Podcast

Matthew Stein: When Disaster Strikes

Urgent advice on pre- & post-emergency steps to take
Saturday, September 9, 2017, 10:58 PM

With major hurricanes in our immediate past, present & future, the topic of how to prepare for a natural disaster is an extremely timely one. The right advance preparations can literally mean the difference between life and death.

And of course, hurricanes aren't the only reasons to prepare for an emergency. As emergencies can be naturally-caused -- like a flood, tornado or earthquake -- or man-made -- such as a financial crisis, social unrest, or war -- everyone listening to this podcast has a vested interest in taking steps today to reduce their vulnerability should one of these unfortunate events occur where they live in the future.

So, to make sense of which steps are most important to take soonest when preparing for a major disaster, we've invited Matthew Stein back on the program.

Mat is a design engineer, green builder, and author of the two bestselling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency.

On this week's podcast, Mat details his recommended steps for those facing imminent threat of crisis (Hurricane Irma), those with more time to prepare for one (Hurricane Jose), and those dealing with the aftermath of disaster (Hurricane Harvey).

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Mat Stein (54m:04s).

Transcript: 

Adam: Hello, and welcome to the resilient life podcast. Resilient Life is part of Peak Prosperity.com. It’s where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I’m your host, Adam Taggart. With major hurricanes in our immediate past, present, and future the topic of how to prepare for a natural disaster is an extremely timely one. The right and advanced preparations can literally mean the difference between life and death. And, of course, hurricanes aren’t the only reasons to prepare for an emergency. As emergencies can be naturally caused like a flood, tornado, or earthquake, or manmade, such as a financial crisis, social unrest, or war, everyone listening to this podcast has a vested interest in taking steps today to reduce their vulnerability should one of these unfortunate events occur where they live in the future. So to make sense of which steps are the most important to take soonest when preparing for a major disaster we’ve invited Matthew Stein back on the program.

Matthew is a design engineer, green builder, and author of the two bestselling books, When Disaster Strikes, a Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival, and When Technology Fails, a Manual for Self-reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency. Matthew is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, otherwise known as MIT, where he majored in mechanical engineering and was the recipient of the Straight T award, MITs highest athletic honor. He has presented his expertise in disaster preparation on numerous radio and television programs, and is an active mountain climber as well as a guide and instructor for blind skiers. Matt, thanks so much for joining us today. We have a lot to dig into. Are you ready?

Mat: Sure. It’s a pleasure to be back on the show with you, Alan. Always great to be on your show.

Adam: Well, Matt, for those of you who haven’t heard you on the show before, can you give our listeners a little background on how you came to become an expert on emergency preparation?

Mat: Well, I came to this from an unusual way. I never considered myself to be a survivalist, and I’d been concerned, ecologically concerned, with the trends on the planets back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But back in 1999 I’d been – actually 1997 – I’d been praying and meditation, which I did pretty much on a daily basis, and I generically asked for guidance and inspiration. And I received a pictorial storyboard outline, kind of like a how a director or producer will have people sketch out pictures describing scenes in a movie. So I received an outline for a massive book dumped into my head instantaneously.

Now, to be honest with you, it was a huge shock. I’m a mechanical engineer, Bachelor of Science from MIT. I never considered writing anything remotely like this, and I’ve written a few trade journal articles, technical types of things but nothing like this. And never even thought of writing anything like this, and here I get this project dumped in my lap. But essentially, what was sketched out for me was a book to help people live more sustainably and more self-reliantly as our world goes through massive changes and upheavals.

Realize that when I received this outline it was in ’97 when the world was going along really great. Dot.com was booming, business in America couldn’t be better, oil was at a 30 years low when you factored in inflation, and it seemed, on the surface, that our world was doing just fine. It even looked like the Middle East was gonna be resolved peacefully. This was before the second Intifada had started.

So to receive this semi-apocalyptic project dumped in my lap was really a rude shock and rude awakening. But as I did the basic research for my book, I found that the natural systems of our planet that maintain life as we know it, and including our weather systems, our food systems, the systems in the oceans that keep the oceans healthy, I realized that all of these natural systems are being stressed beyond sustainable levels and are headed for collapse if we didn’t do something significantly different.

And in the 20 years now that have passed since I received this vision, we really haven’t done anything to slow down the degradation of these natural systems and they actually accelerated and have gotten far worse than they were 20 years ago. So time is ticking, and the world is still not waking up that we’ve got to make these changes. So that’s how I became worried and concerned and naturally, the events of the last 20 years have only added to my level of concern.

Adam: Well, your perspective meshes pretty precisely into the same one we share here as Peak Prosperity and sadly, we agree with you that so many of the reasons why you entered into this line of work are only more expressed now as we’re further along in the timeline and things have only been accelerating. I also should mention too, I’m looking at my bookshelf here and I’m seeing what I believe what you’re referring to as that first major opus of yours which is When Technology Fails, and it is a – I can give a personal testament – it has a spot of honor here on my bookshelf and has been a very valuable resource for me. So, whatever dumped that into your head, I’m very appreciated for it.

Mat: Well, it gave me the outline, but I had to do the work. So, it was a three-year project for the first edition that published around Thanksgiving of 2000, and about two years of labor, a year of lost wages, and then I put another year of labor and lost wages into updating in 2008. So what you're seeing there, at one point, had more than all the equity of my home into it and three years of my life certainly have gone into that. And so I did the best I could to put down on paper what had been shown to me instantaneously in a vision, what must be described as some kind of vision.

Adam: Well, I think I speak for all of us who are owners of that book, we’re appreciative of the risk you took, the great risk you took, to put that out there because I think you helped a lot of people with that guidance. And hopefully, we’re gonna help more on this podcast, and before I get to talking specifically about hurricanes, in my intro I gave a brief nod to the universal importance of having a plan and supplies put away in advance for emergencies, just in case. But do you care to comment at all, on a high level, about the importance of preparation in general before we get specifically to hurricanes?

