Schneier on Security
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July 26, 2007
Avian Flu and Disaster Planning
If an avian flu pandemic broke out tomorrow, would your company be ready for it?
Computerworld published a series of articles on that question last year, prompted by a presentation analyst firm Gartner gave at a conference last November. Among Gartner's recommendations: "Store 42 gallons of water per data center employee -- enough for a six-week quarantine -- and don't forget about food, medical care, cooking facilities, sanitation and electricity."
And Gartner's conclusion, over half a year later: Pretty much no organizations are ready.
This doesn't surprise me at all. It's not that organizations don't spend enough effort on disaster planning, although that's true; it's that this really isn't the sort of disaster worth planning for.
Disaster planning is critically important for individuals, families, organizations large and small, and governments. For the individual, it can be as simple as spending a few minutes thinking about how he or she would respond to a disaster. For example, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if I lost the use of my computer, whether by equipment failure, theft or government seizure. As a result, I have a pretty complex backup and encryption system, ensuring that 1) I'd still have access to my data, and 2) no one else would. On the other hand, I haven't given any serious thought to family disaster planning, although others have.
For an organization, disaster planning can be much more complex. What would it do in the case of fire, flood, earthquake, and so on? How would its business survive? The resultant disaster plan might include backup data centers, temporary staffing contracts, planned degradation of services, and a host of other products and service -- and consultants to tell you how to use it all.
And anyone who does this kind of thing knows that planning isn't enough: Testing your disaster plan is critical. Far too often the backup software fails when it has to do an actual restore, or the diesel-powered emergency generator fails to kick in. That's also the flaw with the emergency kit suggestions I linked to above; if you don't know how to use a compass or first-aid kit, having one in your car won't do you much good.
But testing isn't just valuable because it reveals practical problems with a plan. It also has enormous ancillary benefits for your organization in terms of communication and team building. There's nothing like a good crisis to get people to rely on each other. Sometimes I think companies should forget about those team-building exercises that involve climbing trees and building fires, and instead pretend that a flood has taken out the primary data center.
It really doesn't matter what disaster scenario you're testing. The real disaster won't be like the test, regardless of what you do, so just pick one and go. Whether you're an individual trying to recover from a simulated virus attack, or an organization testing its response to a hypothetical shooter in the building, you'll learn a lot about yourselves and your organization, as well as your plan.
There is a sweet spot, though, in disaster preparedness. Some disasters are too small or too common to worry about. ("We're out of paper clips!? Call the Crisis Response Team together. I'll get the Paper Clip Shortage Readiness Program Directive Manual Plan.") And others are too large or too rare.
It makes no sense to plan for total annihilation of the continent, whether by nuclear or meteor strike: that's obvious. But depending on the size of the planner, many other disasters are also too large to plan for. People can stockpile food and water to prepare for a hurricane that knocks out services for a few days, but not for a Katrina-like flood that knocks out services for months. Organizations can prepare for losing a data center due to a flood, fire, or hurricane, but not for a Black-Death-scale epidemic that would wipe out a third of the population. No one can fault bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost two thirds of its employees in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, for not having a plan in place to deal with that possibility.
Another consideration is scope. If your corporate headquarters burns down, it's actually a bigger problem for you than a citywide disaster that does much more damage. If the whole San Francisco Bay Area were taken out by an earthquake, customers of affected companies would be far more likely to forgive lapses in service, or would go the extra mile to help out. Think of the nationwide response to 9/11; the human "just deal with it" social structures kicked in, and we all muddled through.
In general, you can only reasonably prepare for disasters that leave your world largely intact. If a third of the country's population dies, it's a different world. The economy is different, the laws are different -- the world is different. You simply can't plan for it; there's no way you can know enough about what the new world will look like. Disaster planning only makes sense within the context of existing society.
What all of this means is that any bird flu pandemic will very likely fall outside the corporate disaster-planning sweet spot. We're just guessing on its infectiousness, of course, but (despite the alarmism from two and three years ago), likely scenarios are either moderate to severe absenteeism because people are staying home for a few weeks -- any organization ought to be able to deal with that -- or a major disaster of proportions that dwarf the concerns of any organization. There's not much in between.
Honestly, if you think you're heading toward a world where you need to stash six weeks' worth of food and water in your company's closets, do you really believe that it will be enough to see you through to the other side?
A blogger commented on what I said in one article:
Schneier is using what I would call the nuclear war argument for doing nothing. If there's a nuclear war nothing will be left anyway, so why waste your time stockpiling food or building fallout shelters? It's entirely out of your control. It's someone else's responsibility. Don't worry about it.
