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December 03, 2016
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Sitting in the dark

One has to feel compassion for the people and communities for whom Hurricane Sandy has been an unmitigated disaster. We here in the Upper Delaware Valley were lucky; we were spared the worst of what the storm had to offer, though even we did not escape totally unscathed.

Pictures taken as little as 100 miles away from us show the ruin left in Sandy’s wake: devastated communities and families, hurting and often angry people. More misery is likely to follow as the impact of vanished infrastructure and lost or damaged businesses and personal property extends beyond areas shattered by the storm. Rebuilding is going to require everyone’s help.

Contemplating the many painful consequences of Sandy, frustration, anger and fear seem perfectly rational reactions of those affected who feel powerless over what has happened in their lives. Here at home, many thousands of us who spent some portion of last week sitting in the dark also have some sense of vulnerability, knowing how little control we had over what was happening around us.

The truth is that we are utterly dependent on a complex infrastructure of producers and distributors who deliver life’s essential goods—electricity to our homes, fuel to gas stations, food to grocery stores and more. Even the conscientious, who take preparedness seriously, cannot control a natural disaster that befalls the delivery of gasoline to our local gas station or food to our neighborhood grocery. (Other events over which we have no control such as the stock market meltdown of 2008 also come to mind.)

Many of us expect government to ride to the rescue. But Hurricane Katrina, the storm that left New Orleans a shadow of its former self, demonstrated how government can do only so much. Furthermore, we live in times when tight budgets mean government likely will be able to do less, not more, for us.

The question then becomes, what can we do for ourselves and our communities to be less vulnerable and more resilient? On one hand, there is one kind of emergency preparedness: the kind that finds us stocking up on food, water, petroleum, batteries, lanterns, or even purchasing a generator. On the other, there is a kind of preparedness that requires knowledge and skills to weather a variety of crises or prolonged difficult times.

Perhaps the deeper lessons of Hurricane Sandy are to be found in the burgeoning grassroots movement to promote more individual self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Just go to your local library and see how many books are there for learning skills like your grandparents relied on to provide life’s basic necessities. It seems we have lost or forgotten most of them! Further, it turns out that the way we live our lives today can be surprisingly vulnerable in a crisis.

Today, we live in an uncertain world facing many challenges in an uncertain future, and one doesn’t have to be a “Doomsday Prepper” to realize it might be prudent to learn some skills that increase our individual, our family’s and our communities’ self-sufficiency. In our largely rural area, people have many options: start a garden to grow some of your own food and learn how to preserve it, learn to make or to repair your own clothing, learn how to conserve energy, learn a useful skill and, if you have one, teach that skill to others. Today this kind of preparedness is leading people to live “off the grid,” to homesteading and return to the land, to live more simply on less and to practice a do-it-yourself ethic.

In our opinion, Hurricane Sandy is a wake-up call to better prepare for whatever crisis may come our way, including by learning skills that improve our own ability to survive and thrive. No one knows what that next crisis will be, but that won’t change the question: Will we be prepared?