Mat: Well, I think it’s really critical in this time. We just don’t know what it’s gonna be, whether there’s gonna be a pandemic, whether there’s gonna be somebody, probably Pakistan, a bomb will get sneaked out of there. An EMP attack on the United States is highly likely, a solar storm that wipes out our grid for many months to many years is a one in eight change every decade, the scientists say, and it’s been nine and a half decades since the last one of that magnitude hit the planet back in 1921, and it was only six decades before that to the Carrington event in 1859. So no matter where you live in the country the scenario of all the sudden one day not being able to go to Costco and not being able to fill up your car at the gas pump is an extreme likelihood. We just don’t know when. It’s gonna happen. Most of us feel like it’s gonna happen in our lifetimes, so being prepared and developing a plan and starting small, starting simple.

In my newer book, When Disaster Strikes, basically, it is a really comprehensive survival and prepping guide. So it kind of lays it out in simpler, clearer form than the massive book, When Technology Fails. So that if you really want to walk through that and start getting yourself together as far as being prepared, it gives you peace of mind. Preparedness is like car insurance. Nobody I know who has insurance says wow, I’m insured, I want to get in a head on collision today. If we never use insurance, great, okay, so the insurance companies made some money and we never got to use it. That’s terrific. You win. Right. You don’t use your insurance, you win. And having the insurance of an emergency plan, a 72-hour survival kit as you can build up to have things that can last you – several months of food stored - and a game plan for long term collapse if you’ve got the ability to start working on that. You know, if that day comes, you’ll thank God that you spent the time doing it. And if it never comes, you’ll thank God that it never came.

Adam: Exactly. It’s funny. I just read a piece - the other week I talked about – made the same analogy for preparing as insurance. And, as you said, what it gives you is peace of mind. And you don’t have to feel bad if you never have to use it. In fact, you should feel great, as you just said. The other point I made around that is insurance only has value if you buy it before you need it.

Mat: That’s right. And California, I live in earthquake country, and once you have a significant earthquake in your area you can’t go out and buy insurance. You can’t say, oh, wow, we had a 5.5 today and a bunch of windows broke, maybe I’ll buy my insurance. It’s like, no, that’s too late. You're cut off at that point. Just like, hey, today I heard that Richard Branson and Donald Trump’s giant mansions down in, I think, Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands were destroyed. And so rich or poor, it can hit anyone and everybody. Now, naturally, Richard Branson and Donald Trump can much more afford it than you and I can. But disasters, catastrophes, they can be great levelers between the rich and the poor, and it’s really who’s prepared and who’s not prepared matters more. And just having money – if you don’t put that money to good use ahead of time – it doesn’t mean you're gonna be any more protected than the other guy.

Adam: Yeah. That’s a very good point. Something else you said just reminded me of a conversation I was having the other day where we could have had this conversation five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, and we, I'm sure, coming into the conversation would be the just in time nature of our modern economy and way of life, where we have something like less than a 48-hour supply of most key medications is most towns. And it’s not that much longer for food at the grocery store. And it’s highly efficient, but it’s not very resilient. But over the past five years we’ve have the explosion of really convenient home delivery and e-commerce out of the home largely by Amazon where, for most people, most of what they buy these days, they buy online and it magically shows up at their house a couple days later. And I don’t think that we really appreciate now, while that’s wonderfully convenient, how vulnerable that makes us if we enter into a period where all of a sudden those – as Chris calls them – the big brown trucks of happiness – stop showing up at our doorsteps.

Mat: I like that. I haven’t heard that line before but I do like that. The big brown trucks of happiness.

Adam: But we’re just increasingly dependent upon that as the distribution system for our needs, but it’s highly disruptable, given one of the many different potential disasters you listed off earlier.

Mat: The grocery stores aren’t far behind. They typically work on a three day turn around now. So, when I was a kid all the cities across the country had giant warehouses on the outskirts, and they had pretty much a thirty day supply of critical supplies on hand. And now it’s pretty much a three-day supply, is what I’ve heard, in town, and you're saying that’s actually less. You're saying two days of critical medicines. So yeah, it’s all coordinated by the internet, and everything is on trucks. So what you buy on Friday in the store was on a truck coming from somewhere on Monday.

And so that system, when it goes down, yeah, it works great when everything’s there, but when it’s disruptive it’s what you and your friends and neighbors have on your shelves in your cupboard is – or what you can forage for in your backyard or your vicinity is what you're stuck with for who knows how long. Some of these scenarios, it could be months to years. I hope that never happens, but it probably will within my lifetime and maybe sooner rather than later.

Adam: Yeah. And that’s actually really sobering because I think probably most people listening to this podcast have been without power for maybe a weekend, some maybe a week, or a couple of weeks if you live somewhere a little bit more rural after a big natural event like a hurricane or whatnot. But I don’t think anybody, pause it to say very few people listening, have ever been without modern amenities of our current society for more than a month, except by choice. Maybe people go live in a cabin somewhere or go take a remote trip somewhere as a life experience, but I don’t’ think many people have lived that type of forced hardship. So, if you see a good probability of that happening somewhere in the country in your lifetime, that’s something that I think we as a modern society are just very unprepared for. Something maybe our great great grandparents maybe experienced maybe on a relatively routine basis in their lives. But it would be very, very foreign, I think, to most people in America today.

Mat: I have an interesting perspective from my in-laws. My father-in-law grew up in – he was born during World War I in Holland, and he was thirteenth of thirteen children, and his parents were killed in a bombing shortly afterwards. And so he was raised by his sister. And then in World War II, he was on a border town with Germany, and so he was a resistance fighter, and he saw everything fall apart, and people starve, and people dying right and left, and he was captured and tortured. So a very different perspective. And post-World War II his neighborhood and where he was all bombed out. And he ended up in the Indonesian Revolution as a trained Dutch Marine. And my mother-in-law grew up in Indonesia, and so she talks about looking out the back and seeing bodies floating down the river and guns and she was shot through the chest and at one point had a nine day [ph], and people were starving and they were on rations.

