07 Roentgen, or 1,070 mR.

Rads are useful when assessing whether acute radiation sickness is a risk. A dose of 10 rads (10,000 mrads) in less than an hour is dangerous. Treatment for ARS will be needed.

The absorbed dose, measured in rads, is adjusted to give the Roentgen Equivalent in Man. The type of radioactive material is taken into account, among other factors. This unit is used to assess the chances of getting cancer from exposure. It is used to calculate safe levels in industry and medicine.

A rem is a large amount, so readings are generally given in millirem (mrem). The general public should not be exposed to over 100 mrem per year. This is just over the natural radiation levels inside a building made of granite.

Roentgens, rads and rems are very roughly equivalent. As the adoption of international standards became important, they were replaced by other units. Some countries, particularly the USA, continue to use the old ones.

part three ‘Sieverts and Grays’ to follow

Measuring Radiation – Curies and Becquerel

Devices are available to measure radiation, from expensive Geiger Counters to smartphone apps. There are several different units used. Some areas or items have naturally high radiation levels which confuse readings. It’s difficult for an amateur to work out how dangerous a source might be.

Curies and Becquerel

A curie (C) is the original unit used to describe the intensity of radioactivity. It is based on the physical properties of radioactive material, as the dangers of exposure were not well understood at the time. One curie is the radioactivity of a single gram of radium.

A microcurie is a millionth of a curie and a picocurie is a trillionth. Thirty seven billion becquerel (Bq) equal one curie. A becquerel is thus about 27 picocuries (pCi). Modern convention has replaced the curie as a unit with becquerels. As these are tiny, measurements are often given in kilobecquerels (1000 Bq) or megabecquerels (1,000,000 Bq).

The unit is named after the French scientist who discovered radioactivity, Antoine-Henri Becquerel.  It describes one atomic disintegration per second. These disintegrations release energetic particles, which are the basis of radioactivity. The process is called decay.

Alpha particles are the largest, the same size as a helium atom. Beta particles are smaller, but can be stopped by a shield only a few millimeters thick. Gamma rays, a sort of proton, can penetrate up to two feet of concrete.

Skin and clothes protect against the larger particles. If radioactive atoms enter the body, however, these particles will hit cells directly during decay. A nuclear incident distributes these atoms in the air, water and food.

Radioactive material presents two types of hazard. There is the danger of being too close to an emitting source, and the risk of ingesting small fragments of it. This risk increases dramatically if the source explodes. Nuclear fallout is the resultant dust.

Although the luminous properties of radium and other elements were exploited for various gadgets, the dangers of emitting sources are now recognised. The public are unlikely to come into contact with them, except during medical treatments.

X-rays and radiotherapy both use radiation. A means of measuring the risks to patients and staff was needed. New systems were explored, designed to express the biohazard aspect, the actual damage done to living tissues.

Part Two ‘Roentgens, Rads and Rems’ to follow

© E J Walker 2014

 

Willows and Flooding

The Somerset Levels have grown willow since prehistoric times; the remains of a basket were found by the Glastonbury Lake Village. Willow trees are plentiful in marshlands as they can thrive in waterlogged soils. Their long flexible shoots have many uses, including furniture, fencing and fish traps.

Traditional methods of pruning, or pollarding, cut the tree back to its main trunk. A shock of long straight withies springs out from the cut, and can be harvested. The trees are quite tall and have a distinctive knobby shape. Pollarded trees need to be maintained, which is difficult when the trimmings have no value.

Many modern willow beds are coppiced. The growth is cut back, even to ground level, every couple of years. Material which could be used for craft products is burned as biomass fuel. Willow beds established by grant funding have no budget for upkeep.

The Levels grew nearly 40 square kilometres of willow in 1930, but this has declined to a mere 1.4, mainly due to replacing basketry with disposable bags and packaging. Garden furniture is made from imported, oil based plastic and most people would struggle to recognise a fish trap.

Planting willow around the banks of rivers stabilises them, and can be extended into a buffer zone. This would aid the retention of water in a managed flood plain, protecting urban land further downstream. Willow is particularly good at removing toxins from contaminated land. It could be planted straight after a major flood, but it won’t be, as no-one can earn a living from it.

The decline of willow production needs to be reversed by creating a market.

The storms that often accompany flooding have wreaked havoc on garden fencing. Tall solid panels which resist the wind have fallen in heaps. Woven willow fencing allows the light and air through, while affording privacy.

Order some from a local willow craftsperson. It will be more expensive than cheap imported products. If you have a garden and a fence, though, it makes sense to support the farmers upstream who are preventing them flooding. Think about what else you could replace with locally sourced willow.

Alternatively, find a project which needs help with coppicing and negotiate your own materials.  Carymoor Environment Trust in Somerset have a volunteers’ day every Tuesday.

willow crafts

 

Driving in the Water Margins

Here on the levels in Somerset between the sea and the high ground we’re used to seeing the water. Driving between towns, the fields are shimmering mirrors, traced with sunken hedges, populated by opportunistic swans. The main roads are edged by dark puddles, threatening to merge over the white line with every fresh downpour.

Villages hugging the tiny ridges of high ground out in the marshlands are often cut off. Farm tractors become informal delivery vans and buses. Rows of willow trees, planted so that people can see where the road was, come into their own. The river lurks just over a low bank.

The network of narrow lanes across country are under water in many places, especially at the crossroads and gateways where you could have turned around. If you come upon one flooded section, chances are there are more ahead. It’s unwise to use these lanes as a short cut.

Towns are linked by single main roads. An incident on one of these could involve you in a twenty mile diversion just to get back from the shops. If that route then becomes blocked – easy enough with the high winds and dangerous conditions – hundreds of people could become stranded for hours.

Keep at least half a tank of fuel, even for local journeys. Carry waterproofs, wellies and a drink of water in your car. Make sure your mobile phone is charged.

Shop with a list and bring in extra long life food. Try to avoid going out at all in heavy rain. Start using all those ready meals in the freezer; if your electricity goes, they will be a write off anyway.

Night time is the most dangerous. Plan to stay in, invite neighbours round, play cards or games, learn to knit. Spending all your evenings slumped in front of the TV will soon give you cabin fever!

Driving through flood water is unwise, especially if you are on your own. You can’t see how deep it is, if the road has been washed away underneath, if there are any obstructions ahead. Your electrics may get damaged.

Don’t change gears but drive slowly and steadily. If your engine cuts out, it may have got water in it. Trying to restart it might destroy it.

Even six inches of fast moving water can sweep you off your feet, and not much more can move your car. If you become trapped in a flood, call for help at once. Don’t panic and think very carefully about your escape route.

Resilience is about adaptation. Change your behaviour in response to the environment. Go out as little as possible and make every journey count. Even if you’re not directly affected by flooding, you could still be caught up in a diversion as police try to clear another area. Your presence on the road is one more factor for the emergency services to take into account, so don’t waste it.