Rebuilding Society: Agriculture

This is my latest article on what is important for rebuilding society after a societal collapse. Agriculture is important for obvious reasons. Without an adequate food supply there is no possibility for any society. Agriculture is the only long term method for managing the food supply. Hunting and gathering take too much time and area for current populations. Storing food is very temporary and doesn’t last very long. Trading for food is something many countries do today, but this is dependent on a very reliable transportation network.

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The lowest level of sustainable agriculture is subsistence agriculture. This means the levels of production from agriculture are just enough to sustain your own existence (or your family’s existence). Subsistence agriculture is very time intensive. It leaves you with little to no time for other things like education, construction and any other form of employment. Societies heavy with subsistence agriculture are also societies rampant with poverty. Subsistence farming is not a way to grow a society, it is merely a way to survive. After a societal collapse, subsistence farming will become common place. Those with knowledge and the means to grow food will probably be able to produce ample amounts of food. It is everyone else who will struggle to achieve a subsistence level of food production. Those that fail will probably die from starvation.

The knowledge required for successful agricultural production needs to survive the collapse. Books on the subject are a good start. A much greater resource are people who are already successful at propagation of food plants and raising livestock. Agriculture at any level is more complicated that putting seeds in the ground or letting a herd roam free. There will be local conditions that determine best chances of success. Soil and weather patterns vary widely at surprisingly small scales. If someone you know has knowledge like this, make them your new best friend.

Historic techniques for farming will be very useful. Many modern crops and farms are dependent on pesticides and fertilizer. Unless someone knows how to continue making these chemicals, those supplies will quickly run out and in some cases expire. Ideally, the knowledge required is more than just historical farming techniques as many of them were destructive to either the environment at large, water sources and soil quality. The best knowledge to have are the low technology techniques for treating current agriculture problems. A good example of what I mean is how flies around cattle can spread pink eye around the herd. Currently this is usually controlled by a bovine insect repellent sprayed over the cattle. It works great at keeping flies away, but after the collapse the industry and transportation infrastructure may not be present or reliable. A low technology solution is to feed the cattle garlic. Something in the garlic makes the cattle less appetizing. You may not notice less flies around the herd as you would with the insecticide, but the infection rates of pink eye will go down, and isn’t that the problem that needed solving? With the prevalence of garlic worldwide, this solution for pink eye cold be done by almost any cattle farmer (I’m not sure if garlic would affect milk taste in a dairy cow). My point is, all the farmer needs is to grow some garlic and he/she has something with multiple uses and is dependent on nobody to do it.

After subsistence level agriculture, comes increasing levels of food security, wealth and time. Historically we moved beyond subsistence farming by improving techniques and creating new techniques, new hybrid crops and breeding animals to better suit local conditions. This was achieved through research, experimentation and trial and error. After a collapse, research and experimentation will probably stop, leaving just trial and error and people who know better slowly spreading the best techniques through word of mouth.

As society begins to reform, places with food will become boom towns and places without will disappear. Sustainable agriculture is the best way towards a stable society.

Terrorist Attack and Water Systems

Water systems are distributed networks of pipes, pumps and reservoirs. Like all distributed networks they can be very difficult to protect from vandalism and terrorist attack. There are two broad types of attacks that could hit a water system. The first type is an attack on the quantity of water available (physical supply) and the second is an attack on the quality of water. The end result of both types of attack is a lack of potable water entering your home.

The greatest defense for a water system is that most of it is underground. It is very difficult to access most parts of water distribution systems. Even for the operators of the system it is time consuming and disruptive to the wider community. If anyone unauthorized to dig in a road to access a watermain they will be reported to the authorities in the form of complaints about traffic or noise.
I think it goes without saying that depending on public complaints to defend against terrorism is nowhere near secure.

Water Treatment Plant (source: wikipedia.org)

The exposed parts of water systems are water treatment facilities, reservoirs and fire hydrants. These are the points where the system is at the surface and easily accessible. These different points also offer different security concerns.