Almost. Bird flu, pandemics, and disasters in general -- whether man-made like 9/11, natural like bird flu, or a combination like Katrina -- are definitely things we should worry about. The proper place for bird flu planning is at the government level. (These are also the people who should worry about nuclear and meteor strikes.) But real disasters don't exactly match our plans, and we are best served by a bunch of generic disaster plans and a smart, flexible organization that can deal with anything.
The key is preparedness. Much more important than planning, preparedness is about setting up social structures so that people fall into doing something sensible when things go wrong. Think of all the wasted effort -- and even more wasted desire -- to do something after Katrina because there was no way for most people to help. Preparedness is about getting people to react when there's a crisis. It's something the military trains its soldiers for.
This advice holds true for organizations, families, and individuals as well. And remember, despite what you read about nuclear accidents, suicide terrorism, genetically engineered viruses and mutant man-eating badgers, you live in the safest society in the history of mankind.
This essay originally appeared in Wired.com.
EDITED TO ADD (8/1): A good rebuttal.
Posted on July 26, 2007 at 7:14 AM
• 60 Comments
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I would bet that more than a few people in the UK had wished they had done a bit of forward thinking with regards to disaster recovery.
The UK has just had the wettest early summer on record with something like twice the rainfall of the previous high.
The flooding and other things (loss of infrestructure and services) has had a real bad effect.
The damage is likley to be well above the 3Billion Euro's needed to claim on the EU disaster relife fund, However the U.K. Gove appears very reluctant to do so and are realy dragging their heals...
The Moral is that "Disaster like breaking your arm can happen at any time with little or no notice, and then again it might not happen". Baden Powell once said "Be Prepared" and it became an international moto, which many appear to have forgoton.
I recall the Asian Flu in 1957. Both myself and my brother were deathly ill, too ill to go to the doctor and the doctor spent most of his day(s) doing house calls. There was a quarantine in the local community. When we did return to school there were only four others in the classroom that were well enough to be in class. That is when the bigger picture hit us.
There was no real planning for this, although there had been several disasters like this in the previous 100 years.
The "Asian Flu" was a category 2 flu pandemic outbreak of avian influenza that originated in China in early 1956 lasting until 1958. It originated from mutation in wild ducks combining with a pre-existing human strain. The virus was first identified in Guizhou. It spread to Singapore in February 1957, reached Hong Kong by April, and US by June. Death toll in the US was approximately 69,800. Estimates of worldwide infection rate varies widely depending on source, ranging from 1 million to 4 million.
Two comments: the first is that in the event of a disaster that requires people to remain in quarantine for six weeks, it's pretty unlikely that employees will choose work over remaining with their family. And if they do choose to stay at work and their family fall ill, I'd expect many employees to leave work to return home. If you ask your staff to choose to support the company over their family, you'd better be damn sure that they feel extremely loyal and well treated *before* the disaster strikes! Oh, and the management had better plan on staying too.
The second is that talking about an Avian Flu pandemic is a little too specific - it's likely that there will be another flu pandemic at some point, but it doesn't have to be a variant of Avian flu.
The avian flu scenario is a good one for crisis management training, nonetheless, because it presents a number of issues all at once* and because it gets you thinking about priorities in a crisis, and about potential strategies for survival of your business in a situation where your company might be deprived of half its staff while competing businesses (in other areas) are working normally.
- staff infected with flu
- staff not infected but whose families are infected
- safety of staff who are still working
- deliveries not happening or services not available because local providers are short of staff
- customers calling to ask whether you can meet their needs
- press calling to ask the usual press questions (if you're significant enough for the press to call)
And Ben is spot on in the preceding post.
And it's important to remember the shelf life of your stockpile, too. No point stockpiling paperclips if by the time you need them, they're all rusty.
"And it's important to remember the shelf life of your stockpile, too. No point stockpiling paperclips if by the time you need them, they're all rusty."
More to the point, I wonder about stockpiles of food and supplies in New Orleans that were underwater and -- as a result -- unusable after Katrina.
Bruce is dead right: testing your disaster plan is critical. It's the only way you find out whether it works.
In one job I had a while back, we had disaster plans and we tested them in exercises - or we thought we did. It took me two years to persuade the boss to pluck up courage to pull the power on the whole building at 10 one morning. We found out the heck of a lot that day and gave everybody a lot to think about. A few years later, long after I'd moved on, it happened for real (the usual: guy with backhoe dug through lines) and they handled it pretty well.
And as CJ says, if you have a fallback facility or crisis room, use it regularly to make sure that it works. If a computer isn't used in normal work, turn it on once a week and see that it runs and that it updates itself. Check the phones. You may be surprised to find out what gets disconnected when you're not looking.
Exactly. My father has an emergency plan at his work, three days of diesel fuel for generators with a replenishment contract, and a large section of the warehouse dedicated to emergency supplies. But he has repeatedly told me that every employee hates the company, and they have all agreed that the first thing they would do in a disaster situation is abandon ship and head home.
There are very, VERY few data center employees (who are traditionally low paid anyway) who would stay with the data center for SIX WEEKS while a disaster raged around them. Look at Katrina: many of the public safety officers (EMT, Fire, Police) left their posts almost immediately, and they had all essentially taken an oath to never do that.
I'm curious about your plan for losing the use of your computer. I don't want to pry, but what tips can you share?
Another big problem difficult to deal with in case of avian flu crisis: schools will be closed.
So children will be at home.
So at least half of parents will be at home.
Would you really go to work (as written in the crisis management plan) with such a great danger outside and your children at home?
My company went through the process of identifying everyones needs to ensure employees and families were accounted for. It prompted me to reply to my manager with the following:
Thank you for your offer to provide Tamiflu in the event of a breakout of Bird-Flu.
Would the Company also be able to provide Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) suits for myself and my family. I believe this will assist in protecting us should the pandemic outbreak occur in our region, and will also assist in protecting us from any NBC terrorist attack.
Chemical suits with breathing apparatus have been recommended as suitable protection from the Bird-flu and other airborne communicable diseases. The protection offered by the thickness of the suites should also assist in suitably protecting us from mosquitoes spreading West Nile Virus present in parts of our region.
I have already enquired about post cold war surplus NBC equipment on EBay, and they appear to meet our needs. Each person can be fitted with suitable protection for around USD$300.
Should the bird flu pandemic reach mainland USA, I anticipate our company will provide us with suitable weapons and ammunition to allow us to protect our families as it is reasonable to expect the same lawlessness that was present in New Orleans after Katrina.
For those that survive the initial pandemic, it will not come down to who has an ongoing supply of medication, but who is suitably armed to protect themselves.
I am preempting this situation by taking my wife to the local Range to teach her basic musketry with 9mm pistol and AR-15 assault rifle.
For your consideration.
[Edited to protect the innocent.]
(and yes I did send it, and no I wasn't fired.. it was received with humor with which was intended. )
"It makes no sense to plan for total annihilation of the continent, whether by nuclear or meteor strike: That's obvious."
A nuclear strike, even with all the available nuclear weapons from all countries, would not be able to annihilate a continent the size of Australia. They simply don't have the required energy. Mind you, it may well wipe out populations, and make sizable scars on the land, but it's not going to annihilate the physical continent.
When I used to be involved in DP and some of the template "plans" had slots for nasty events like an a-bomb, I heard one of the best and most concise definitions of a disaster:
A disaster is when you are out of business and your major competitor across the street is not.
While I agree with Bruce's point that we _should_ be able to rely on our government to plan for pandemics and other regional/national crises, I'm not comfortable completely putting my family's survival in the hands of the government.
My organization is planning for a 30% to 50% workforce reduction in a pandemic emergency. If you're not, you're kidding yourself.
Pre-training is probably the most important element in disaster planning. That and realistic drills.
>> Check the phones. You may be surprised to find out what gets disconnected when you're not looking.
Yes, like your 911 patch. This actually happened a couple years ago on a Friday afternoon. Of course, we caught it in the daily test on Saturday morning.
Communications is the other big issue. Every EOC/SOC should have a portable satellite telephone and/or some ham operators that will come out of the woodwork.
People can stockpile food and water to prepare for a hurricane that knocks out services for a few days, but not for a Katrina-like flood that knocks out services for months.
You sure about that? I thought Mormons were required to, and that many actually did (presumably not actual water, but stuff able to produce potable water for a year, and actual food). (The risk of a flood contaminating the emergency stocks, if you store them in the obvious basement space, is to some degree a different issue, at least to me.)
"The proper place for bird flu planning is at the government level."
I could not disagree with you more.
1. We all have seen how competent the U.S. government is at disaster relief. There has been no proof that things have improved. The same people who do security theater do disaster relief theater.
2. Pandemic flu is likely to tax government resources beyond their (very low) maximum. In order to free up those resources for those who really need them, everyone should do what they can to prepare themselves for periods of disruption. If many peolple are sick, that means truckers who deliver your food, airline pilots who deliver your prescription drugs and people who supply spare parts to water treatment plants. If you have extra food, prescription drugs and a source of water you won't be caught short. Corporations who wish to remain solvent through a pandemic should also consider these things for their employees.
3. Pandemics have happened and will happen again. They are not the end of the world, but (as we learned in 1918) can disrupt normal supply chains and work conditions to various degrees in several month-long waves over the course of a year or so. It is possible to prepare for these disruptions, and prudent to do so.
The proper place for pandemic planning is at the individual level, the family level, the corporate level, the community level, the local government, county, state, national and international levels. True disaster planning calls for strength and resiliency at all these levels. Nobody's crying calamity or the end of the world, but looking ahead to how you could be more self sufficient for at least a three month period is a prudent thing for all of us to do.
I agree with the general sentiment that you can't rely on the government to swoop in with supplies in the event of an emergency-- at least not for a few weeks.
There is no place in the country that is not susceptible to either: tornado, hurricane, blizzard, earthquake, or flood.
There is no excuse for not having a least two weeks' worth of food and water on hand. This is the responsibility of the family/individual, and not your employer.
For a bird flu pandemic, don't forget to stockpile surgical masks and sterile gloves. I have!
"you live in the safest society in the history of mankind."
Given that I'm not from the USA, I'm actually inclined to.. well, to concede that it's a possibility, at least (I almost said "agree", but then I realised I still can't be sure). ;)
Hum, it should be pointed that:
1) victims of episodes that may be related to avian flue are not showing an explosive trend at all, after decades of knowledge of this disease and years of intense screening;
2) if we look at the death toll in the worst years, it's light even if compared to victims of diseases commonly considered not worrying, like food intoxications, common cold, nose bleeding etc but noone is performing mediatic terrorism on those other topics.
3) the vaccines are higly ineffective and very costly.
Put those things altogeter and you have the picture: in a word where million people dies of malaria and other recurring epidemies (which through human migration are becoming multiple pandemies) that can be avoided by costless medications with expired patens, someone is trying to sell latest and more costly meds covered by costly patents, using media to build the best selling emergency they can think to...
It truly is imperative that organizations strive to be prepared for anything that would be thrown at it. Gartner's conclusion that pretty much no organization is ready is a wide vast statement, but I imagine true.
Business Continuity and Disaster Planning are gaining strides in education organizations and improving, but we could all do ourselves and our organizations a favor by being prepared ourselves. Be ready for that 'rainy day'.
I think there is an (understandable) bias around here for people to put the word "computer" in front of the word "corporation." Hard as it is to believe, many corporations do work unrelated to the computer industry :-).
If you think of corporations in terms of hospitals, water treatment plants, electric and gas utilities, police precincts, fire stations, pharmacies, prisons and other vital services, the recommendation for supply storage takes on a more meaningful significance. Database monkeys like myself can probably stay home, but I'd like the folks at my local water treatment plant to feel they can do their job with a resonable level of security and sanctuary, should they have to be at the plant for long periods of time.
@Flu planner -
Good point, it is often thought of DR and BC directed to organizations using computers, and data centers. The ones you mentioned are critical and could be considered higher priority.
I do feel that all organizations whether using technology heavily or lightly should be prepared for a disaster, such as Avian Bird Flu.
Care to share your suggestions on encrypted data backup?
Specific approaches to disaster planning/preparedness is going to vary wildly depending on your geographic location, the specific types of problems that may occur and what kinds of support and services are provided--or not--in your area. I personally maintain an emergency kit at home that I originally acquired from the local Red Cross. I've updated and expanded it over the years, adjusting the contents of the package based on experience and changes in the region. I periodically review this kit and its contents with my wife (rolls her eyes). This has helped us deal well with our regular fall and winter long term power outages. We do what we can to prepare. We have an idea what we will do and have alternatives.
Great article, but I wish you had also pointed out the contrast in spending for disaster planning and spending for security. In many cases, it's a lot easier to get money for security, which tends to be spent poorly and nets fewer real results. Also, for some situations fixing the security problem is harder or more expensive than simply 'recovering' from it. This is the sort of logic behind Brian Krebs article  on cleaning up a Windows machine or just reinstalling it. I think you have compared disaster planning and security before in several other posts and essays though, so I'm willing to let it slide. :-P
Every disaster is different. Fire, for example - a fire in the building is different than a fire in the datacenter or a fire that takes down the corporate headquarters building. Not to say that disaster planning/training isn't important, but you can easily spend more on being prepared than you could possibly recover if you aren't careful.
Current fatality rate in Indonesia is 80%. There is no vaccine, and there aren't nearly enough anti-viral drugs available - not just in Indonesia, but anywhere in the world. Anyone who is offered Tamiflu should count themselves among the fortunate few.
Find a map showing how many countries had reported positive H5N1 infections a year ago, and then check what it looks like if you add in the areas where the virus has spread in the past year. The spread is obvious.
We've been told pandemic flu could come in 2-3 waves, and for each wave we may be directed to remain in our homes for up to 90 day periods. Wouldn't you think that implies that one should have in one's home every single thing possible that might be needed for those 90 days, at a minimum? I think so.
I don't necessarily believe waves are inevitable. We could have just one long worldwide bout of influenza for a year or so. Meds won't be available, medical care won't be available, food won't be available, and I think it's a good idea to figure out now how you'll obtain water that's fit to drink, in the event of pandemic flu. Staying isolated may be the only way to avoid infection - and with only a 20% survival rate of those recently infected in Indonesia, it seems only prudent.
I don't think it's a certainty - I think it's a possibility, and I know historically flu pandemics have been a recurrent theme. Even a small probability of such a high risk event is significant.
There's a tremendous amount of money being spent and money being lost in the world right now because of this virus, and the old adage "follow the money" applies.
Even the remote possibility (and there is far more than that) of pandemic flu should be taken seriously.
Oh - and forget 'surgical masks'. Worthless.
Minimum protection would be a properly fitted N95.
One common mistakes I see (particuarly among some of my fellow auditors, to blow the whistle on some of my brethren) is their black and white (pass/fail) approach. I've seen auditors have an audit step that says "ensure a success test was performed." That's the wrong mindset. One shouldn't test just to say they tested--if success is the only goal, one may only test what they know will succeed (sadly, often to pacify an auditor).
A true test is one that seeks out points of failure in order to address and correct them. I'm more concerned with the value the tests adds than with the so-called pass/fail mark. A "passed" test that just restores some data is not nearly as valuable as an extensive test that identifies difficulties in processing power, compatibility, executability, etc., and expecially items that were not previously thought about.
If you pass your test, congratulations. Now, instead of simply repeating this test next time, escalate it and test something else that is important you aren't sure of.
On a humorous note, I had one fellow auditor ask me what would happen if nuclear devices were set off at each of our remote locations at the same time (250 miles apart). I told him no one would be left to care, so he should focus on recommending things that may actually help improve the process rather than waste our time addressing something that cannot realistically be addressed.
@Flu Planer Yes our government is currently lousy. Fix it!
Don't just diddle with your fantasies as most of the responders are.
Haha, right, so you're going to put the DC staff in a nice temp controlled environment for 6 weeks?
From experience, that's called a breeding ground.
You're much better off havng multiple sites, or better yet, home working. Obviously the guy who changes the tapes needs to come in twice a day, but even for that people critical staff shouldn't need to physically meet.
> I thought Mormons were required to
Mormons are highly encouraged to keep a year's supply of food and water for their families. Lots of families really do have significant food storage, and many are good at using and rotating the supplies.
But a year's supply is usually thought of as preparation against apocalyptic societal breakdown sort of conditions. In the security vs economy tradeoff, the general populace probably doesn't find a year's supply practical. But one family's year's supply may become a small neighborhood's month's supply, and many Mormons caught in disasters have helped their neighbors.
Mormons are also highly encouraged to maintain a "72 hour kit." The security vs. economy of that is easier for most people to accept. I personally think it would be irresponsible to not be ready for at least three days.
"The proper place for bird flu planning is at the government level."
How disappointingly predictable. With one hand you say "Stop!" and expect Big Brother not to interfere with your privacy, your speech, or your religious practices, while with the other, you beckon BB closer, expecting him to protect you in your time of need and even before disaster stikes, demanding "Save me! Prepare for my needs!"
Yet you stand aghast when the very government agencies you've empowered to share your responsibilities expand their powers beyond their initial purview. How could that possibly happen, right?
The naivete, while at first unfathomable, repeats itself so often that it becomes predictable, and soon can't rightly be called naivete. At some point it becomes thickness.
One wonders when the proponents of such contradiction will choose to see the unvarying consequences that result, time and again.
No one here has yet mentioned customers. For some classes of business with customers only in the local area (for example, non-food retailing), there's little need to plan to operate during a disaster because there will be no customers to serve. These outfits would be far better served merely to plan to restart business after a disaster rather than to continue to operate while the local situation is severely degraded.
You're right. If the gov't can't handle Katrina, how will they handle something really big?
So what's your organization's business continuity plan for a megaton meteor strike? Or a bird flu pandemic?
And you're right again about how, if we left this planning to the gov't, they'd be forced to expand their powers. How could they prevent a flu pandemic without suspending habeas corpus, or prevent a meteor strike without wiretapping everybody who's been in contact with somebody who knows somebody who has a friend who's been to Pakistan?
> With one hand you say "Stop!" and expect Big Brother not to
> interfere with your privacy, your speech, or your religious practices,
> while with the other, you beckon BB closer, expecting him to
> protect you in your time of need.
I don't understand why these two classes of activity are regarded as incompatible in your mind.
How does "keep out of my private affairs" limit government's ability to "protect in time of need"? On the flip side, why do you regard it as logically inconsistent to say, "Please bail me out in case of regional disaster, because it is impossible for me to prepare for this" while simultaneously saying "Please don't waste your resources infringing on my religious beliefs, which provides me no benefit".
Regional disaster planning *has* to be handled at a governmental level (and it must be handled much better than it currently is). If you have a city of 1 million people without resources for 90 days, no individual methodology can compensate. You, as an individual, can attempt to lay in 90 days worth of supplies, but on day 3 when people are dying of dehydration, a mob is going to be outside your door looking to raid your water supply. If you have enough ammunition to keep them out, do you have enough to keep out wave two, four days later, which is composed of people starving to death? How about the successive waves?
You cannot assume that any significant percentage of the population is going to take the same precautions that you do, which means you're going to have to not only be able to provide for yourself for the duration of the disaster, you're going to have to provide for yourself plus some dauntingly large proportion of the citizenry, or you're going to run out of bullets for your guns.
Individual disaster preparedness is a good idea, but you're kidding yourself if you think Lone Wolf McQuaid can survive a disaster relying only upon his own preparations.
@ Pat Cahalan
How does "keep out of my private affairs" limit government's ability to "protect in time of need"? On the flip side, why do you regard it as logically inconsistent to say, "Please bail me out in case of regional disaster, because it is impossible for me to prepare for this" while simultaneously saying "Please don't waste your resources infringing on my religious beliefs, which provides me no benefit".
It's not logically inconsistent to say it. It's logically inconsistent to expect government agencies to DO it. This assumes you've seen evidence of how government agencies operate in practice. Once you've observed such operations, you (with hope) can glean enough empirical data to make some general conclusions. Then, you apply the rules of logic.
Need proof? Start here: http://tinyurl.com/28fnou
"Regional disaster planning *has* to be handled at a governmental level.."
No it doesn't. No government agency can plan for your individual needs as well as you can. This assumes you're not a child, and that you don't have a child-like mind. In those case, parents will do a better job than a government agency. When there are no parents, then grandparents, or aunts and uncles. When there are no relatives, close family friends do a better job than government agencies.
"If you have a city of 1 million people without resources for 90 days, no individual methodology can compensate."
Wow. You haven't put much creative thought into that claim, have you? I'll give you a hint where to start: how did anyone in history survive longer than 90 days at a time when no government was around to "save" them? Start there.
"...[mobs dying of dehydration]"
The only reason there would be mobs dying of dehydration is because they failed to plan for their own 90-day need for water, thinking "That's the government's job! Not mine!" In other words, if they took your advice, they could easily wind up dead.
"You cannot assume that any significant percentage of the population is going to take the same precautions that you do.."
That's right, I can't. And I don't. You do. I never said that people won't act stupidly. I said it's bad to recommend that people act stupidly. It's bad to tell them that a paternalistic government is, and should be, their savior, and is waiting to adequately serve their needs when the time comes. Good Lord, Pat. How many Katrinas do you need to learn that fact? Wow.
"...you're going to have to provide for yourself plus some dauntingly large proportion of the citizenry, or you're going to run out of bullets for your guns."
How silly. Why would you think that I would advertise my own preparedness and geographic address, so that in the event of a disaster, mobs would know to come to my home to try to take my supplies? A few might know, and a few might come, but how in the world would a "dauntingly large proportion" of them have ever even heard of my or know of my existence? They don't. And they won't.
"Individual disaster preparedness is a good idea, but you're kidding yourself if you think Lone Wolf McQuaid can survive a disaster relying only upon his own preparations."
Heh heh. Just watch them survive. The McQuaids will do just fine.
It's you and I, whom I worry about, Pat. I'll be one of the starving mob, out roaming the streets with you, crying "Where's the Federal Aid? Where's the food? The medicine? The water? Where's my savior?
Because you've convinced me, and I'm gonna go trash my stockpile.
@Sez Me: A true test is one that seeks out points of
failure in order to address and correct them.
How true! When I worked in a company building medical
ventilators, one of our biggest efforts was devoted to
getting everyone to develop test plans that seriously probed
our weakest areas. I've got the same situation at home.
When I do some 120V work, I have to force myself to pull
_really hard_ on the wires coming out of a wire nut. Part
of me wants to say it's fine, though dealing with a failure
later is far, far worse than dealing with one now.
@Pat Cahalan: [...] on day 3 [...] a mob is going to be
outside your door looking to raid your water supply.
One of our biggest weaknesses is the U.S. ``loners show
the greatest strength'' mentality. If you're serious about
medium-scale disaster planning (multi-week loss of services,
serious flu pandemic, &c.), the first thing to do is go over
to the next house and introduce yourself. Start getting the
neighborhood thinking about it. If even a quarter of the
people do some decent planning, and the rest know the folks
three doors down, you're much less likely to have to shoot
Another thing that belies the bunker mentality is that in
any disaster, from a five-hour freeway stall to 9/11, most
people spontaneously help others close to them.
Wow, apparently you didn't read my post at all.
C> The only reason there would be mobs dying of dehydration is because they failed
C> to plan for their own 90-day need for water, ...In other words, if they took your
C> advice, they could easily wind up dead.
Er, no. I never said, "Don't prepare for disaster". (I actually did say: "Individual disaster preparedness is a good idea"). I have a fully prepped earthquake kit, for example, and I have indeed made pretty decent plans for regional-wide disaster. However, you seem to think that if you tell a group of people to prepare, that they'll all prepare. That's just crazy talk.
This is demonstrably not the case. Virtually all of the people that live in Los Angeles currently were here for Northridge; a staggeringly high percentage of them don't have earthquake kits. Why not?
PC> "You cannot assume that any significant percentage of the population is going
PC> to take the same precautions that you do.."
C> That's right, I can't. And I don't. You do.
I do? I thought I made it pretty clear that no, I assume that almost all of the population is going to be unprepared. I flatly disagree with the statement that they're unprepared because "they failed to plan for their own 90-day need for water, thinking 'That's the government's job! Not mine!'".
People are unprepared because most human beings, by their nature, don't plan for disaster, period. I've asked people why they don't have an earthquake kit, and not one of them has ever said, "Because the government will take care of me", they've all said something to the effect of, "I just haven't gotten around to it."
So, I assume that I can prepare all that I want, but most people won't prepare. And when they're under the gargantuan level of stress that comes from having their home destroyed, possibly friends and relatives killed, and they haven't eaten in three days, they're going to be a dangerous mob.
Now, if you live in a small town, maybe you can comfort yourself by knowing that you can gun down all of them. I live in Los Angeles; they outnumber me by the millions.
C> Why would you think that I would advertise my own preparedness and geographic
C> address, so that in the event of a disaster, mobs would know to come to my
C> home to try to take my supplies? A few might know, and a few might come, but
C> how in the world would a "dauntingly large proportion" of them have ever even
C> heard of my or know of my existence? They don't. And they won't.
I'd admire your confidence, there, but I think you're kidding yourself. A mob of hungry people are going to smash through houses at random looking for something to eat; any mob is going to be more interested in finding something to eat than putting out that raging fire that is burning down your neighborhood (and your house, and your supplies); unless the only people you know are rugged individual survivalists, once one relative shows up and knows that you've got food, word is going to leak out, because as Terry points out, many people spontaneously help others close to them.
C> Just watch them survive. The McQuaids will do just fine.
Maybe if you live in a rural area. If you live in Los Angeles, you're just as likely to be killed (or have your supplies destroyed) by the ancilliary effects of mob rule and general lack of support facilities.
Where I work our disaster plan consists of going to the pub.
It worked in 'Shaun of the Dead' so we see no reason why it shouldn't work in case of a flu pandemic/badger invasion.
First - Glad to see some comments. The computer world articles where recommended but had few to no comments.
Second: being prepared for one disaster helps you with a second - like thousand of people in Britian who are without clean water.
Third: when TSHTF do you want people to fall into action or start exchanging business cards asking "So what do you do?" Tyson foods has taken the lead saying "we know about it and are making our stuff safe" Some will profit or suffer and preparedness is key.
When problems strike it is better to be doing something for the third or fourth time than trying to do it for the first time.
Fourth: The CIO of citibank at a Fred Friendly discussion said "yea we have plans for CEO, CIO, CFO, board of directors but found out we had no plans to keep the ATM machins and card processing centers staffed."
Fith: many folks have blogged on how to keep six months of food and water at home. Eveything from where to store stuff to putting a lock on the door to keep the kids from raiding the supplies.
September is National preparedness month.
Last: FEMA says "People do not come to work when family is ill or in danger." Snow storm, hurricane, earthquake, etc.
