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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.