So there’s a very – people who went through those kinds of times in other countries and a very different perspective as I’m sure the Syrian refugees do in today’s era, and people from sub-Saharan Africa and places where there’s all kinds of conflict – when I see the natural trends in our world - are gonna bring it home to America - I just don’t see how we can avoid it. I think that our wealth and our power will not be able to insulate America from these kinds of shattering circumstances as the climate shifts. I think you’re just seeing a tip of the iceberg with the current storms. That what you're seeing in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, instead of being once in 500 years storms, they may be a once in five-year storm, and then they may be an every year kind of storm and then storms that far dwarf them might become the big storms every five years.

I just think that we’re going to see the extremes in our planet off the chart, and the number of refugees, eco and war-torn refugees from around the world searching for a place to survive and raise their families is relative peace are just going to overwhelm the countries that aren’t totally shattered will be shattered by the refugees. So, it an interesting time that we live in, and difficult times often bring out the best in people and not the - they bring out the worst in some, but they tend to bring out the best in most. People tend to pull together and help each other out and the kinder, gentler heart shines through. And I think we’re gonna see an awful lot of those times and a lot of bringing out the best in many and the worst in some.

Adam: Well, I actually really like that, and I’m gonna flag for us to return that that near the end of the podcast, if you will, but I like that. It can bring out the worst in some, but it usually brings out the best in most. Really like that and I think that’s correct; and also, I just think it’s a way to look at preparation for some of these disasters that, as you say, are probably just mathematically inevitable, and look at them with something more than just complete abject fear. So with that said, let’s switch gears now to talking about specifically about the hurricanes that are battering the US right now. We just had Harvey in the Gulf and it really did a huge number of Houston and parts of Louisiana.

But more specifically, I think I’d like to start talking about Irma which, up until a few days ago, I think, was registered as the most powerful hurricane that had formed in the Caribbean, or at least entered the Caribbean. I think it’s now down from a Cat 5 to a Cat 4, but still a highly powerful and destructive hurricane. And it looks like it’s expected to hit Florida sometime Sunday morning. And, for the record folks, it’s Friday afternoon as Matt and I are recording this. So these people don’t have a lot of time to prepare, Matt. Forty-eight hours from now and probably most of them won’t even hear this podcast until the storm is hitting or after the storm. But with 48 hours in advance of a major disaster, at this point, what should those folks be most focused on in terms of prioritizing their actions?

Mat: Well, if they're in a really vulnerable area, then focused on getting whatever supplies they can into their car and getting out of the area, or flying; evacuation is the most important. Say you can evacuate where you don’t feel the need to evacuate, then a really big one is going to filling, while the public water system is still working and still providing clean, potable water, to fill up your bathtubs, to fill up your sinks, to fill up garbage cans, to fill up anything you can with water. That’s going to be a big one. Naturally, if you planned ahead, you really want to have the ability to purify water on the fly. A lot of people want to stay hunkered down where they are, but if they have to leave where they are, if the building they're in is breaking up and they have to leave, then they're gonna have to leave.

So if they can have a backpack ready with critical things. So, what you need to think about is a minimum of three days for yourself and your family of food, water, portable shelter, meaning raingear, protective clothing, whatever you think you need. Medicines, everything you need. Think also about critical documents. If you haven’t stored documents off site somewhere, at least copy them on to a flash drive or something you can bring along with you in case everything you have is wiped out. Hopefully, you’ve done something like Carbonite where you're backing up all your documents online and in the cloud. Things like that I like to have multiples of – like have hard copies set away and shipped away to a friend out of town. I like to have electronic copies stored on site outside of my computer in case it burns down or I come home and find that somebody broke into my house and stole all my stuff. And think about the things you need to put your life back together again if you have to leave everything behind.

It’s been referred to my life in a box. And I adopted that from somebody else, but some of the things is your birth certificate, social security cards, alien cards, copies of driver’s licenses, medical and immunization records, marriage certificates, military papers, ownership and registration papers, RVs, cars, etcetera, living trusts, wills, just the stuff that if everything went away and you have a box of this stuff you could maybe put a significant portion of your life back together.

So hopefully, that never happens but I had friends that were in Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii in Kauai, 175 miles and hours, super Cat 5, and they had just arrived. It was the beginning of their vacation. It’s like a good choice of places to go. It’ s like, oh, boy. And they were in there for nine hours as that jet engine roar was going, and one lady was just sitting there scrubbing the grout between the tiles in the shower with a toothbrush trying to take her mind off things. And they're watching – they were several rows back from the oceanfront, and they watched all of the housed in front of them break up and blow by them and float by them. And when it ended their place was still there. But all those people in the other houses that didn’t drown or die had to leave. Their houses were gone. They were gone.

So if that happens, and I know it’s kind of late, but if you can get a dry bag for your 72-hour kit, those are like river guide bags. Those are what – they're sort of packs that roll up at the top and have kind of a giant paper clip that goes over them. And the river guides use them in whitewater rafting, and they keep everything totally dry in there. So a dry bag for your 72-hour kit allows you to wade through the river – use it as a floatation device, sort of like grab on to it sort of like a floaty barrel, and move if you have to. And your stuff inside there will stay dry and not be destroyed.

So these are just some of the things to consider. The aftermath is something else to consider, is that when you survive, after surviving through the hurricane or earthquake or disaster – wherever you live, it may not always be a hurricane – then how do you deal with perhaps weeks, perhaps in some cases months where there’s no potable water and no sewage systems operating. And can you keep yourself healthy under those conditions, and can you purify water so that you don’t poison yourself with every drink you take. So, these are all significant concerns and things to worry about.