Treatment facilities are as secure as any factory or industrial facility will be. The treatment facility I work at is always locked and there are a limited number keys. Then there is an electronic alarm system which brings a human on site if there is an intrusion alarm. There is also a human dispatched if the communication link is broken. A large city water treatment facility will most likely be manned twenty-four hours a day. The biggest weakness here is that properly armed people can force their way in and destroy the building if they so desire. Or they can contaminate the reservoir on site (if they know how).

Reservoirs of treated water are next most likely place for a terrorist attack. The biggest weakness here is that reservoirs are almost never manned during the day. They will be visited most days, but rarely will people be there all day. The good news is that water in reservoirs is monitored constantly(usually) with automatic analyzers. Reservoirs can be destroyed, and the water within wasted. Or the quality of the water can be destroyed this is where chemicals could be added easily.

The remaining pieces of the system are fire hydrants. Fire hydrants pose a unique risk to water security. It is very easy to add chemicals to a fire hydrant. It is however not easy to get that chemical into the water supply. This is because of the construction of the hydrant itself and the pressure in the system. There is a valve at the bottom of the hydrant which isolates the water. In order to add chemicals to a fire hydrant you also have to lower the system pressure which is rarely easy to do undetected. At this point I want you to remember the scene in Batman Begins where Sandman is dumping his psychotropic drug into a cracked watermain. I don’t expect realistic depictions from the movie, I do however want you to know this is nowhere near realistic. Watermains are pressurized, when they crack water shoots out at anywhere from 50 to 100psi. This is enough to erode foundations of buildings and the all soil around the break creating massive sinkholes. It is not something you can pour chemicals into. This is what it looks like when watermains break.

Just adding chemicals to water, is not as effective as it appears on the surface.  Most water supplies contain residual disinfectants, usually chlorine.  Disinfectants are highly reactive chemicals, they aren’t limited to just killing bacteria.  Highly reactive chemicals often react with other chemicals.  I am obviously oversimplifying the chemistry involved, but it is true that a large portion of any chemical added to water will be consumed by the chlorine in the water.

Adding Chemicals to Water (source: http://www.thejakartapost.com)

Cyber attack is another way water systems are vulnerable.  You may wonder why water treatment facilities are connected to the internet and the answer is for remote monitoring and control.  It may seem like an unwarranted risk having these facilities connected to the web.  It is not an unwarranted risk at all.  The likelihood of the automated system needing an intervention that cannot wait for someone to be onsite is greater than a targeted cyber attack. Keep in mind that even normal breakdowns of the watersystem can cause illness and even death.  These need to be responded to and are just as important as preventing cyber attack. I am not a technology expert so I will leave it to other people to suggest the best firewall setup.   Another thing to note about cyber attack on a water treatment facility is that even if the attacker is successful and shuts down the control computer, the facility can still be controlled manually.

Terrorism is something that needs to be addressed when it comes to water systems.  People inside and outside the system need to be aware of the risks and what can be done for protecting the security of out water.

Water Preparedness: Common Beginner Mistakes

Are you thinking about starting to store water? How about emergency water treatment? Getting started can be a very daunting task. Where should efforts be focused? What pitfalls should be avoided?  This article will explore a few of the mistakes I see people make when they start to take their personal water security seriously

Don’t be left without potable water. Avoid beginner mistakes. (source: always foodie.com)

The very first thing to learn is that there is no magic bullet. There is never a single product or technique which will always make water safe to drink. Combining, knowledge, multiple storage/treatment techniques and multiple products for storage/treatment is the best way to guarantee a safe source of drinking water for yourself and your family.  This logic or philosophy of combining as many protections as possible is used by municipal water systems all across North America.  It is referred to as a multi-barrier approach and it boils down to having many different protective measures to prevent contamination, in the event that one barrier fails, there are still many others in place.  To put it in layman’s terms, when it comes to water security, it isn’t a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket.

Marketing campaigns will make all sorts of claims about water products. Some will be irrelevant, like claims of BPA free plastic when the product is made from a type of plastic that never had BPA. Other claims will be over stated. The claim that is most often overstated is the number of times a water treatment product can be used. The quality of the water being treated is too variable for any company to give you an absolute number of times. This might not be done to deceive you. It could just be that the water they tested the product with was easier to treat then your water. Remember that no product will make the water perfect.  They will make the water safer when used correctly, if used incorrectly many water treatment products can make the water significantly more dangerous to drink.

Water needs to be stored in an appropriate container. This container needs to be able to physically hold the weight of the water and not leach any chemicals into the water. Assuming any garbage can sized container is appropriate will at best lead to soggy disappointment and at worst a severe case of gastrointestinal disease. For more information on water storage, read The Why? How? and How Much? of Water Storage?

Once your water is stored it needs to be kept safe. Water can become contaminated at any time. Anytime the container is open there is potential for contamination to occur. Read this article to find out what to do when your backup source of water becomes contaminated. The assumption that water only needs to be treated once is false. What was once safe to drink may be very dangerous when you need it if your aren’t protective of your supply. Water can turn stagnant when stored for long periods of time. Stagnation while not a health hazard is a taste hazard. Stagnant water tastes bad. Adding air to the water is how you relieve stagnation. Adding air is as simple as passing the water from one glass to another repeatedly or stirring the reservoir. The goal is to increase surface contact between the atmosphere and the water. It is important that aeration of the water will also remove the remaining chlorine (if any was present) in the water. If you are aerating the reservoir make sure you add some more disinfectant. Do this so you can keep your disinfectant residual high enough to keep the water contamination free.

Another mistake people make, is they store water but make no changes for reducing the water they use. Forgetting to change behavior during a crisis is probably the biggest mistake beginners make. Different situations require different behavior, this applies to your personal water use. You will be amazed at how much water is used if you aren’t careful. What could last a week might be used in a day and then you will understand the true value of water conservation. This mistake can also happen in more than just your water use.  For more information on water conservation read why water conservation is a prepper’s must do.

The single biggest mistake beginners is they assume that they can learn how to treat water later. Later becomes too late and then it can become fatal. It is very difficult to learn something complicated like water treatment when your life depends on it. Learning as much as you can before an emergency strikes is the single best thing you can do to stay safe.

This article covers just a few of the common mistakes I see people make when they start taking their water security more seriously.  There are many more mistakes that can be made and no one person has the perfect solution to them all. Water security is something that needs to be tailored to each person or family’s needs.  Have you found any common mistakes while preparing for water shortages? If so, leave a comment below, I would love to hear them.

Water Survival During the Zombie Apocalypse

First off a bit of a disclaimer, I am fully aware that zombies are not real.  I am however highly entertained by zombies and all things undead.  Since the Omega Man Journal is about water and survival, that lead to the obvious thought experiment of what challenges a zombie outbreak would have on our ability to get safe drinking water.

Zombie, Zombies, Undead, Scary Zombie,

Zombie Rage Face (zombieambience.com)

The first thing to appear after the dead rise will be panic. Fear will be rampant and many people will be operating on their fight or flight instincts others will be holed up at home. This includes the people who work at municipal water treatment plants. Water facilities, although automated still depend heavily on people to operate them. When those people stop going to work or are already zombie chow then the water will stop shortly thereafter. To see what it would look like when a water system gets shut down and roughly how long it would take read Grid Shutdown: How Long Will The Water Last. The same will be true of the sewage systems. Read Grid Shutdown: Why Is There S#!t In My Basement, Sewage Emergency: Thunder Bay Flooding and A City Without Sanitation to see just how disgusting our once clean (or not so clean) cities will become.

Zombie, Horde, Zombie horde, the walking dead, set pictures

Zombie Horde (geektyrant.com)

Speaking of sanitation, people will die from unsanitary conditions. That means dead bodies, not just zombies, but regular dead bodies. Cholera is an excellent example of a waterborne disease that is a direct result of decomposing animal tissues in a water supply. Thirst will drive people to the nearest supply of water, then many will die on the banks and contaminate the lakes and rivers. Remember at this point I’m not talking about zombie contamination of water sources. That’s coming up later. This is a real danger when thirsty people or animals die in water supplies.

Depending on how zombies are created there may be a serious water vulernability. There are already bacteria, viruses, parasites and other micro-organisms that use both water and human bodies as part of their natural life cycle. Typically we call the effect of these micro-organisms “water borne disease”. Also there are already parasites that can take control of other organisms even to the point of making the host suicidal. Specifically there is a fungus that will radically alter the behaviour of ants turning them into zombie ants. (read more about zombie ants).  We are talking about total control of the host for the benefit of the parasite. Finally there are countless micro-organisms and insects that thrive and depend on rotting flesh to survive either for food or as a vital part of a life cycle stage like maggots turning into flies.

Bacteria thrive on and cause decomposition of deceased organic matter

Those three characteristics which already exist, put a zombie making organism on the edge of being possible. Nature has already made all the organisms necessary to create a zombie, luckily for now the necessary skills are in different organisms and target different organisms. The problem is, if nature caused one organism to eat rotting flesh, it can teach another organism to do the same. Same thing with learning to disperse through water and to take control of other organisms.

Zombie Ant With Fungus Growing Out Of Its Head (nationalgeographic.com)

Let’s assume this is the cause of zombification, what then can anyone do to protect themselves? The good news is that modern water treatment is very good at removing and inactivating micro-organisms. The combination of chemically assisted filtration and disinfection should (if done correctly) remove 99.999% of micro-organisms. Depending on the size of this fictitious zombie bug/parasite/virus it might be possible to remove even more than 99.999% if it is on the large end of the size scale. If it is a virus, which is the smallest type of micro-organism then removing 100% of the z-virus will be next to impossible. That means we better hope that there is a disinfection method that can kill the virus either chlorine, UV, ozone or boiling.

Zombies Again (beyondhollywood.com)

One thing many people haven’t thought about when they are talking about zombies and water.  Water is very heavy.  If you have to haul water from its source to your secure facility it will become very difficult to run at the same time.  Now vehicles are an option as are hand carts and if you have the resources pumps and pipes are best.  Just remember that they are all noisier and may attract unwanted attention from nearby zombies.

Those are some of the challenges I see affecting our ability to drink safe potable water in the event of a zombie outbreak.  I tried to be as true to real science as is possible when talking about zombies.  At the very least I hope you were entertained.  Can you think of anything I missed?

Civil Unrest in Brazil: Lessons from a Tourist

Brazil is a fascinating country. I have travelled there on two separate occasions. On both occasions I was fortunate to stay with locals and see a lot of their way of life. Seeing and experiencing the local customs is one of the reasons I travel. I learned a lot about security, self reliance, what it can look like when society breaks down (temporarily) and how people respond when rules disappear or are not enforced. In many ways daily life in Brazil is the situation people in North America prepare for.
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On my first trip there was a state of emergency in the state I was staying in. When we landed in Sao Paulo I noticed that the three prisons beside the airport had a lot people on the roof. In my ignorant first world opinion my first though was “wow third world prisons really are crappy”. This was not correct, not by a long shot. What I witnessed was the beginning of a prison riot that would shortly become a state wide state of emergency. The specifics are not important, the end result was gang leaders inside the prisons started paying people to kill police officers. The resulting violence was shocking. Police officers were murdered in their homes, at restaurants and on the street. Being “off duty” was no saving grace. The total body count was just under 300 people most of them were criminals killed during the police retaliation.
During the state of emergency the entire city shut down. This is a city of 30 million people (at best estimates) and all day to day activities stopped. It was like Christmas day, everyone stayed home.
On my second trip there was nothing so exciting but there is always a certain level of crime that tourists and residents alike need to be aware of. The following are my observations from both my trips.
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The first lesson I learned was to blend in. It is hardly original but it is very beneficial to not stand out in the society, especially if you are significantly wealthier or poorer than everyone else. This isn’t as hard as it looks. Avoid logos on clothing; you may like designer brands but they will out you as an outsider. Avoid sports team branded clothing. I made the mistake of buying a shirt for the Brazilian National Soccer team, the first thing I was told was “take that off, nobody from here wears those.” I kept the shirt obviously but I didn’t wear it during the trip. If you are familiar with the culture then you can add little bits to help blend in. The general rule is if you don’t see other people wearing it/doing it then DON’T do it or wear it. Learn the local languages as best you can. The better you speak the language the easier it is to blend in and get out of trouble.

The second lesson is to avoid having a routine. Simply because of anyone is watching you they can set up a time and place to attack you of their choosing. On one of my trips there was a store owner who lived in the next town over. She left at a similar time after closing and went straight home. One day she was followed. They took what they wanted from her home. Then made her drive them to her store and let them in. They took what they wanted from the store. They finished the night by setting the woman on fire and leaving her for dead. The more uncertainty around you the less likely you are to be chosen for such an attack.
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The third lesson is to avoid large crowds but don’t avoid people. The crowded market is dangerous if people feel threatened or afraid. People are unpredictable when frightened and it is very easy to get lost, hurt or killed in a mob and nobody see anything. Just as dangerous is being alone in the wrong area. If there is nobody else around then you are the only available target.

The fourth lesson is that geography matters. Every city has places that you shouldn’t go alone, or shouldn’t go at night or shouldn’t go unless you are from there. Learn where these places are and learn how to spot them. In the city I live in it is very easy for me to spot the dangerous areas. The problem is that different cities have different standards of what dangerous means and often the dangers themselves are different. Learning the local standards for dangerous area is critical. In many cities the dangerous areas are surprisingly close to very wealthy areas. Crossing the wrong block can sometimes be life threatening, like it is in Rio de Janerio there is a large slum two blocks from the hotels on copa cabana beach. Wander too far in the wrong directon and you will be in a whole heap of trouble.
Geography played a key role in our navigation during the state of emergency I described above. Because the target of the civil unrest were police officers we avoided going anywhere near police stations. The most likely places for violence in this scenario was a doughnut shaped ring around the police station where you weren’t too close to the station and there were too many officers. But not too far away from a station so the likelihood of seeing a police officer to attack is too low.
Always remember that geography is fluid when it comes to people, risk and danger. Riots are not in one place, they move around. As do criminals, armies, battles and victims. Always be on the lookout for signs your location is becoming more dangerous.
Geography is also important at other levels. During the state of emergency next state over was totally normal. We chose this time to visit another state and avoid the problem altogether.

Here is a list of things I noticed when the government or the market stops working for the public good.

If you don’t have a home, build one. This is how slums form. If enough people build a shack/shelter somewhere it becomes very difficult to remove them. If a slum exists long enough, they become proper neighborhoods with time.
If everyone has a gun then there is no such thing as gun control. On my second trip there was a story on the news about a statement a politician made. He said and I’m paraphrasing, “Anyone with a gun should turn it in to police and you will not be asked any questions”. Remember, there are already laws in place restricting firearms of all types but everyone still has one for personal security. The resounding response to the politician’s statement was “You First!”. The Brazilian people think as much about owning an illegal firearm as most North Americans think about speeding.

Please don’t think that Brazil is an overly dangerous place. I went twice for a month each time and nothing dangerous ever happened. But I was aware of my surroundings and I had expert guides in the form of local residents. Without them I am sure I would not have been as safe or seen as much as I did. I am writing about the danger I experienced in Brazil because it exposed what happens when a whole society is left to it’s own devices and the chaos/order that develops. In other words it provided a glimpse into the end of the world as I know it.

Survival Bunkers: What Features Should They Have?

Survival bunkers are coveted by many as the ultimate survival preparation possible, providing it is full of food and water. The common elements for any shelter are food, drinking water, air circulation and waste removal. Honourable mention goes to electrical power and heating and cooling. The extent and the capacity of these essentials depends on the purpose of the shelter or bunker and how long it will be occupied. The characteristic that almost can go without saying, storage, lots of storage.

Many of the features described in this article are possible to build into almost any structure, some will only be possible or necessary in a fortified bunker. One note on fortified structures, many municipalities have made fortified homes illegal. This was done where I live to combat organised crime, and make it possible to evict criminal organisations, easier to raid these structures and to discourage to setting up of a headquarters in the first place. Be aware of what is legal before you start to fortify any structure.

The first decision to make is if your shelter will be underground or above ground. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Underground bunkers are easily hidden and offer excellent concealment. The ground around the walls also offers protection from most explosions and most forms of natural disasters. Underground is a great place to hide. Underground is not a great place to defend. Civil unrest can easily exploit a weakness in all underground structures, if all the exits are found by an aggressive party then all inhabitants of the bunker are trapped. All anyone has to do is wait with weapons pointed at the doors, because the doors will eventually open when supplies run out. They won’t even have to wait that long. Blocking air vents, adding toxic gasses and flooding the bunker with water will flush people out faster. The primary security of underground bunkers is secrecy. Keep the location and if possible the existence of any bunker secret. This may even be more important than the strength of the walls.
Whether you choose to build above ground or underground there are features that are vital for both.
Multiple exits, are needed. There is little use in getting trapped in your survival shelter just to die later. Always have another way out. Speaking of exits, installing a barrier that forms a ninety degree bend outside the door will inhibit people from knocking the door down. A cinder block or concrete construction with just enough room to open the door will prevent anyone from swinging a battering ram against the door.

Bunkers that expect to be occupied for extended periods of time should have a UV growth lighting system. Something to at least start some seedlings. Volcanic eruption can create shorter growing seasons. Giving your food plants a head start could make all the difference between harvest and starvation. It would be awesome to have an underground farm that can grow enough food for your entire family, but I would bet money that it is too impractical to be a viable option.

Air circulation is also critical. Simple air circulation can occur with two holes and a fan. Easy to install but the can and will leave you open to any airborne contaminants or contagions. Screens and U-bends will keep out rodents and water. HEPA filters remove many small particles and some airborne bacteria and viruses. You can also use UV light to disinfect the air before it is circulated. And it is best done right after the HEPA filter.
Everything else requires a positive pressure system to keep any contaminants outside. Positive pressure is achieved when air is blown into a room faster than it can be released. This means air will constantly push out of any leaking point and physically push away from the bunker. Even when doors are opened the air will push our preventing contaminants from entering.
This is the opposite of an isolation room, like the ones in a hospital. Isolation rooms remove air from a room faster than air can enter the room. This means air is pulled inside constantly and out to an air disinfection system. This keeps the airborne contagion contained in the one room even when doors are opened.
Both positive and negative pressure systems have higher electricity costs and that could limit their applications.

Water needs mentioning. A source of drinking water is essential as well. Length of stay is the master here. If you only have a storm shelter then you can probably get away with storage of water. If you plan on outlasting extended civil unrest, then a well with access inside the bunker is preferred. A method of disinfection of drinking water is also preferential.

Next is waste, all the garbage and sewage needs to be dealt with. A septic tank can receive the sewage easily enough if the terrain allows for it. Garbage can be incinerated from within the bunker. For more on solid waste and liquid waste management see my other articles.

Fortification is a useful way to help survive many situations. Whether you expect a tornado or World War Three, having a place to retreat to that can take a beating could save your life. Anything that could save your life one day is always worth a closer look.

A City Without Sanitation

This article is another one designed to get people thinking about the hidden parts of our cities. The water and waste systems are easy to forget and are often willfully ignored.
People living in modern cities take sanitation for granted. Many people don’t realize that cities appeared after we developed sewers and efficient garbage removal. Quite literally, sewers are the backbone of civilization. It is misleading sometimes because many cities have truly ancient origins, however they were barely more than villages before sanitation. The problem with have large numbers of people in a small area like a city is that it gets filthy, and it gets filthy fast. The problem with living in filthy places is disease. Water borne, airborne and vermin borne diseases boom when there are lots of people in dirty places. The reason settlements didn’t grow beyond villages is disease would keep populations small.
Before sewers, sewage flowed freely in the streets. It eventually flows into the nearest surface water and leaches into the groundwater completely contaminating all water supplies.

Before Sewers Streets Had Rivers Of Sewage

Cities will quickly regress into a similar state once the efficient removal of waste is interrupted.  I have written about what a breakdown of the sewers system will look like. In a long term scenario, people will either move or they will throw their waste into the street.

Sewage Overflow in San Francisco

This seems so foreign to us, but that is exactly what happens when waste services stop. Continue reading