After getting smacked repeatedly by hurricanes in the middle of the last decade (Katrina, Wilma, Rita, etc. . .), and pummeled by huge tornado outbreaks in 2010 and 2011 (see Weathering Heights: A Year For The Record Books), the United States has – comparatively speaking – enjoyed a welcome lull in major disasters.
Disasters still occur, of course. Last months California quake caused billions of dollars in damage and major disruptions in the lives it affected, as did Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But so far this year FEMA has only declared 33 major disasters nationwide – well behind the pace of 2011 (which saw 99 total).
While good news, this lull can’t be counted on to last. 2009 was a relatively mild year for disasters, but it was followed by the disaster ridden years of 2010 and 2011. While no one can predict when the tide will turn, emergency managers know it is just a matter of time.
Unfortunately, individual, family, business and community preparedness remains less than FEMA, Ready.gov and local Emergency Management agencies would like to see. Only about half of the adults recently polled say they have a disaster plan, and of those, some of their preparations may be less than adequate.
Today marks the first day of National Preparedness Month, with the goal of getting Americans better prepared to deal with local, or national, disasters.
The campaign really takes off tomorrow with a 2pm EDT Twitter Thunderclap, which where hundreds of twitter users (including @Fla_Medic) will simultaneously tweet the following message to over 6 million followers (details on how you can participate here).
All this month, as I do every September, I’ll be featuring preparedness articles in this blog. Some will be updates of earlier blogs, while others will be new content.
Coincidentally, today (Sept 1st) is also Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, which is the anniversary of the disastrous 1923 M7.9 quake that left Tokyo in ruins and killed – by some estimates – more than 140,000 residents. Since 1960, that date has been used to conduct some of the most impressive disaster drills on the planet.
This year, one of the things the Japanese government is asking its citizens to add to their emergency stockpile is toilet paper.
Seriously, although some of the reasons behind this campaign may be more economic than practical. Still, Japan saw a `toilet paper shortage’ after the Great 2011 Earthquake, and fears another natural disaster could see the supplies on the shelves bottom out (head down in shame, but moving on . . . ).
It isn’t such a crazy idea, since there are often shortages of `necessities’ following a disaster. And the use of `substitutes’ for toilet paper can clog sewer pipes and septic tanks, adding to the misery and health hazards following a disaster.
Lest anyone think shortages like that can’t happen here, I would remind you of America’s Toilet Paper Panic of 1973 – one caused not by a natural disaster, but by a late night TV joke.
In December of 1973, the United States was suffering through the first of the OPEC oil shocks, and gas prices had tripled. Americans were understandably shaken by gas shortages and long lines at the pump.
Enter Wisconsin congressman Harold Froehlich who made the papers when he expressed concerns over a wood pulp shortage that could portend a paper shortage in 1974. He quote an unnamed GAO source as saying they’d recently had trouble acquiring a full allotment of toilet paper.
Picking up on this obscure news item, staff writers for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show wrote a joke for his monologue, saying that the next shortage congress was worried about was of toilet paper.
It got a modest laugh.
The next morning, however, millions of Tonight Show fans ran out and cleaned the shelves of all of the available toilet paper. Some people bought shopping cart's full. By noon, there wasn't a roll to be had in most major cities.
The supplies were, err, wiped out, so to speak.
That night, Johnny Carson went on the air to explain, and apologize. There was no shortage, folks. It was all just a joke . . .
Only one problem: Now there was a shortage.
As soon as new supplies were delivered and put on the shelves, they were snapped up by worried customers who hadn’t seen a roll on the shelf for days. People were hoarding toilet paper out of fear, and so the shortage continued.
Even though the supply chain was unbroken, it took 3 weeks before normalcy returned. And all of this took place back when stores actually had stockrooms, and didn't rely on just-in-time inventory restocking.
Now, consider what would happen if there were an actual break in the supply chain. If production were reduced, or even halted, or if trucks couldn’t deliver goods to regions of the country. Shortages could last not days, but weeks or longer.
Granted, toilet paper isn’t exactly the highest priority item to have on hand in a disaster. Food, water, required prescription meds, emergency lights, and a NWS weather radio all rank considerably higher on the list of `must haves’.
Still, keeping a couple of extra rolls in the preps closet isn’t such a bad idea.
Basic kit : NWS radio, First Aid Kit, Lanterns, Water & Food & cash for 3 Days minimum
Because during any disaster, the advantage goes to those who were already prepared.