Adam: All right. So let’s get to that aftermath is just a moment here, but let’s say people in Irma, or I think it looks like a week after Irma we might even get another hurricane, Hurricane Jose, which is already formed in the Caribbean, but unclear yet whether it’s gonna make landfall or go out to sea, but assuming it does make landfall, when the storm is actually there – you mentioned a little bit about your friend there in the Kauai hurricane, but do you have any tips for people about what to do to ride out the storm and the greatest safety if you couldn’t evacuate and just have to hunker down?

Mat: Okay. Well, definitely fill up any containers and bathtubs and things you can with water. Tape off the toilets. Make sure nobody flushes the toilet because you can’t drink out of the toilet itself, but the toilet tank has a couple of gallons usually in it of really good water in there. And it was three weeks before water and power were restored at Kauai, and it was – the authorities and everything was like over loaded. And my friend David Ruley, he worked for the public utility district and the water people, so he was very smart about storing a bunch - a lot of families used the water that he stored in those hours before everything got shut off and broken.

Staying away from windows, flying glass, getting all lawn furniture, limbs off the trees, anything that might be a lethal projectile, try to minimize those projectiles around your home, and then try to be aware that those projectiles, if it’s 150- mile an hour winds, that things will be flying around that will certainly go right through windows, but can even go through stud walls. And your stud walls, if you're not behind a concrete wall, then things like wood stud walls may well just go away. And so you have to a contingency plan if you're in a stud framed home and it’s the high winds for getting out of there. Hopefully you're never in that situation, but have to be aware that might be it. You might have to just pick up at one moment and go. And look for the nearest, safest, next best safest place to be.

Adam: Which I’m guessing you’d recommend sort of – can you predict in advance what that’s going to be? In other words, pick you location B if location A suddenly becomes unsafe.

Mat: Totally correct. Pick you location B if location A – for example, I had friends in Black Friday in Australia. They were some ski people I knew in Tahoe and their parents were ageing. And they decided to leave Tahoe where they lived for 15 years, 20 years, and move back to Australia. And it was 118 degrees outside and a hot wind was blowing and it was super, super dry and they looked outside, there was no sirens, no warning, and they saw this massive, mile high plume of smoke right over the hill. So they just grabbed their dogs and their computes and a few quick items and threw them in their car and left for a friend’s home that was more defendable than theirs. Where the friends and more grasslands around them, they had a little pond, the had firefighting equipment, a little tracker, and they spent the night a their friends place battling the blaze around their friends place, and protecting it until about five in the morning they were finally able to get some sleep.

And then they went back hoping to see their home and they got around the corner and the blaze had been so hot that - they had an abode brick walled home with a metal roof and all that remained was one wall. The metal roof was melted. His bicycle tools, he was a bike mechanic, were melted. And nothing could have – there was no way - in that firestorm 400 people in the town died in the area. And people were found incinerated in their cars, and 95 percent of his town was burned down. Luckily, he had a coffee roasting company and the shack the shed that the coffee roaster was in did not burn down, and so they were really – they at least had a way of making a living afterwards.

But that kind of snap decision you may have to make sometime. And they made a good decision to pack what they could in ten minutes and go. And that saved their life. And people who are too late making those decisions, in their same town, many, many perished.

Adam: And I’m sure that the importance of making that call is just as important in a fire situation like that or in a flood situation. It doesn’t really matter the disaster itself, there’s many different disasters that have the ability to get to the point of criticality, so the important part is being able to move with swiftness if you’ve all the sudden realized that critical point has been hit and you get to a different place. All right, having a plan B sounds very important.

I want to ask you one question back to where to locate in the house. You had mentioned try to get into a room that’s structurally sound, try to avoid windows, I’ve heard through a lot of different type of disasters you want to be in an interior room with as few windows as possible. Do you have an opinion on where in the house that room is? In other words, I’ve heard sometimes get in the basement if you can, but to your point about being able to leave the house quickly, are there also downsides about being in a basement that can get suddenly flooded, or get if the house begins to collapse might be hard to get out of the basement. Do you have a point of view of that?

Mat: This is where the flexibility and the gut feel comes in and maybe we’ll talk about the pit of the stomach exercise, but there is no one rule. Certainly, in tornadoes, people have survived them by laying down in bathtubs, but of course, I’m telling you to fill your bathtubs with water so after the hurricane you can use them. If everything’s falling apart around you, if you’ve got a good fiberglass stall or a tiled shower where they put a concrete bed for the tile, then that’s probably your safest bet there. If you’ve got a good shower stall that’s got a concrete bed and not just a sheetrock bed around it then you’d be very protected there,. So it’s a real judgement call. So basements have typically been the safe places in houses. Richard Branson just weathered the storm with 13 houseguests in his concrete bunker style wine cellar while his big mansion was broken up all around him. So in his case the basement didn’t flood, and they were safe and sound in the basement while things were flying through windows and busting up walls up above their head.

So it’s a judgment call, and use your judgment and use your gut because sometimes the brain thinks one thing and there’s – I believe that each and every one of us has this inner compass that’s been built in – call it our spiritual DNA. It’s built in to us. And the people in our ancestors who didn’t have that, well they got eaten by the saber tooth tiger or they got killed in the battlefield a and so natural selection meant that people who have that survives. And so I think that’s born and built in to each and every one of us. And it can see around the corner and guide you when your brain line can’t make a good decision because it doesn’t have the right information on hand.

