February 15, 2013 was a somewhat embarrassing day for astronomers when a sneak meteor attack, in the skies above the Chelyabinsk area of Russia, injured 1,500 people and blew up YouTube with dramatic dash-cam video. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, to add insult to injury, Earth’s space telescopes were all looking the other way.
Ironically, that day was already going to be a big one because that's when asteroid 2012 DA14 (later re-named 367943 Duende because that name is so much better) was going to make an exceptionally close fly-by and all eyes were watching. Meanwhile, out in space, another asteroid was breaking apart, sending a big fragment towards Russia and no one saw it coming. Well, at least, no one who was willing to warn Russia.
Heavier than the Eiffel tower, this surprise space invader arrived with a brilliant streak of light, followed by a tremendous bang. Some 7,200 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the meteor’s explosive shock wave, leaving many people out in sub-zero temperatures and cut by shattered glass. You can watch a collection of video footage below and, at around the 3:10 mark, you'll start to get a sense of how terrifying this must have been.
Once stunned astronomers recovered, it was eventually deduced that the parent of the Chelyabinsk meteor was an asteroid named 2011E040. Why this asteroid broke apart is unknown but it may have been hit by something else or fractured due to the wear and tear of all that travelling around space for thousands of years. In any case, it’s a great example of randomness born out of a cyclic event. An asteroid on a predictable orbit that suddenly delivers a completely random and devastating punch to an innocent bystander which happened to be Earth.
The reality is that chaos is just a fact of life for most planets. Robert Irion, in a July 2013 National Geographic article, wrote “according to one theory, the moon coalesced from the spray of molten rock that was blasted into orbit when a body the size of Mars collided with Earth.”
What? We were T-boned by another planet?
According to this theory, Earth was originally born as a twin to a much-smaller planet. The two planets shared an orbit for several million years until they collided. Some scientists call this smaller planet, Theia, after the Greek goddess, but I prefer to call it Wrong-Way Harold.
After throwing off a chunk in the collision, which became our moon, the remains of Wrong-Way Harold were absorbed by Earth giving us enough mass and gravity to sustain a substantial atmosphere which is the only way that we have donut shops and a lot of other things today. Without an atmosphere, life and everything associated with it would have been impossible.
Irion goes on to note that “many hundreds of millions of years later, the moon suffered a series of major impacts that left it permanently scarred with huge craters. This so-called Late Heavy Bombardment period would have pounded Earth even more viciously.”
It’s hard to imagine what our world went through – slammed repeatedly by huge meteorites. Since this bombardment has no suspects and scientists have no idea where the intruders came from, I think this interplanetary mugging may qualify as a Somewhat Big Space Event but not a Really Big Space Event like a star exploding. Yes, there are worse things out there than getting the stuffing beat out of you by a gang of meteorites.
In fact, in a few billion years, things are going to get really bad. That’s when our galaxy is going to collide with our neighbour next door – the beautiful, swirling Andromeda galaxy. I think it’s safe to say that it’s all over for us and probably millions of other life forms and planets.
So, what does this tell us? The bottom line is that we live in a violent universe and on a volatile planet that has some of the worst weather this side of Pluto. Some things are predictable but others, like the Chelyabinsk sneak meteor attack, are going to catch us by surprise.
As humans, it’s in our nature to try to make sense of things we can’t control and, if we can attach a cycle to the event, it becomes more manageable, more controllable. Cycles bring comfort because we can plan for and anticipate what’s coming to kill us.
In my past role as a government disaster communicator, I often talked about cycles in media interviews – the 200-year cyclic flood or the 100-year cyclic wildfire. These facts were true but only to the extend of how long we’ve been recording events and the number of tree rings we’ve examined which play an important role in determining old disasters. Still, it’s pretty limited knowledge and, once you delve into it, you start to realize the broader picture – that cycles and random events often go hand-in-hand.
In disaster communications, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was convincing people that “yes, it could happen to you.” There were many conversations with residents of an affected area who exclaimed that they had no idea that cyclic fires or floods or fill-in-the-blank disasters occurred in their location and many were outraged that the government had done nothing to mitigate Mother Nature. To this day, I run into people who live on the Pacific coast who have no idea they reside in a zone 6 earthquake area (the worst there is).
