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Prepping Lessons To Learn From The Disaster In Puerto Rico

Lessons from Puerto Rico

The destruction in Puerto Rico is an opportunity for all of us to learn a few lessons.  Prior to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico’s largest problem was that the government had borrowed too much, and was bankrupt.  Post Hurricane Maria, much of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed, including numerous buildings, roads, and the electrical infrastructure, which was already in poor repair (and they were still bankrupt). 

While all of this may sound like it is rather typical of a bad hurricane (or two), Puerto Rico manages to add the complicating factor of being 1,000 miles away from help, and you can’t drive a truck there.  Forget the Cajun Navy of volunteers we heard so much about during Hurricane Harvey in Texas.  Nobody is going to be pulling a bass boat behind a SUV to Puerto Rico from the mainland.

 

Grid Down

For many preppers a Grid Down scenario is their worst nightmare, and that has certainly proved true in Puerto Rico.  The islands electrical grid was destroyed and it has proven very difficult to resurrect.  The fact that much of the grid was older and less well maintained than mainland counterparts is complicating, though unsurprising.

While prepper fiction tends to portray grid down scenarios as permanent TEOTWAWKI scenarios, the truth is that recovery would occur, but it might be so slow that it feels like TEOTWAWKI.  Puerto Rico is certainly a test case to find out just how fast, or slow, a grid down recovery would be.  At three months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was producing about 50% of its former peak power.  Clearly, a lesson for an individual prepper family, is some sort of backup electrical capability is desirable.

Big Berkey

Water

Water is typically a problem after any disaster, but Puerto Rico illustrates the flaw in relying on a couple cases of bottled water or a Lifestraw.  A typical household simply needs more capacity to take the non-potable water that is lying in every pothole around and turn it into something one can use to drink or clean.  If each household had a decent capacity water filter, a major problem would be reduced to manageable proportions.

Communications down

Modern communications, phones, radio, and television, internet, etc. all depend on electricity.  When the electrical transmission grid goes down, communications will break down quickly.  In the case of Hurricane Maria, much equipment was destroyed by the Hurricane, so the limits of backup generation were not tested.  Recovery in communications is now dependent on recovery of the grid, as well as equipment replacement.

Simply getting requests for assistance in and out of many towns has been a challenge for Puerto Rico.  The infrastructure will get repaired, but obviously not in what most would consider a reasonable amount of time.

Transportation Challenges

Disasters screw up transportation.  When we went through Hurricane Sandy here in the People’s Republic of New Jersey, moving around was difficult due to downed trees, inoperable traffic signals, fuel availability, etc.  With Hurricane Maria all of these problems occurred, plus port and airport facilities were damaged and roads not merely blocked, but damaged, and the logistics of getting from place to place on the island became a significant challenge.

For preppers the lesson is that moving about after a disaster will be difficult.  Expect transportation problems.  Once you have been through a disaster that really screws up transportation, you’ll never complain about heavy traffic again.

 

Shelter

Given the level of destruction, damage to homes was one of the obvious results of Hurricane Maria.  Combined with the damage to the roads, downed trees, debris, etc. a backup retreat anywhere on the island would probably also be destroyed, or impossible to get to.  The simple solution is tents.  I rarely hear about tents as preps, but they have at least two uses I can think of, beyond the typical camping use most people associate with tents.

You can pitch them outdoors if your shelter is destroyed, or you can pitch them indoors to keep you a bit warmer if the building is intact, but you need warmth.  Mosquito netting is also a good idea if you are in an area susceptible to mosquitos, or mosquito borne illnesses, like a Caribbean island.

If you want to go cheap, consider Tube Tents.

Supply Chain Problems

Different places can be dominant suppliers of key goods.  During the post-Fukushima period, certain automotive parts became hard to obtain as they were manufactured in that area.  Assembly lines elsewhere were quickly affected, as specific parts were in short supply.  You can’t ship a new car missing a fuel pump.

In the case of Puerto Rico, there had been incentives in place for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing to be located on the island.  Shortages appeared in IV bags, not just in Puerto Rico, but everywhere that IV bags are used, as existing inventories ran out.  This illustrates the problem with just in time inventory methods, as a disaster in a remote place can have unforeseen consequences outside the affected area.  The longer Puerto Rico takes to recover, the more noticeable this shortage will become.