And just to give you an example of this, Elizabeth Haich’s wonderful book, Initiation, she was a very – she was a sculpture in sort of an enlighten Yogi master in the latter part of her life, but in the younger part of her life she was a renowned sculpture. And during World War II she and her husband had a villa and it was a big strong place and it provided great refuge for a number of families as the allies were closing in and bombing Germany. And one day she got this inner message that she had to leave and she had to leave now, and everybody who stayed – the women were raped and the men were murdered, and so it was pretty horrible for whoever stayed in the villa. And half the people followed her when she got the message to leave and half that people stayed. And so that’s a case where the rational mind says, well, it’s been safe here all along. We should just say here. But the intuitive message said it’s been safe, but it’s not safe tonight. You want to save your life you gotta leave now.

Adam: Great story. And it parallels something that we talk a lot about at Peak Prosperity called situational awareness. And I think this is a great example of it and a lot of people who have served in the military are particularly familiar with this. But it’s just always having a real time beat on what’s going around you and not taking anything for granted and continually updating your assessment of what’s going on. It sounds like you're saying clearly as things are shifting during a disaster do that and listen to your gut as much, if not even sometimes more, than your head because you’ve got some evolutionary radar in there that’s picking up on things that maybe even your conscious mind isn’t.

Mat: That’s correct. Totally agree with you on that. Now you’ve got to distinguish that the voice of fear and this inner radar. Now, when the voice of fear will tend to flip flop. It’s thinking this, maybe I should do this, maybe I should do that, it’s going this way, it’s going that way, it’s going crazy. When it’s the inner radar telling you it’s kind of steady and unwavering. And it’s not gonna change its mind. It just simply knows. So you try to practice getting in touch with that because if you listen to the wrong thing it could just put you right into the jaws of disaster.

Adam: All right. Well, let’s switch here to, I think I sidetracked you from talking about the aftermath. You and I had joked before the podcast. There’s prepping and then there’s posting which is after the storm has happened there’s still a lot of things to be aware of, some of which can put you at great risk if you ignore them. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What are some of the key things people need to be conscious of, aware of, or focused on after the rain stops, the clouds part, or whatever the disaster is, after the acute threat is gone? I know that you’ve written a lot about flooding and some of the particularly nasty potential aftermaths of that. But what are some of the things people should be most focused on?

Mat: I’d say probably, especially with flooding, the two big things is gonna be water borne diseases and keeping yourself healthy in the aftermath. And if people are stressed, they're often cold, they're wet, they don’t have the normal food they have, they have no normal comforts, and then the water supplies are totally polluted. And so you’ll have raw sewage coming down the rivers, and you’ll have the public water treatments are polluted and not working. So having the ability to purify water for yourself and your family is super critical.

It’s so important that I like to have multiple backups in my go bag. So I’ve got a field serviceable water filter. I like the MSR and Citadine ones that are backcountry standards around the world, and they're field serviceable because they’ve got a carbon cartridge in the core and an outer ceramic shell in the cartridge. And when they plug up you can take them out and scrub the outside layer off with a little Scotch Brite green scrubby and then put them back together and be going again. And they’ll filter out all the bacterial protozoa, the protozoa and the bad bacteria out of your drinking water so you can stay healthy.

I like to have things on hand like a colloidal silver generator so I can make colloidal silver. Now, two thousand years ago, Alexander the Great didn’t know anything about germ theory, but he knew that if he stored water for his troops in silver urns then the troops stayed healthy. And a soldier in the battlefield that’s vomiting and having diarrhea and vomiting isn’t good for much, he’s gonna be a dead soldier. And keeping his battlefield soldiers healthy was very important. It turns out that tiny charged silver particles have this almost magical property of being toxic to all known bacteria, all known pathogenic bacteria, but nontoxic to the good probiotic bacteria in your gut. So apparently, the extra thick cellular wall that protects your probiotic bacteria from stomach acids also protects them from silvers that penetrate the cell walls and kill the normal, the bad bacteria.

You know, another big thing that people don’t think about that much is mold. And toxic mold in flooding situations is an extreme worry. I learned about this the hard way. In the early 2000s I move to Maui, and I was a green builder. And we had the bad luck of renting a home that had a toxic black mold infestation hidden within the walls. And the first year we were there was no problem. The second year was the wettest winter in 100 years, a whole bunch of Kana wind storms drove blinding rains on to the normally dry side of the islands and flooded things out including our half basement.

And suddenly my wife started getting really bad migraines and my mother-in-law – I came home one day and she’s lying in the bed saying I don’t know what’s going on with me. I can barely move. I feel like I’m dying. Well, it turned out she was dying. She didn’t die, but she was close. And then my wife got sick and followed in her footsteps a few days later. And it was from this deadly black mold in the walls that the rains had brought out called stachybotrys. And we learned the hard way too, that we tried cleaning it off everything. We moved, but just bringing our stuff with us re-contaminated the places we moved to . And once she was nailed be this mold she was like a canary in the mine. Any time she got around it, even things that wouldn’t bother other people would just take her down. And one of the side effects of this long term is cancer. And nine years later she died of cancer. So she recovered from the mold but she struggled with ongoing issues from the mold for the next nine years, and then got a blood/bone cancer and died from that.

So this is an extremely serious issue and it masquerades often - mold symptoms are not something like you got measles. You can look and say, oh, he’s got measles. The mold is more like you're getting migraines, you might have sinus problems continually, you feel weak, you feel nauseous. In her case, she started seeing these bruises on her body. It was really severe, and it looked like she’d been beaten with chains. And the doctor – she said to the doctor, do you think mold could be doing this? And the doctor said, oh no, trust me, this is a Kaiser in Maiia and they said oh, no, mold can’t do that. And then we’re looking on the internet and we saw pictures of stachybotrys poisoning and she said that’s it, that’s what I got. So we had to fly to Oahu to find a mold specialist to test her. And he said yeah, he called us up and said, hey you got stachybotrys in the bloodstream really bad and get out of the place you're in right now. A couple of weeks from now your wife will probably be dead because the next stage after this hemorrhaging under the skin was brain and lung hemorrhaging, followed by death.

So this is a really serious thing. And one person may be totally fine, or appear to be fine, like their system is strong and it’s not getting it, and then maybe your kid is getting sick, or maybe your wife is getting sick. So, it’s insidious. It’s very hard to diagnose. But know that if it smells musty, musty equals mold. And if you see mold growing on stuff and if you’ve got a flood you're gonna have mold, and I just published a – took an excerpt from my book When Disaster Strikes, and published in on my website When Tech Fails Today. So I’ve got some really good tips on recognizing mold and mediating mold and how to know if you’ve got to get a professional in there. But I’m just telling you. Pay attention to my wife’s story. This mold thing is really serious and can cause long term health problems and just totally take you down if you're not careful around it.

Adam: Wow. Matt, first let me extend my deepest sympathies for what you and your wife went through. It’s a heartbreaking story, and I'm sorry that your expertise has to be colored by that personal tragedy. But if anything, if good comes out of it, I hope that you're reaching both through your own work and through interviews like this where you're putting that risk on people’s radar that might otherwise not have known to look for it and maybe helping people avoid getting placed in a similar situation. We’ll definitely link that the guide that you just mentioned about mold and how to look for it and defend against it. Are there any quick, big takeaways from that you’d want to mention right here on the podcast?

Mat: If you’ve been flooded you're gonna have mold.

Adam: And sorry to interrupt, but we know that there’s been close to 100,000 homes in Houston that have been flooded. So, we know at least there there’s a whole bunch of households and probably a bunch more soon to be in Florida.

Mat: So you're gonna have to stirp everything down to the studs and then treat it. And you don’t want to do what the owners – this backstory on the house we rented in Maui was that the owners – a couple of owners back before the one we rented from had gone on vacation in Bali for a month, and during that time they had a sprinkler system in the house. Something set the sprinkler system off, and they came back and it was wall to wall black mold. So they did the unlicensed contractor thing where they kind of stripped stuff down and repainted and cleaned up the new carpets and this and that. And everything seemed fine. But it was hidden there in the walls just waiting for another wet opportunity to really burst forth. And the prior owner of the house had made the downstairs half basement his office, and after 15 months in the house he fell dead in the toilet. He was found dead by his wife in the toilet.

And so when we moved in, they were stripping and gutting the downstairs half basement. And the workmen said, hey, this is a real mold pit, and I hope nobody’s gonna live down here. And we said, no, it’s just gonna be our office and a guest room. And it was all cleaned up pretty and nice and everything smelled fine and we didn’t give it much thought. I’d never dealt with that stuff before. So it’s serious, it’s got to be done right. If you do a halfway job you’ve probably thrown all of your money away and it’s gonna come back and haunt you. It’s got to be remediated fully, and you got to be really careful about saving furniture and saving anything, and some molds – if the mold was making you sick when you remediate it then you gotta be really, really careful. Because if there’s still gonna be some of it there, you gotta use dehumidifiers, keep the humidity under 50 percent all the time to prevent it from coming back. There’s a whole bunch of steps on there that we take and it’s serious and it takes – once it’s gotten a foothold in the house, it takes a continuing, nonstop effort to keep it from becoming so serious that it takes your health down in the long run. And you might be fine with it for a year or two, and then you might succumb later on and not really even understand it’s the mold doing it to you.

Adam: Wow. In our last couple of minutes here, Matt, one, I know that there’s just volumes and volumes of advice and specific guidance that you give about specific types of items to put in your 72-hour kit, and in your deep pantry and all of the other parts of your planning for both disasters, emergencies, but also just for resilient living. And we’ll provide links to those on the site here because there’s just not enough time in a single interview to go through all of the material that you present in your various different works.

And we talk about the physical and material things that you can get in advance of the disaster. We didn’t address too much in this podcast here the more intangibles, the things that we refer to at Peak Prosperity as social capital, meaning how you relate and interact and can be there in support of, and ask for support from, the people in your community during these types of times. And I think maybe that might be an interesting topic for a future discussion with you, but I did just want to flag it really briefly because I’d love to get your high-level thoughts about it. Particularly because you made that great comment earlier about tragedies bringing out the worst in some but the best in most.

We certainly had an example of the former in the immediate aftermath of Katrina where things devolved so quickly and so poorly there in New Orleans. But we’ve also seen, in the case of Harvey, many, many more stories of the latter where people were out there, neighbor helping neighbor, great stories of heroism and selflessness and charity in terms of people rescuing neighbors and opening their homes to strangers and the Cajun Navy going out there and saving elderly people from flooded rest homes and just many, many, many examples.

And also it’s interesting, just to tack on to this, we did a podcast about a year or two back with Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm, as well as a number of other books, and one of the books he had written was after he had spent over a year in Afghanistan in a hot zone with a US platoon, and was really taken with the bonds that people form under adversity. And he ended up writing a book called Tribe coming out of that which really talked about how we are fully expressed as humans when we’re operating amongst a tribe where everybody has everybody’s back, and you're collectively existing to overcome sort of existential adversity. And I think, not that we ever wish for these disasters to happen, but as you said earlier, these tragedies give us an opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves, and in many ways it’s how we’re sort of wired to behave. So with all that, anything on that topic of being in service to those around you during these types of disasters?

Mat: Well certainly, I think the classic image of the lone wolf, go it by ourselves survivalist is – most of us would not do well in that, and most of those people, if they're around others, someone meaner and tougher and better organized will come and take all their cool stuff away. So we do much better in groups and we can share resources, we can watch each other’s backs; no one can stay awake 24/7. We’re much better in groups, much more powerful in groups, and so if you have – some people say, well, I just don’t have any money for all of this stuff. But if you're young and stronger and you have skills then work on your skills, and other people say well maybe I’m older and I have the money for it, but I’m just not very strong, and so in that case think about strategic partnerships. Think about teaming up with your neighbors and your community. Develop a network. Because that’s really where the strength lies. And to be honest with you, I’ve got stored food and stuff, but if one of my neighbors is starving I’m not gonna be able to say no to them. I mean, that’s just unrealistic, which means my food probably won’t last nearly as long as I’d hope it would, but I better have good foraging skills because when it’s gone, if I need to, I’ll be out foraging.