The problem is that people assume that what they see today has always been there and, yet, nothing could be further from the truth. If they do understand the risk, they often dismiss it – not by being prepared – but by deciding it will not happen to them or in their lifetime.
I live in Calgary – a high-tech Canadian city that has a number of major head offices and more than one million residents – all of which exists on land that used to be underwater. Actually, I can say, with some pride, that I live on what was once the floor of a prehistoric sea that was home to the elasmosaurus, otherwise known as dinosaur sea dragon. Not everyone can say that.
Okay, I admit this is an extreme "before and after" picture but it's a true one. Things don't stay the way they are forever. Although Calgary took millions of years to transform, there are many other changes that can happen in a heartbeat. Like the catastrophic floods that overtook Calgary in 2013.
No matter where you live, you can investigate what cyclic disasters are known in your area (for example, before you build that cabin in the woods, forestry offices can refer to satellite maps and advise you of regular burn areas over the decades) but you should also be prepared for the disasters that no one expects.
STEP 2: Give and Take
Last week, I offered Step 1: Pillage Your Village in the Prep for Free program. Hopefully, you've had a chance to don your favourite horned Viking hat as you rampage through closets and drawers looking for items to steal for your emergency kits. If not, then I hope step 1 is, at least, on your to-do list.
Now, let's take a look at step 2. Here's how it works. People give you stuff and you take it. It's that easy. The only tricky part is recognizing what items would be good for emergency kits.
They say freedom isn't free but this stuff sure is and it's perfect for your needs.
Free from fast food restaurants, pubs, bars, food establishments
- Matches (Great for fire starting, lighting candles and igniting emergency heat/stoves, place in plastic wrapping to protect from water, good for all kits and shelter-in-place supplies.)
- Napkins (A good replacement for toilet paper, paper towel and tissues because they can be stored flat, taking less space since they're not puffed up with a lot of air, good for all kits.)
- Plastic cutlery (Some restaurant delivery even provides cutlery pre-wrapped in plastic with a napkin included, good for go kits, car kits and work kits.)
- Hard candies (After-dinner candy is usually individually wrapped and perfect to supply high-calorie energy and can be life-saving for diabetics in a low blood sugar situation, holds up well in temperature extremes, great for car, work and go kits.)
- Nuts, seeds and dried fruit (If you order a fast-food salad, you'll often get a few packets of ingredients such as nuts, seeds or dried fruit like cranberries and raisins. Save them all or the ones you don't like for your kits. Even Starbucks hot oatmeal comes with a packet of nuts, a packet of fruit and a packet of brown sugar. These are perfect for kits as most tolerate extremes in temperature. Watch with nuts and seeds, though, as their oil can go rancid in high heat if left in car kits during summer.)
- Condiments (Most fast-food restaurants offer ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar and other condiments such as mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc., in individual packets which are useful in making disaster soup. (Just be sure to mark a storage date on ketchup and any other perishable condiments and rotate out of kits every six months. Salt/pepper and sugar can last almost indefinitely so don't worry about them.) If you're stranded in your car for 15 hours on a frozen highway, you'll think disaster soup is the best thing you've ever tasted. Disaster soup can be made with any temperature of water. Just stir in packets of ketchup and any combination of sugar, soy sauce, mustard, pepper or hot sauce. Basically, it's a spicy tomato soup or V-8 type drink that provides some energy. If you like, try it at home first to determine your favorite combination. A packet of salt can also be used in water to help replenish electrolytes during hot weather and packets of sugar can assist a diabetic in a low blood sugar situation which can be life-threatening. No matter how you use it, the body still sees these little packets of food as fuel to keep going. Packets of vinegar are also great for disinfecting as vinegar has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. However, don't collect butter packets or cream containers as they are too perishable. Otherwise, condiment packets are perfect for go kits, car kits and even work kits.)
- Tea bags (Many times, I've received a second tea bag with my meal which I didn't use or got one with a hotel stay. Take it with you and pair with free packets of sugar and powered whitener to add calories and energy. Place in go kits, car kits and work kits.)
- Kid's toys, coloring books and crayons (As part of a meal, many restaurants provide a kid's toy and some even provide coloring books and small boxes of crayons which are great for keeping little ones occupied during a stressful situation. Take these items home and add to go kits and car kits. Let's face it, your kids already have enough toys and this is a great way to get them involved in emergency planning.)
