Helping Each Other

Members of Canterbury University volunteer army clean up mud on Feb. 24 in Christchurch.
The quake caused liquefaction of the ground. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images)

I am so impressed by the citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand.  Almost one week ago, a massive earthquake hit their area.  Deaths and damage abound.  What amazes me is the spirit of community and service that has emerged from these hard-hit people.

Immediately after the earthquake, citizens with no training jumped in to help rescue and take care of the injured and dying.  There are many stories of everyday heroes jumping and doing whatever they could to save the lives around them.  Kieran McErlain saw a school yard full of children desperate with fear as the water rose to knee level around them.  Though he had no responsibility there, he stayed and helped to calm the children.1  Reports mention students from a university-organized "army" of 10,000 who traveled into the damaged neighborhoods armed with shovels.3  They are shoveling out the liquefaction that has filled up so many yards and houses.  They are helping to move cars stuck in the sludge.  No one asked them to come.  Instead, compassion moved them to help - and they found a way to do so. 

The New Zealand Herald has published a list of companies that are distributing supplies to anyone who needs them.  Again, no one asked.  These businesses just saw the need and took the initiative to do something.  Local bakeries are cleaning up their own buildings, firing up their ovens and baking bread and distributing it for free.  Grocery stores are giving away food and medicine.

"Growers from around the country are offering fresh food donations, church groups are donating goods to those in need and Food and Grocery Council members are also working to get donated food to the people of Christchurch." 4

Neighbors are taking care of each other by feeding each other, and watching over one another. 

"They are sleeping under canvas in the backyard and look well-organised. Tables, a dozen chairs, the barbecue are set out. It looks inviting, an oasis amid the chaos. They and their neighbours have managed to salvage enough glasses and they get together each evening . . . while they cook meat from their defrosting freezers.  Such neighbourliness keeps spirits up."1

Thousand of families in surrounding areas have opened their homes to the fleeing refuges.  A call went out for help and so many responded.   Even families with nothing to give are reaching out and helping each other.   I read a story about a family that gave away their tent because they could fit their little family of four into a backyard playhouse instead.

"We had a tent put up, but we gave it to some friends up the road because their house was not good and they had nowhere to sleep that night," Richard Bruin told the Herald yesterday. "And then we moved into the playhouse. But it's safe, it's waterproof - unlike the house." 2

Other countries have also been quick to offer and send assistance.  Rescue teams arrived as quickly as they could travel and are helping still with the recovery effort.  Donations are quickly accumulating and will be used to help many of the now homeless and hungry. 

There is such a spirit of love and sharing instead of greed and selfishness surrounding these people.  I can only hope that we all will respond similarly when faced with any unexpected dangers in our lives.

1 - New Zealand Herald - On two wheels through the rubble
2 - Christchurch earthquake: Playhouse becomes shelter for family
3 - Christchurch earthquake: Students form volunteer army
4 - Christchurch earthquake: How you can help
5 - Christchurch earthquake: Food companies swing in to deliver supplies


AFTER an Earthquake!

A man holds a child in his arms after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on Tuesday. (Iain McGregor / Reuters)

Once the earth has stopped shaking from an earthquake, all danger has not passed.  Because of aftershocks, there is a constant need for vigilance even after an earthquake.  Earthquakes also create many different hazards.  Awareness of these hazards can help you to protect your family from any additional harm.


* Expect aftershocks. 
Get yourself and others out of locations that might be dangerous with continued shaking.   Be aware of hazards such as fires, electrical lines, or spills that might still put you in danger.  Be especially careful as you enter or exit buildings.  Buildings can continue to shift even after the earth has stopped shaking.

Be aware of Tsunami potential. 
Move to a higher location if this is an issue.

* Check for injuries. 
Do not move seriously injured individuals unless they are in danger of further harm.  Help trapped persons if possible.

* Check for hazardous conditions.
Damage from an earthquake can cause fires, leaks in the water, sewer or gas systems, downed or exposed electricity wires, spills and broken items.  Extinguish any fires.  Check your utilities.  If you smell gas, turn off the gas at the meter.  If you don't smell gas, do not turn off the gas because it might be many days before you can have it turned back on.  If wires are sparking or exposed, turn off the electricity at the breaker box.  Do not step in water in order to access the electricity box. 

* Check your home for damage.
Turn off water if you have any broken pipes. Do not use the water until you have been told that it is safe. Don't use the toilets if you suspect problems with the sewer system.  Inspect your chimney, walls, and foundations.

* Ongoing needs.
Don't use your phone except for emergencies.  Listen to your radio for instructions.  Gather your children from local schools.  Stay away from damaged areas.  Be careful as you open cupboards (expect items to fall out).  Make sure to check on your neighbors.

Assess the liveability of your home.  Find a shelter if staying in your home is not an option.  Remember that shelters are typically crowded and also often lack basic services.  You might be better off staying in your home if you just lack basic services or have little to moderate damage.  If you do leave, make sure to communicate your whereabouts with a staying neighbor.

Hopefully, you never have to use any of these recommendations.  But knowing, practicing and thinking about them will help you and your family to be better prepared in an Earthquake.



DURING an Earthquake!

A teetering piano. Photo / NZPA/David Alexander

Scientists are always studying best practices for responding in an earthquake. It is valuable to stay aware of current thinking and findings. The reality is that earthquakes don't kill people, falling objects typically do. Your main objective should be moving away from anything that might fall on you -- a picture over your bed, a bookshelf, bricks, the building, etc. Knowing the age of the building that you work in or live in can also give you the ability to decide how to respond.


If you are INDOORS:

Do not run outside!  Stay inside until the shaking stops.

DUCK or DROP down on the floor. Take COVER under a sturdy desk, table, or other furniture. If that is not possible, seek cover against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid danger spots near windows, hanging objects, mirrors or tall furniture. If you take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, HOLD on to it and be prepared to move it. Hold the position until the ground stops shaking and it is safe to move.

If you are in BED, stay there and cover your head with a pillow.

When in a HIGH-RISE BUILDING, move against an interior wall if you are not near a desk or table. Protect your head and neck with your arms. Do not use the elevators.

When in a CROWDED STORE OR OTHER PUBLIC PLACE, move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall. Do not rush for the exit.

When in a STADIUM OR THEATER, stay in your seat, get below the level of the back of the seat and cover your head and neck with your arms.

If you are OUTDOORS:

When OUTDOORS, move to a clear area away from trees, signs, buildings, or downed electrical wires and poles.

When on a SIDEWALK NEAR BUILDINGS, duck into a doorway or move into an open area to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass, plaster and other debris.

When DRIVING, pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay inside your vehicle until the shaking stops.

Do you know what to do AFTER an earthquake?  Watch for the third and last post on earthquakes.

Note:  I am aware that there is an alternate earthquake survival method called "The Triangle of Life."  The Red Cross recommends teaching Drop, Cover, and Hold On instead.  Drop, Cover and Hold On has been researched and found to be successful in protecting life in the United States where there are strict building codes.  If you live in an area with loose or no building codes, please take the time to find out what your local officials recommend for protecting yourself and your family.  You can read more here:  http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/triangle.asp and from the Red Cross here:  http://www2.bpaonline.org/Emergencyprep/arc-on-doug-copp.html.

1 Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country - Utah Seismic Safety Commission


BEFORE an Earthquake!

Cars covered in building debris on February 22, 2011. Photo / Getty Images

How much do you know about preparing for, reacting during, and responding after an earthquake?  You might not live in an earthquake prone area, but mostly likely, you will travel through one at some point.  Knowing what to do might save your life.  Practicing and talking about it with your family might save their lives.  It's worth a few minutes to review. 

This is the first post in a series of three to help you prepare for an earthquake.  Look for a post on responding DURING an earthquake tomorrow.


1. Have a supply of food and water on hand. 
New Zealand still doesn't have water to 80 percent of Christchurch.1  Even if your home and workplace aren't damaged, your area might not have water or food available because of broken water lines and destroyed roads.

2. Keep a pair of shoes and flashlight by each bed.
I confess that I still haven't done this.  My boys move through shoe sizes too quickly (which is just an excuse).  They also tend to take the flashlights if they are so easily available.  I do have a pair of shoes by my bed.  Having shoes and a flashlight easily available makes it safer to navigate floors covered with debris and glass after an earthquake during the night.

3. Evaluate your home and workplace for hazards.
Bolt heavy, tall objects to the wall with earthquake brackets.  Move large pictures away from beds.  Add latches to your cupboards.  Keep a fire extinguisher on hand.  (More here:  How to secure your furniture - Utah State Seismic Commission)

4. Practice occasionally.
It would make a good Family Home Evening lesson to review things as a family periodically.  My 12 year-old son and I sat at the computer looking at pictures of the earthquake in New Zealand.2  I specifically pointed out all of the building fronts that had collapsed.  We talked about the dangers of running out of a building because of this.  I could tell that it sunk in with him differently than it had previously.  Take the time to use teaching moments with your kids. 

More information on preparing for an earthquake and teaching your kids can be found here from the Utah State Seismic Commission:
Tips for preparing children
Preparing your family for an earthquake
Tips for the elderly

1 - Christchurch earthquake: Latest updates
2 - Christchurch earthquake: Images of devastation


Grow a Garden

After writing my last post, I have continued to think about ways to blunt rising grocery prices.  After reading a news article about produce prices rising because of freezing weather in unusual places, I realized I should have listed a fourth suggestion to my previous post on rising food prices.1  So here it is:

4)  Grow a Garden

I recognize that growing a garden isn't always the cheapest way to put produce on your table.  However, gaining gardening skills gives you the ability to supplement your three-month supply with fresh foods regardless of their cost or availability in stores. 

You might think that you can only grow a garden during the summer season.  However, there are many seeds that grow well in the cold temperatures of spring and fall.  With some planning you can grow lettuce, peas, kale, cabbage, broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, radishes, beets, cauliflower, carrots, turnips and parsnips.  You can also grow vegetables in pots inside your home or in a porch with a window all year long.  Many crops, such as potatoes, apples and carrots can be harvested in the fall and can last throughout the winter (if stored correctly).2

One family in our area invested in a back-yard greenhouse.  Medical dietary restrictions required one member of their family to live off of produce only.  They were aware that it would be difficult/impossible to store foods for that person.  So, they bought a small greenhouse.   Now they have fresh produce all year long.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  I would love to have access to a citrus tree here - and could if I had a greenhouse.

One year I served tomatoes from our garden for Thanksgiving dinner.  That's not remarkable if you live in Florida or Arizona, but we live in Utah.  Earlier in the fall when I knew it was going to freeze, I picked all of the remaining ripe tomatoes.  I also picked all of the green tomatoes that were shiny (the dull ones won't usually ripen).  I stored them in a mostly-dark, cool place in our basement.2  I separated the tomatoes so that they didn't touch each other.  I checked on them periodically throughout the next several months and brought up the tomatoes as they started to turn colors. 

Truly, a garden can provide fresh produce all year and can protect us from the ups and downs of pricing.

1 - Deep freeze escalates produce prices
2 - Vegetable Harvest and Storage


Rising Food Prices

Several news sources have been reporting ongoing food shortages and resulting rising food prices.  In fact, the UN food and agriculture organization just reported that world food prices are at their all time high (since they started tracking prices 20 years ago).3

Unfortunately, home storage is not likely to completely blunt rising prices.  Even if you lived completely on your home storage, you would eventually run out and have to start replacing at the higher prices.  There are several things you can do, however, to maximize your money and utilize your home storage to give you extra savings in these circumstances.

1) Wait for sales.

Having a good  home storage allows you to pay attention to sales and purchase only when items are cheaper than they might be at regular prices.  When you already have a good supply on hand, you can ride the waves and maximize your funds.

Several years ago a bucket of wheat climbed to $25 in our area.  Because I had a good supply of wheat, I didn't need to replace my wheat right away.  In fact, a year or two later, prices dropped down to $14 a bucket which was the lowest I'd seen.  I was able to wait and replace when prices were low.  Here's another example:  I like to buy refried beans when they drop to $.50 a can.  Instead of the normal yearly sales, prices seemed to continue climbing.  I had almost decided that it was time to replace anyway when I noticed an advertisement for $.60 a can.  I paid a bit more, but at least I didn't have to pay the regular price of $1.19.

Now you have to be careful about doing this.  You can get burned by waiting when prices just continue to climb.  I try to keep a minimum amount on hand, replacing those minimums at the higher prices if necessary so that I won't be caught without a good supply of food.

2) Be aware of WHY food prices are rising.

Wheat prices are very volatile.  Disease, drought and/or flood in different parts of the world affect crop prices.  When wheat prices went up several years ago, I was aware that there were some drought-issues affecting wheat prices.  I was fairly confident that these weren't long-term issues, that wheat crops would return to their normal levels and that I could wait to replace the storage that I had used.  In fact the next year was a bumper crop and prices dropped to new lows. 

By the way, there is a usually a delay before rising/lowering prices hit the market, so you may have to wait to see the price changes.  The wheat crop this year has suffered from both drought and flood so prices will be going up in the future.  My neighborhood store, however, still has wheat buckets from last year's inventory and prices are still good.

There is a cascade effect that happens when commodity prices increase.  When wheat prices go up, so do pizza, bread and cereal prices.  Recalls can also affect inventory and pricing.

Knowledge gives you buying power!

3) Maximize your education and skills.

Inflation, unfortunately, is real.  Prices will continue to climb.  One way that you can ensure that you stay on top of rising prices is to maximize your salary potential.  Keep your job skills current.  Get extra education when possible.  Make sure your spouse is doing the same.

Obtaining high levels of education and skills mean in tough times you will be more likely to keep your job and/or find a job.  In two different circumstances, I competed with 70 and 90 other candidates for a job.  I was hired and told afterwards that in both cases I was different than every other applicant because I had two bachelor's degrees in related fields.  Additional education made all the difference in the opportunities presented to me.

Those with the most education usually have the highest paying jobs and often the best job security.4   Make sure you are able to adjust and adapt to a changing world with rising prices by always learning and gaining new skills.

Want some good news?  Rice, milk, and meat prices are down.2   Ice cream prices are also down.1  It's a good time to stock up!

More on the importance of education:

1 - Rising food prices sour Utah families
2 - Food inflation isn't in every grocery aisle
3 - World food prices hit record highs
4 - Education equals job security


Political Unrest & Traveling

Praying: Minnesota native Pastor Peter Johnson and his family are
among the thousands of Americans currently waiting at Cairo airport
 for a flight out as Egyptians took to the street . . .

There are many reasons why becoming self-reliant and prepared are good ideas. In just the past two years, we've seen hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, job loss, underemployment, inflation, etc. In each case, those who have been prepared have been able to take care of their families and then reach out to others in need. 

The news headlines of the past few days have showed another instance where preparedness is a huge blessing. Egypt is reporting that food staples are running out in Cairo. Stores are closed and boarded up for protection. Shipments aren't making it into the city.  Gas is not available and banks are closed.  Cell phones and internet connections have been turned off.  "The street demonstrations have made family members unwilling or unable to shop for food items."  (CNN2)  The political unrest is spreading in the region and governments aren't even functioning, let alone helping.  I'm sure that being prepared wouldn't completely alleviate an Egyptian citizen's feelings of concern.  But knowing that you had a food supply and could feed your family would allow you to concentrate on other issues. 

I also want to note that it's important to be aware of preparedness even when you are traveling.  There are many travelers stuck in Egypt in these conditions.  I was in Beijing during the height of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989.  When planning our trip, we had no idea that it would coincide with the political unrest in the area.  Much of the city was shut down while we were there.  We did fine and never went without food, but the potential was there for us to encounter problems similar to those in Egypt.  These are dramatic events.  Sometimes, though, a situation as simple as a snow storm can ground you and put you in tenuous circumstances while traveling. 

It's impossible to transport many preparedness items as you travel - especially if you are flying.  But as you are able, make a habit of assessing your situation and stocking up as much as is reasonable - wherever you are.  If you are on an extended business trip, make a quick trip to a convenience store and grab a few extra boxes of granola bars and bottles of water.  You may end up never using them and instead giving them away before you leave, but it would give you a bit of a back up.  And though it seems obvious, make a habit of watching the news and find out the weather, politics, etc. before you travel.  You can anticipate possible situations better and be prepared because of your knowledge. 

1 - Food staples starting to run out in Egypt - By Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
4 - Photo (Getty Images)