Think of it as an opportunity to be a part of a tribe; to be a part of a bigger, kinder, gentler world that hopefully will come out of this adversity. And I really do believe that the world, after all of this is said and done, when we pick up the pieces and put it together and get our world on a sustainable track, it will be a kinder, gentler, more sustainable, more peaceful world.

What we go through between here and that point in the future, how hellish it gets or maybe we get smart and make the transition without having to be that bad. I don’t know. But I certainly would love to be a part of that vision for a future where we’re all working together for a sustainable, peaceful, wonderful world, and let the disasters be a part of heading for that vision.

Adam: Well, very well said, Matt, and I completely agree. And it reminds me of a saying that – this isn’t specific to emergencies of the type that we’re talking about, but just trials in general but the saying says you can’t control what happens to you in life but you can control how you react to it. And I think that’s very much what you're saying, where we can’t prevent these disasters from happening, but we certainly can control our response to them and use those as ways to improve ourselves and bring ourselves closer with those around us.

So with that said, Matt, thank you so much for you time and for your expertise here. I think it’s gonna be very directly and very relevant and practical to many of the people listening to this. Certainly our best wishes from Peak Prosperity to those that are facing Irma and Jose and potentially even Hurricane Katia which is formed in the Gulf now. It looks like it’s gonna be a very active year just for hurricanes alone, and of course, yesterday, actually this morning, we had the biggest earthquake in 100 years in Mexico. So for whatever reason it seems like Mother Nature is trying to make our lives more interesting these days. But we understand that there’s a human cost that comes to a lot of these tragedies, and our thoughts are with everybody listening here.

I’d also like to briefly reiterate that we’re gonna be linking to all the resources that Matt mentioned during the podcast. I also want to remind our listeners that we have a very robust both disaster preparedness, but also sort of a general life preparedness guide at peakprosperity.com called the What Should I Do Guide, any you can access that at peakprosperity.com/ whatshouldido or peakprosperity.com/wsid. One of the chapters in that guide is around building social capital of the type that Matt and I were talking about there near the end. So if you're looking for ideas on how to do that, that’s got a lot of specific best practices to recommend.

And with that Matt, again I want to thank you for your time, I’d really love to have you back on the podcast to get at the future and perhaps even in an upcoming webinar that’s dedicated to general preparation and resilience, where we can let our audience ask direct questions of you in real-time. Would you be open to that?

Mat: Oh, sure. I’d love to be a part of that.

Adam: All right. Great. Well, I’m sure people would chime in on the comments to their level of interest, but I’m sure it’s gonna be quite high.

Thanks everybody for listening. Thank you again, Matt. And Matt, we’ll talk to you again soon.

Mat: You're welcome. Been a pleasure. And I like to close with my motto and I ask everyone to do their best to change the world and do their best to be ready for the changes in the world. And thank you so much for having me on today.

Adam: All right, Matt. Very well said, and a real pleasure to have you. Take care.

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7 Comments

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2793
Resources Mentioned In The Pocast

Here are links to the resources mentioned in the podcast:

Petey1's picture
Petey1
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 13 2012
Posts: 56
Irma

Well we are about to have a direct hit from Irma.  We are pretty well prepared but learned some very valuable lessons.  Don't underestimate how much people will panic or worse just become zombies wandering around unable to make a decision.  Anything and everything of value will become unavailable almost immediately.  

Don't count on all government agencies to be well organized and prepared.  Mine was not!  

After this is over I will work on improving plan A staying in place with better organization,  a boat and dirt bike as mentioned.  More water tight storage containers for our suppliers and definitely some kind of dolly or carts to quickly move supplies from one location to another or to a vehicle.  Good set of radios for communication.  

I will definitely develop a plan B and C!  B will be some kind of storage unit with supplies within a few hours drive.  C will include something in a different state.  

We have a estimated six million people leave for this storm.

 

 

thc0655's picture
thc0655
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 27 2010
Posts: 1465
Irma and crime

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4870676/Eight-looters-broke-Fort-Lauderdale-clothing-retailer.html

At least 32 people have been arrested across Florida for trying to loot empty businesses and homes that have been evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Irma - 28 alone in Miami, according to local authorities.

For the criminal underclass (those inclined to regularly engage in crime as a normal part of life), a natural disaster is an opportunity because police are either overwhelmed with massive needs or absent altogether.  As soon as the criminal underclass sense that police will not or cannot respond, they spring into action, committing whatever crimes appeal to them and their favored criminal acts.  And you can be absolutely sure that the number of crimes committed during a natural disaster vastly outnumbers the crimes that are actually reported to the police.  Protecting yourself, your loved ones and your property becomes much more urgent and difficult under these conditions.  Criminals become much bolder than usual and the average citizen is surprised to see how vicious others can be when not inhibited by the fear of capture and punishment by the police.

Law abiding citizens have to cope with the emboldened criminals by adjusting their strategies to rely nearly 100% on themselves and their neighbors rather than on the police.  That is a huge adjustment for many people, and there are many who simply can't or won't take personal responsibility for their safety no matter the circumstances.  Many people are obvious and easy marks for criminals in disaster situations.