- Toothpicks (Individually wrapped toothpicks are a great alternative to dental floss and can save your sanity if you have food stuck in your teeth and you're already stressed out about being evacuated. Toothpicks are also good for first aid kits and could also be used as fire-starting material, if you had enough of them. Using the "watch method," you can even use a toothpick to navigate without a compass. Great for go kits and car kits.)
- Chopsticks (Disposable chopsticks are good as fire kindling, as stakes for growing plants or as a first aid splint or broken bone support. Apparently, you can even build a chopstick crossbow and rubber-band gun. Good for go and car kits as well as long-term supplies.)
Free from a visit to the dentist
Perfect for all kits and long-term supplies (items will depend on your dentist and country).
- Dental floss
Free from a visit to the eye doctor
Perfect for all kits and long-term supplies (items will depend on your doctor and country).
- Contact lens solution
- Contact lens storage case
- Eyeglass cleaning kit
- Eye drops
Free from a visit to the veterinarian
- Samples of cat food (dry and wet)
- Samples of dog food (dry and wet)
- Samples of pet treats
Free from a visit to a hotel
- Bar of soap
- Body lotion
- Makeup remover cloth
- Shoeshine cloth
- Mini-sewing kit
- Shower cap
- Powered coffee whitener
- Sugar packets
- Stir sticks
- Tea and coffee sachets
- Pen and paper (use to leave messages for search and rescue, messages on your car dashboard, messages for family members or record events)
Free from a visit to the drycleaner
Perfect for all kits and shelter-in-place supplies (items will depend on your cleaner and country).
- Sheets of plastic (Used to cover your dry-cleaned clothes, these same sheets of plastic can be worn to keep body heat in (just poke holes for arms and head) or used to seal windows in a shelter-in-place contaminated air emergency. Plastic sheets are also good for sealing broken house or car windows, providing you collect enough of them to layer for strength. First aid kits can also benefit from plastic sheets to protect wounds and keep injured areas safe from water and other elements.)
- Safety pin (Add to your first aid kit to secure bandages or use to secure shoes instead of laces. Also, good as a fish hook, to replace a button or repair a bra.)
- Metal hangers (These have a multitude of uses including as a makeshift hook, hinge or handle. Bend to hang a small can over a fire or create a loop and cover with cloth to create a fish net. You can also bend the hanger around a T-shirt to create a filter for dirty water or straighten to use as a replacement antenna. The list goes on and on.)
Other free items I've received:
- A visit to my local car dealership for repairs provided me with a free first aid kit. Great for car kits or add to your go kit.
- A visit to a hair salon provided a gift of free full-size shampoo and conditioner bottles which are great for shelter-in-place supplies.
- Many companies give out free pens and pocket planners (use the pocket planner to record important family phone numbers since your cellphone may not be charged or usable and many of us rely on cellphones to act as our phonebook). Fill out and keep in car kits and go kits.
- Delivered to your door, free newspapers and shopping flyers can be used, in a pinch, as insulation to prevent pipes from freezing, pet litter or bedding, to fill in gaps around windows and doors and, of course, fire-starting material. Good for shelter-in-place and long-term supplies.
- If you're prepping for end of the world scenarios, then those bits and pieces that are left over from putting furniture together are perfect to collect. From free screws to nails and nuts and bolts, building materials are a good long-term item. Do I need to mention free Allen keys from IKEA?
- Visits to a naturopath and chiropractor have provided free pain relief cream samples.
- An airplane flight has often served up individually-wrapped free packets of peanuts, pretzels and cookies. Ask for a second packet or keep the one you get and add to any kit.
With step 2, you now have the opportunity to prevent these items from entering landfills by re-purposing them for emergency supplies and using them in new ways. By the way, I owe a special thank you to @SurvivalPlanner who suggested ideas for possible uses of hangers, safety pins and newspapers. His interesting survival blog can be read here.
I'd love to hear what you get for free so that we can add to this list. (This blog is read in a dozen countries so please let me know what country you're in and what you get for free that's different.)
Thanks for reading and good luck! If you still need to complete your hazard lists, they can be found here: Prep for Free Hazard and Risk Assessment Checklists.
See you next week,
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© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle