Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clueless in Portland

It was very interesting to be in Portland for a week. I enjoyed myself immensely. After living so long in an intensely rural location, the hustle and bustle was fun to experience. Yet at the same time, I saw Portland with new eyes because I was looking at it through the lens of preparedness. How much different a city looks when viewed this way!

This concept – how well people can “prepare” while living in a big city – hit home in a moment. My friend Tim (who helped me run the booth during the festival) and I sat stalled on the Morrison Street Bridge over the Willamette River. The Morrison Bridge is a drawbridge, and it was in a lifted position to allow a ship to pass underneath. There was nothing we could do but wait until it closed before we could cross the river into downtown Portland where the festival was being held.

While watching the mighty steel arc into the sky, Tim remarked that, if The Big One (earthquake) should hit Portland, just about every bridge that spanned the river would tumble into the water with unimaginable loss of life. All the bridges, he said, needed to be retrofitted to render them earthquake-proof. But of course Portland, like many cities around the country, is seriously strapped for cash and retrofitting any number of massive bridges just can’t be done.

Tim said that people speak in hushed tones about how the bridges need to be strengthened and updated NOW, and not just because they’re unsuited to withstand an earthquake. Apparently there are whispers about how the bridges are not strong enough to withstand the normal and constant barrage of traffic that crosses them daily.

In fact, Wendy (his wife) had thought about enrolling their seven-year-old daughter in a school across the river, but Tim talked her out of it. “If there should be an earthquake and the bridges go down,” he told her, “we couldn’t get to her [their daughter] at all.” Wendy agreed it was too great a risk.

This kind of thinking is not unusual for folks on the west coast, where earthquakes are a constant and serious threat. But it made me realize just how vulnerable Portland – and every other city – is to disturbance.

Many cities are built on water. Ergo, many cities have massive bridges spanning that water. Most cities have multiple layers of highways that crisscross over each other, hurrying drivers efficiently from one part of the city to another. And it takes but one minor burp for things to grind to a frightening standstill.

I clearly remember the horror of the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989 when some portions of bridges and highways in the Bay Area of California pancaked together. I lived in Sacramento at the time and have many family members in the Bay Area, so it was an up-close and personal concern for me. Many people died. Many others lost limbs as they were literally sawn from crushed vehicles. The carnage was horrible.

Then there’s Hurricane Katrina (or any hurricane, for that matter), where one stalled car could snarl miles and miles of traffic as people fled New Orleans in a panic. (This didn’t count the terrible toll on the people left behind.)

Then there’s the half-million acre wildfire that devastated southwest Oregon not far from where we used to live, the summer before we left for Idaho.

But at least in circumstances of disaster, people are more likely to help each other. Sure, there are always nasty examples of selfishness, crime, and senseless violence… but there are also beautiful stories of strangers helping strangers, of great feats of heroics, of folks banding together to help others get out of harm’s way. Such is the good and the bad side of humans when a natural disaster or act of terrorism strikes.

But what happens when people turn on each other?

In times of stress when resources (food, water, shelter, money, etc.) are scarce, people are more inclined to develop an every-man-for-himself attitude. It can’t be helped – it’s as much a part of human nature as acts of altruism during disaster.

My friend Wendy and I walked her dog through the peaceful, tree-lined streets near her home and admired the beautiful dwellings. Wendy and Tim live in a small, modest house which abuts a neighborhood of gracious, expensive homes (wonderful for walking dogs and catching up with dear friends). And I wondered… how many of these beautiful homes had even a gallon of water stored away, much less a week’s worth of food?

There are SO MANY people in Portland. And with “only” 2.2 million people for the greater Portland metropolitan area, it’s small by comparison to Los Angeles or Chicago or New York. If things get tough, what can so many people do? Where can they go? How can they get food or water if the grocery stores are stripped bare and utilities are down?

This past week, our nation’s capital reeled from the aftermath of a serious storm that ripped through and left many people in darkness for days. Undoubtedly the grocery stores were stripped. People had no means to boil water, to cook food, to stay cool during the heat wave. How did they do it? And what would happen if the blackout extended beyond six or seven days?

See my point? It doesn’t take TEOTWAWKI. It just takes a bad storm. An earthquake. A hurricane. And pretty soon the milk of human kindness runs thin and folks are kicking in doors, searching for food or looting for valuables.