Conclusion

Any disaster’s impact becomes worse the longer it takes to make repairs and return to normalcy.  Hurricane Maria has shown us that even a simple Hurricane, which the US has plenty of experience with, can turn into a long running disaster with the right set of circumstances.  As preppers, it behooves us to be prepared to go beyond the three-day preparations recommended by the government, and instead prepare for longer running disasters, as even an event that is typically short run, e.g. a hurricane, can morph into a long running disaster scenario.


Paranoid Prepper

5 Comments

  1. In addition to the lessons you cited (which I had on my list too), were:

    > Chaos did not break out — A day or two after the hurricane, Puerto Rico did not become a Mad Max wasteland (like in the 2nd movie) with roving bands of marauders. People sounded desperate enough in Puerto Rico, yet, civilization proved to be more durable than popular fiction imagines.
    That’s not to sound all Pollyanna. Defense is important. Just, maybe don’t let fears of Punk thugs on horned motorcycles dominate your thinking.

    > Expect to be ignored — As you say, recovery is likely to come, but prep for the delay. Governments work on delivering aid and restoring things where the greatest concentration of people are. If you don’t live in a big city, expect to be ignored until the cities are dealt with.

  2. I agree on the chaos did not break out point. I personally, feel that while a certain amount of criminality may show up in a disaster, widespread mutant zombie bikers are a plot device for prepper fiction.

    As for being ignored, I think you are giving too much credit to TPTB. In order to ignore you, they have to be competent, aware of your needs, and make the choice to prioritize elsewhere. I think the local authorities in PR are not competent to handle a disaster of the scale they experienced and federal authorities are not competent to deal with a problem of this scale that is also on a distant island.

    Of course the effect is the same either way. You can’t count on someone else to take care of you in a disaster situation.

    • Hehe. I almost cited the “mutant zombie bikers,” or the cannibal army from One Second After. To some extent, the fictional trope of rampant lawlessness does express a pessimism/fear that many preppers have toward modern mankind. The customary plot device is, as you say, that a large quantity of formerly-placid citizens turn into gangs of (combat tactical) savages.

      Salty referred to this problem in an earlier post, of letting one’s imagination of combat-tactical-savage-hordes drive a prepper into OVER-preparing for big battles, at the expense of other necessary preps.

      Real world events suggest that the placid tend to remain so — sheepishly waiting for someone else to fix their problems. That said, there are always criminal types in society: good times or bad. They will be emboldened by a breakdown in order (think Baltimore), but they are fewer and less organized than sells well in fiction.

      Yes, maybe I am giving TPTB more credit than deserved. They do tend to respond to the squeaky wheels (San Juan’s mayor, for example). Larger population centers of left-voting sheep are more dear to TPTB. I agree that the Feds won’t be particularly capable of managing a larger crisis. Waiting for them to be your savior is foolish. Be prepared to get by on your own resources.

  3. Cities, by their nature, depend on working infrastructure, both physical and organizational. Responding to cities is IMHO a legitimate priority of TPTB in a disaster. Even so, you can be in deep doo-doo in a disaster that is drawing an all out response, simply because the system is overwhelmed. Puerto Rico is an example of that. Clearly, government resources were not adequate, or competent, to respond in a timely fashion. The answer for an individual is to prepare for a longer wait, whether you are in a city or a rural area. Hopefully, this blog is helpful in that regard.

  4. We always appreciate when get get comments and feedback on our articles here at 3BY, but we don’t always approve them for various reasons (some include profanity, others are off topic, etc.)

    This topic has generated at least one political post, and I’m writing a note to state that we don’t do politics here at 3BY, that’s not what we are here for. Everybody has their own views, and the internet is filled with places to share those views.

    We call this “inclusive prepping” because we want EVERYBODY to feel comfortable with our information, no matter what race, ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality… because the more people who are prepped, the less the strain on all of us when the Stuff Hits The Fan.

    As we have stated from the start, the only exception here to this rule is in a matter of perception by some: 3BY is pro-gun ownership. Some consider that a political stance, we do not, any more than we consider pro-drinking water, pro-shoes and pro-eyeglasses to be. All are things we need to survive and prosper.

    There are very few “politics-free” prepping websites, but this is one of them. SO… we appreciate the time people spend stating their views in replies, but if they are political, they will not be approved.

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