One adjustment that nearly always works is for citizens to take the actions necessary to make the criminals replace their fear of the police with their fear of armed and determined-to-resist citizens.  Openly armed citizens who look willing to defend themselves and their property are almost always given a wide berth by even the most determined criminals.  Criminals don't want to get hurt or killed by armed citizens, and they know there are plenty of vacant properties and unarmed victims around so it doesn't make any sense to go head to head with armed citizens.  Some citizens simply guard their own properties; others get organized and defend whole neighborhoods.

Another strategic change citizens have to make is to make sure they and their property is protected in a way that assumes no police response or a very slow response.  In a jurisdiction where the average police response time to a burglary call is 5 minutes, a home or business owner knows all they have to do is hide or protect their valuables well enough for a criminal not be able to make off with them during those 5 minutes.  A burglary alarm is usually sufficient for that purpose as very few burglars will stay in a house or business stealing valuables for 3-4 minutes and planning to escape with 1-2 minutes to spare.  In a natural disaster,  a property has to be physically much more difficult to enter because the burglars are going to assume they have as much time as they need to make entry and steal valuables.  The two teen burglars in this excerpt from the above article roamed through a neighborhood with a tool to break glass while looking for houses the windows and doors of which were not boarded up with plywood.  In their case, it still worked out poorly for them:

Marvell Parkinson, 18, and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida home.

Marvell Parkinson, 18, (pictured) and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida, home

Marvell Parkinson, 18, (pictured) and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida, home

A witness noticed that two suspects were at the back of her neighbor's home on Friday around 1.45pm on Beverly Drive.

They ran when they noticed her but were taken into custody.

According to the deputies, the 17-year-old suspect had a window punch in his pocket.

He told them that they had walked through the neighborhood until they located a house that had not been boarded up. 

Some criminals rose above their peers in creativity and viciousness, and would be much more difficult to cope with:

A utility company near Orlando is reporting that residents are complaining of looters posing as utility workers who rob homeowners at gunpoint 

A steel security door through which you could interview someone at your door claiming to be from the utility company, if used properly, would in most cases permit you to discover if they were imposters rather quickly.  Most of these kinds of robbers and con men put little to no effort into preparation and instead rely on the average person's gullibility and their own ability to tell a convincing story about why they should be granted entry into your house.  Almost none carry a realistic looking ID card or wear a realistic looking uniform.  Most just walk up to the door and try to talk their way in.  Others may do as little as put on an orange reflective vest (most with no company name on it).  Use the steel security door and conduct a thorough interview.  If in doubt, call the utility company to verify the person's employment.  And by all means, go to answer the door openly armed  (See https://www.peakprosperity.com/discussion/110565/how-steel-security-door-helps-prevent-push-home-invasions-video for a discussion and video on how to use a steel security door to prevent a robbery or home invasion that starts at your front door.)

 

 

richcabot's picture
richcabot
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 115
The positive perspective

For the positive perspective on disaster situations read "A Paradise Built in Hell" by Rebecca Solnit

Yoxa's picture
Yoxa
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 21 2011
Posts: 251
Transcription error to fix

>> Keratin event

That should be "Carrington event"

 

greendoc's picture
greendoc
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 23 2008
Posts: 129
a few things...

I wanted to second richcabot's recommendation of Rebecca Solnit's "A Paradise Built in Hell".  

this essay “In Haiti, Words Can Kill” puts a new spin on the concept of looting after major disasters. “We need to banish the word looting from the English language,” she writes, “It incites madness and obscures realities.” She challenges the media for perpetrating the image of the lawless looter after the earthquake in Haiti. “Immediate personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster,” Solnit argues. The problem with a hyped-up view of looting, she maintains, is the inevitable emphasis on protecting private property over saving human lives, a situation that led to multiple, avoidable tragedies in Haiti and New Orleans."

https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2014/12/04/the-marvelous-complex-world-of-rebe...

Stachybotrys is terrible. That was my first thought after the flooding in Houston: all the folks unwittingly getting exposed to mycotoxins.  BTW,  I think Matt misspoke by saying the mold was in his his wife's blood...likely it was elevated antibody titer to the mold or a detectable level of mycotoxin the mold makes.  I don't treat mold patients, but do know of Rich Shoemaker and cholestyramine  treatment.  When you combine chronic mold exposure with other co-morbidities (chronic low grade infections, metabolic syndrome) and the toxic soup in flood waters: synthetic pesticides, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, etc. that is a recipe for the canaries in the mine to get sick for sure.    By canaries I mean folks who are susceptible either through genetic mutations that hinder ability to clear mycotoxins or peacefully co-exist with mycotoxins.

 

In addition to the excellent preparation piece for emergencies that Adam linked too, I would add physical preparations.  One of the blessing/curses of cheap oil has been our addiction to comfort.  We shield ourselves from the heat and humidity with air-conditioned spaces wherever we go. In a loss of power, many people get uncomfortable very fast because they are no longer heat adapted.  It can be deadly for the elderly. 

Most people, less than 70 yo, even boomers with underlying cardiovascular can safely adapt to at least some increased heat and humidity via the therapeutic use of sauna, hot bathing, spending time judicously (proper clothing, evaporative cooling with damp clothing, hydration, pacing, rest, shade) in the heat and even exercise in the heat as long as they understand their limits and don't over do it. Your ability to sweat and thermoregulate can be improved with practice. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21173495

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28177747

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20154403

 

What does not bode well is the prediction that due to climate change, it will become so humid in some parts of the world, even young, healthy people will die due to lack of ability to rely on evaporative cooling...it will simply be too wet for your sweat to evaporate.  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/extreme-heat-india-pakistan-2100

thc0655's picture
thc0655
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 27 2010
Posts: 1465
One thing: let's keep the word "looting" for when it applies

"Appropriating" food, water, and necessities after a disaster may not best be described as "looting."  However, let's keep the word "looting" in the English language because sometimes it DOES apply to what people are doing in the midst of a disaster.

I've been in a shoe store after it's been looted.  You know what's left over?  Work boots.

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