During my time in Portland, I was completely out of the “loop” of preparedness. I heard no one talking about it, no one wondering about an EMP or other acts of terrorism, no one discussing the prospects of a financial meltdown. Granted I was at a large festival where people came to have fun, and granted “preparedness” is something that one tends to discuss only with those of like mind – but I still managed to overhear a LOT of conversation over four days and those subjects never even came close to the surface.

What I did hear was a lot of shallow talk. I heard discussions about the everyday minutia of life. This is understandable – the everyday minutia of life tend to occupy the bulk of our time and energy. And no one wants to talk about Serious Subjects constantly, or they would walk around in a cloud of depression.

But my overall impression was that “preparedness” wasn’t just underground, it wasn’t even on the horizon. People had concerns about unemployment, about the environment, about the economy… but no one seemed inclined to “do” anything about it in terms of personal preparation. People recognize the problems, but won’t make the next leap of logic. Despite all the evidence that things are getting worse, the overall belief is that someone will fix it and everything will be okay.

While we, as a family, feel more secure because of our rural location, we can’t be smug. This is because such dearly loved friends as Wendy and Tim and their young daughter live in Portland. This is because my extended family lives in the Bay Area and in Southern California. This is because we ALL have loved ones potentially in harm’s way if TSHTF in a city. What can we do?

Nothing. Aside from trying to talk everyone into moving out of the city onto an Idaho homestead (and how likely is that?), there is nothing we can do to help these people prepare. All we can do is ramp up our own preparedness efforts to the point where we can take in friends and family members who have nowhere else to go.


  1. You can't see me, Patrice, but I'm giving you a standing ovation.

    What can we do to help others prepare? We can do what you do - blog about it, talk about it, drag it out into the open and risk being ridiculed.

    I talked with an antique dealer yesterday when I went in to her shop to sell off some antiques I don't need and will never use. She and I talked for quite awhile. She is by nature a prepper and I am by nature a pessimist. When she asked me why I was selling the antiques my late mother had given me, I told her I was using the money to buy supplies and gear and food for any emergency that might come along. She told me that many people are doing the same thing, to various degrees, but they weren't openly talking about it. They only mention their preps casually, as if embarrassed.

    We shouldn't be afraid of ridicule. We should be afraid of what may happen if more people DON'T prep. My family thought I had gone around the bend when I first started talking about prepping. Now they are prepping, but they are still too embarrassed to call it that - instead they refer to their efforts as "insurance against a power outage." Whatever makes them feel good, as long as they continue prepping.

    Anyone still unconvinced we need to prepare is apparently not watching the lines grow at the soup kitchens, or the growing number of abandoned cars along the roadways, or the news night after night. (Even the MSM can't hide ALL that is wrong with the country.)

    We are not the nuts, those who don't see the trouble brewing on the near horizon are the real nuts. They are the people who will create a bigger problem because they fiddled while Rome burned.

    Anonymous Twit

  2. One of my major concerns with the big city is the toxicity level. With an earth quake, or crushing storm, things break, and if no one comes to fix it, there is SO MUCH toxic stuff that may leak into streets, streams and gutters. Some may catch fire. Sewage, gasoline, dry cleaning chemicals, everything was in the water after Katrina. I don't want to be depending on water that comes downstream from a city.

  3. The rivers dividing a city is indeed a huge worry for Jacksonville, Florida residents and those from surrounding counties. Since the many bridges are closed when winds reach 45 m.p.h., parents are worried about being stranded on one side of one of the many bridges while their kids are in school on the other side. Out of town residents working in Jacksonville certainly don't want to be trapped! Most businesses close down when tropical storm winds are forecast which means that stocking up at the last minute isn't a good idea.

    Perhaps because we have severe storms and electrical power outages, most everybody stocks up on batteries, gas for their grill, emergency canned goods, and water at the beginning of hurricane season because we know we'll need it. At one point during the last big hurricane season, only 5 counties in Florida had electricity. Mine wasn't one of 'em. We'd just put two hogs in the freezer, too! Now we wait until hurricane season is over. (Even people that know better get lazy when there are several noneventful hurricane seasons!)

