When I was nine years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. "An astronaut, archaeologist or a go-go dancer,” I replied. I swear I'm not making this up.
If you don't know what a go-go dancer is, then let me to explain. During the 1960s, go-go dancers were the girls wearing tight mini-skirts and knee-high white boots while dancing in cages overlooking a pulsating dance floor. I really liked those boots.
Personally, I think the go-go dancer career choice should have been a red flag but my parents just smiled and nodded. Fortunately, the dance world remained safe and, instead, I grew up to become a reporter, pilot and disaster communications professional.
But, before all that happened, I first enrolled in university to become an archaeologist. Since my childhood love of dinosaurs had been unshakable, I signed up for some classes where, to my significant embarrassment, I learned that archeology and paleontology were actually two very different disciplines. Contrary to popular belief, archaeologists don’t study dinosaurs, they study past cultures. Who knew?
So, what's the problem then? Well, quite frequently, the sun vomits and, if we happen to be in the way, space weather scientists will then announce that a solar flare is on its way and "earth-directed." If we're not in the way, then the solar flare goes flying past and takes out somebody else. Apparently, that's usually Mars. (Read Cosmos Magazine's How the Sun stole Mars' atmosphere)
When we are in the way of a solar flare, which happens A LOT, typically, there's little damage thanks to Earth's protective magnetic field which is actually produced by the rotation of our planet's core (we think).
Solar storms are just a fact of life on Earth. Sometimes, they’re responsible for annoyingly dropped cellphone calls, HAM radio disruption, GPS coordinates off by a few yards and pretty aurora light shows. If you’ve ever lived in a far north or far south part of the globe, you’ve likely seen the aurora lights as a dancing, wavy curtain of green in the sky. Sometimes, the aurora can be red (rare) or a mixture of colors depending on levels of oxygen in the upper atmosphere. I know. Too much science. I'll stop.
But, in addition to flares, there's another kind of solar storm called a coronal mass ejection (CME). They both come from the sun but, as NASA explains it, if solar flares are a muzzle flash, then a CME is a cannonball. It's a good analogy.
CMEs are massive, fast-moving bursts of solar matter, ejected outwards from the sun and travelling at around one million miles per hour. As naturally-occurring electromagnetic pulses, they are so powerful that they temporarily deform our planet's magnetic field, change the direction of compass needles and create large electrical ground currents in the Earth itself.
It’s been rumored that some countries are trying to turn the CME phenomena into a weapon using man-made electromagnetic pulses called EMPs. An EMP weapon would likely originate from a satellite and, if unleashed on a target, like a city, could cause every electronic device and computer to instantly fail, achieving the ultimate blue screen of death for millions. This failure would be complete with no reboot possible as all data and operating systems would be erased when the EMP hit.
Unfortunately, a naturally-produced massive CME from the sun could do much worse. A CME could destroy civilization as we know it and here's how.
Although Earth has been living with the sun’s mood swings for a very long time, it’s only during the last 100 years that our society has been living full-time with electricity. Today, transmission lines, transformers and the grid could become supercharged by the extra current and permanently fail during a massive CME like the one that occurred in 1859.
Named after British astronomer, Richard Carrington, the 1859 Carrington event is the most powerful geomagnetic storm ever recorded and one that gives many people the willies. (Read National Geographic's What if the biggest solar storm on record happened today?)
A Carrington-style event has never hit us during a time of heavy dependence on electrical utilities but the implications of that are simply terrifying. Damage would be widespread and repairs nearly impossible since the factories that manufacture the replacement parts for transformers and transmission lines would not be running because, well, there's no electricity. Nations would go dark in more ways than one.
Even though our society would crumble, the planet would look exactly as it had before the massive CME hit. Blue skies, sun shinning, cats being lazy. The only difference is that there would be no electricity and that one fact would end our civilization as we know it. No banking, no life-saving medications, no mass food production, no fuel, no communication, no transportation of goods or people, no critical infrastructure operating. You get the idea.
So, what happened the last time this occurred?
Now, if you're still with me, then, congratulations on making it this far (this blog is a long one but I felt it couldn't be chopped into two posts). Having said that, I'd understand if you might be incredulously wondering what's the chance of this happening again?
Seriously, what are the chances?
No one is sure but, brace yourself, NASA recently revealed that we narrowly missed a Carrington event on July 23, 2012. The event happened but our orbital position allowed for a glancing blow instead of a full-on hit. Researchers believe that, had it hit, the event would have been stronger than a Carrington event and that it actually involved two CMEs. If you're not totally panicked or depressed by now, you can read NASA's release about it entitled Carrington-class CME narrowly misses Earth.
Needless to say, if you haven't decided on what level you want to prep to, then a Carrington event might persuade you to go all the way. With any disaster, you'll want to stash some cash and, with more severe disaster types, you'll want to stock some gold and silver. But, if a Carrington event happens again, packets of seeds will be the new currency.
Step 6: There's an App for That!
When you put together an emergency kit or stock long-term supplies, one item that's often overlooked is information. Although there's an impressive group of people out there that have taught themselves how to re-start civilization, most of us haven't had the inclination to even get a kit together, let alone learn how to grow potatoes or build a shelter from tree branches.
But, if you're interested, there's a wealth of knowledge available, including free books, training and cellphone apps, to help you learn everything you've ever wanted to know about prepping but were afraid to ask.
All it takes is a little of your time to browse through the links below to see what you'd like to know ahead of an incident. Or, store the info as a hard-copy in your emergency kits for use during or after an incident. If you don't have time to learn it now, there's a good chance you'd have time to learn it later...as long as you can access the information.
At the very least, make sure to include (and protect in a waterproof container) a hard copy version of a survival first aid manual.
Remember, a CME might take down the grid so don't rely 100% on e-books. Read them now but make sure you have printed hard-copies of your favorite publications and checklists (many government publications are available in printed form for free or you can use your own printer, although there's the cost of ink to think about).
Free Books and Publications
How-to knowledge, especially for surviving specific risks like an earthquake or a tornado, is a vital aspect of pre-incident preparedness while other books, like ones on survival and first aid, are perfect for including in long-term supplies.
Don't forget to include a few start-civilization-over books. For example, a book on identifying herbs and poisonous plants, understanding weather systems, how to cultivate a garden and another one on identifying animal tracks are great items to include in your the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (TEOTWAWKI) kit. Yes, there really is an acronym for that. Anyway, here's a few to get you started.
Free Preparedness Info (this link has a staggering list of free downloads in all categories)
Free Kindle Books on preparedness, homesteading and survival (check often, typically free for only 24 hours so watch the price on download)
Free Family Planning for Disasters Publications (a mixture of hard-copies and PDFs available from the US Government, similar webpages may exist in other countries)
Free FEMA Publications (covering seniors, families, businesses, special needs and pets, available as hard copies and PDFs)
You can also search for your own country's free publications using search terms like "free emergency preparedness books" or "free disaster planning." Just add the word "free" in front of your search term.
To find a resource in your country, try doing a search using terms like "free emergency training" or "free emergency planning course." Here's a small sample below, just to illustrate what's available.
(USA) FEMA offers free distance learning for members of the general public as well as emergency responders and volunteers. Currently, there are 197 courses to choose from.
(USA) American Red Cross offers free courses in disaster preparedness and other related topics. Make sure to search online for your local area.
(Canada) The City of Vancouver offers free disaster planning workshops covering everything from tsunamis to heat waves.
(New Zealand) Massey University offers free emergency management courses covering resilience, readiness, response and recovery.
Another way to gain free training is to consider joining a club or volunteer organization. In the US, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members receive training, opportunities to participate in disaster exercises and mentorship from those who have real-life experience.
Don't forget to check out YouTube to see what videos are available. Just enter search terms like "growing vegetables" or "survival tips." Here's a few but the sky's the limit when it comes to search topics. Pick a subject and press play.
(Family Disaster Planning) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_9IAY1gQKc
(Jamie Lee Curtis for the Red Cross) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wWyVTPitXI
(Car Emergency Kit) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tm_Jdj8dEI
(Active Shooter Survival Tips) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0
Free Cellphone Apps
Since we have electricity, let's embrace all that it offers including these free cellphone apps. By searching, you'll find others that do everything from monitoring river levels (for flooding) to coaching victims of PTSD (see link below).
Top 5 Free Disaster Apps for iPhone and Android
Disaster Radar (Real-time global monitoring, needs iTunes account, free, most countries)
Red Cross (Suite of free Red Cross apps from first aid to disaster alerts, worth checking)
PTSD Coach (Free from Veterans Affairs, downloaded 100,000 times in 74 countries)
Weather Disaster Alert (for Android phones, free)
Weather Underground (for iOS phones, free)
Weather Underground (for Android phones, free)
Earth Alerts (Windows, global coverage, option to send alerts to your cellphone, free)
Free Pet First Aid Apps
Let's not forget to prepare a kit for our furry loved ones and then download a pet first ad app to help in emergencies.
Red Cross Pet First Aid (for Android phones, free)
Red Cross Pet First Aid (for iOS phone, free although the CNET link mentions .99 cent cost, I believe it's a mistake as the Apple site says its free and that matches with the Android version).
Good luck with the inclusion of knowledge into your emergency planning and preparedness efforts. Knowledge is power but it's also survival.
Thanks for reading and happy learning!
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