    The thing is, we get to practice preparedness regularly. We know that the bridges will be closed. We know that we need to have a chainsaw to clear the roads and property. We know that there won't be anybody rescuing us for at least 3 days, probably longer. Emergencies aren't some nebulous thing that may not happen ever. Ours (disasters) happen regularly, and we're pretty good at them. We're very well armed, too.

    I'll take our hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and tornadoes any time over living where the Cascadia subduction zone can rip loose at any time with a huge earthquake of magnitude 9+. Can you even begin to imagine the enormity of the damage and the people trapped in rubble when (not if) this happens? It would be too horrifying to think about or even plan for on a daily basis, I think, which is why most people don't.

  4. Good points, all.

    Those of us who've experienced a few big earthquakes know really well how quickly life can change, and just how profound those changes can be.

    I like the line used in one of the commercials airing on R5sons Alaska ( on RFD TV):
    "Disasters are hard. Preparing is easy."

    Today I'm putting up 6 quarts of fresh mixed greens from the garden and two quarts of pickled beets. I've finally found a way to do them that allows me to actually EAT THEM. I so so SO don't like beets. But I've been determined to find a way to somehow make them palatable, since they're one of the superior alternatives to certain medications which would immediately become extinct if the fertilizer hit the ventilator. In addition to being a food that stores well, beets also put out the best tasting greens ever, so their high on my list of preferred preparation foods.

    Thanks for sharing your perspectives on what you observed and overheard in Portland, Patrice. It's nice to be among the like-minded.

    A. McSp

  5. You nailed it Patrice.. If Mt. Hood would ever decide to come active. It would be epic, a terrible tragedy. Not unlike Mt.Rainier which is far too close for comfort to a major city. I hope these folks have thought about these things, but I suspect the Katrina syndrome continues. You know what I mean, laugh at possible disaster get loaded and then end up on the roof after you were warned. And for the kicker you blame everyone except your own negligent fat behind.

  6. Amen swampie.. I would not do it either. To live downstream from those sleeping monsters is a bit reckless unless you are living alone and no one but you is at risk.

  7. it does seem crazy that there are so many people, city and country folk, who are still going day in and day without a thought or care about what the next day, week or month holds in store for them and is like they have "blinders" on. yes, i get laughed at and about, i am sure...i am just that crazy lady who lives on that county rd accross from the landfill...but some know i am crazy like a fox. yep, i am a prepper from way back.

  8. We were called to move into the city, the inner city. And we did just that, this past January. We're still prepping though. I really enjoy your blog. Continue to let your light shine!

  9. "If things get tough, what can so many people do? Where can they go? How can they get food or water if the grocery stores are stripped bare and utilities are down?"

    The answer is obvious. Head out to country. Cows. Chickens. Yummy. I want ... I take. Pillage.

    That's the big difference between the next "Great Depression" and the first one. Back then, we were in a completely different culture of morals and ethics. Today's culture tells hungry city dwellers they have a "right" to food, and we have the duty to give it up to them.

    This has been one my main concerns since we made our "Y2k" exodus out of the city. We've progressively moved farther up into the mountains over the years, so it will take awhile before the savages make their way up to us.

    To answer your question, Patrice, about where they will go: Feel that target on your back?

    'Course, that's only the unwashed savage masses that are a threat to us. We should also be caring and concerned for those who are helpless in the city, and who are not inclined to take from others by force. Our home will be open to those.


  10. One of the best things we ever did as a family to prepare for an uncertain future was back in 1984 when we moved out of NYC. It took a career change but resulted in the immediate benefit of better schools for our kids, and the long term benefit of not living in one of the major targets in the world.

    On 9/11 my brother-in-law was going crazy since he had a kid in a school just blocks from the World Trade Center. Fortunately the kids were OK, but it was half a day before they could get to a working phone and call home.

  11. For a fictional account of loss of everything in the world. That locale in the book is Portland and the Williamette Valley. The books is the start of a series. Just a warning in case you are a book junkie like me, "Dies the Fire" by SM Stirling

  12. Dave, you sound kind of like my current boss who is also named Dave,(strange coinkidink. You do not know squat about the real world. An impotent numskull is how I would descibe him/ you. Our company which is very old is burning down after only 2yrs. of his leadership. It is doomed to fail unless this little failure should die on on his commute home. I know it sounds mean but he is corrupt but still fancies himself as a picture of virtue.

  13. Actually, Lloyd, a lot of what Dave says is nothing but the simple unvarnished truth. I even wrote a WorldNetDaily column called "NOT Your 1930's Depression" that echoes much of what he says (you can read it here:

    The sad truth is, there may well indeed be an exodus from the city to more rural areas where the "golden horde" (as it's been termed) will feel they can help themselves to whatever resources they want by threat of force. I have relatives in Louisiana who experienced this post-Katrina. A rural neighbor heard a knock on the door, a poor bedraggled woman begged for food, the neighbor's heart melted and she invited the woman in, and next thing she knows the house is filled with violent men who pistol whipped the neighbor, cleaned the house of any valuables, and the whole group disappeared into the night.

    People are no longer raised with manners and independence. Sadly we have become a nation with an entitlement mentality who may indeed feel entitled to loot "prepped" rural folks.

    And yeah, I sometimes feel I have a target on my back. So does anyone who writes about preparedness. It's a chance we take.

  14. Dave was being facetious, a writing style which sometimes backfires. :)

    If anybody doubts the Golden Horde will swarm like locusts, just look at what urban dwellers often do when going off to hunt. They leave gates open, shoot at cattle, bushwack with their
    jacked-up 4x4s, and generally have no concept of what I call "country etiquette." They think they are in uncharted territory, when they have merely traveled to ranch country. Oh, yes, they will take what they want - far too many of them do it now. I'm not condemning all city people, but it doesn't take many of the rude ones to spoil things for country folks.

    Maybe those vulnerable bridges, like the ones in Portland, will impede their progress and provide a kind of barrier to/for the rural areas.

    Anonymous Twit

  15. Holy cow! I sure didn't mean to leave the impression that I was being facetious. I meant every word I said, as was so nicely backed up by Patrice and a couple of others.

    Lloyd, I don't know what to say to you other than you couldn't be more wrong than if you tried to do that on purpose.

    Like Anonymous Twit stated, I personally have experienced the "city hunter" syndrome in our little mountain community. I have nicely and politely turned down requests from city hunters to shoot our deer, only to hear gunshots on our property early the next morning ... and to see fewer deer that day.

    There isn't much between, "I want those deer. I'll take those deer," and "I want your stored food. I'll take your stored food."

    Lloyd, if you believe that this country's morals and ethics have improved in the past 80 years so that this kind of scenario won't happen, then you are just about the only one who thinks so. In which case, who is the one who "doesn't know squat" about the real world? Hmmmm?


  16. Mea culpa, Dave. I really thought you were being facetious about opening your home to those city dwellers who are not prone to take what they want by force. I thought that was a joke because there will undoubtedly be tens of thousands of such folks. They would eat up and use up your supplies in no time, then you and yours will starve.

    I have some stores set aside for family and friends, and some food for a few strangers who may need temporary help (charity). I don't intend, nor can I afford, to care for all those who will need help and who will pitifully tug at my heart strings. Being able to set limits will be a vital component to survival, IMHO.

    Again, I apologize for misreading your first post on this topic.

    Anonymous Twit

  17. Hello AT,

    I see how what I said might have led to a misunderstanding. Although I wasn't being facetious, I see that I wasn't clear either. We'll be like you ... selective in who we invite to our mountain home to wait out a "When The Obama Hits the Fan" situation.

    There will be conditions, of course. It's not easy living self-sufficient in the mountains. There's firewood to be gotten in. There are animals to kill and clean. There will be planting, weeding and harvesting a garden. There will be foraging to be done. There will be the need for at least a minimum of security training and discipline. You get the picture.

    But, no, our home won't be a free-for-all for whoever happens to wander by. We have relatives in the city who are totally, absolutely, completely clueless about the fragile state of our nation, economy and lifestyle as they know it.

    When the Obama hits the fan we'll find them sitting in their dark, cold homes empty of all food and water staring with shocked, blinking expressions at long-dead television sets wondering what happened. We'll gently wake them out of their stupor, pick them up and take them to our place ... and hope to make them into productive, useful community members.

    Anyway, that's the plan so far.