Quit feeding the troll, baby. Cake isn't adding anything meaningful to the conversation, and your replies, while just stating the obvious, aren't getting through. The pair of you are putting unnecessary strain on my scroll wheel.
> Current fatality rate in Indonesia is 80%.
That 80% fatality rate is out of just 100 cases in 3 years. One possible explanation is that the disease is so extremely rare, only severe cases get reported. Notably, of the 6 countries which have so far reported human infections in more than 1 year, Indonesia is the only one which has not shown a strong downward trend in the mortality rate. This could not be explained by evolution to reduced virulence, since so few potential hosts have been killed. Either it is due to increased surveillance raising the reporting of infections (and hence, lowering the % who die), or it is due to the fatality rate dropping precipitously once elementary treatment is routinely provided. Either way, it looks as though the true mortality rate with basic hospital care is around 25% -- still highish, but actually not that much higher than "normal" flu.
> There is no vaccine,
This is true only in a very wierd sense. There are in fact no less than 28 vaccines undergoing approval testing for the current strain of "avian flu", HPAI A(H5N1). However, that strain has such low human infectivity that it couldn't possibly result in a pandemic. When various alarmists talk about an avian flu pandemic, they are talking about a hypothetical future mutation of HPAI A(H5N1) that has higher human infectivity. Since this virus is hypothetical, obviously no vaccine exists for it yet.
> and there aren't nearly enough anti-viral drugs available - not just in Indonesia, but anywhere in the world. Anyone who is offered Tamiflu should count themselves among the fortunate few.
Apart from what individual governments may have stockpiled, there are 5 million doses of Tamiflu stockpiled as an international resource. Since the grand total of cases so far reported is 313 cases over 4 years, 5 million seems like plenty.
> Find a map showing how many countries had reported positive H5N1 infections a year ago, and then check what it looks like if you add in the areas where the virus has spread in the past year. The spread is obvious.
9 countries reported human infections last year. So far this year, only 6 have. And the total number of new infections per month this year is falling, after leveling off last year. Two of those 6 countries are reporting their first cases (just 3 persons), all the rest have the lowest incidence since it first occurred there.
I'm not disagreeing that people shouldn't take some responsibility for their own emergency preparedness. But there is little to no evidence that "avian flu" is anything more than another journalistic beat-up.
I think Bruce is a bit complacent here.
Katrina should have shown that government is not around to help you when there is a disaster...at least not immediately.
The big problem is that Bird Flu is a long fuse - big bang problem like global warming. Humans tend to react better to short term situations like fires or tigers attacking them. Mentally we have not evolved much since the last ice age.
I suggest having a look at Lee Clarke's works on disaster planning to see why planning for the worst makes sense. And his book Mission Improbable on how most government 'plans' are really fantasy documents that they have no intention of carrying out.
We need to be more resilient individually and as a society.
The only thing you can control in a disaster is yourself.
Jack Mormon wrote:
"the general populace probably doesn't find a year's supply practical."
Keeping a stock of emergency rations enough for a year presents some logistical problems. Unless one stocks MILSPEC MREs and stores them at a cool temperature, most ordinary packages foods don't have a shelf life much longer than a year.
Consider a hypothetical scenario in which the emergency rations have a shelf life of two years and expired stock is replenished on a staggered schedule at six month intervals. Every six months, one quarter of the emergency rations stock, which is food for about 90 days, will be expiring (or have expired, depending on exactly how the inventory is managed). In order not to let soon-to-be-expired emergency rations go to waste, they need to be consumed before they actually expire. That means, on average, one would be eating emergency rations that are more than 1 1/2 years old half of the time, even if there is no emergency.
I don't expect most people to find it an attractive arrangement.
Schnei, very impressive, very well thought out stuff. "Sometimes I think companies should forget about those team building exercises that involve climbing trees and building fires, and instead pretend that a flood has taken out the primary data center." Effing right on, my man. Bullseye.
This article brings to mind the market drop yesterday. Mind you, only the second largest drop . . . not of the last 100 years, not of the decade, not of this century, but, instead, of this year---as in 2007 (311 points yesterday; 400+ just 5 months ago). This current adult generation, unlike the generations of the past (e.g., The Depression, WWII, even the Cold War), are mentally ill-equipped to think about and, therefore, deal with disasters.
In one sense, thank God for it. In another, experiencing a true widespread disaster makes the world look different for the rest of your life.
@Felix Dzerzhinsky: Katrina should have shown that government is not around to help you when there is a disaster...at least not immediately.
We need to be more resilient individually and as a society.
The only thing you can control in a disaster is yourself.
I think as a whole we missed the essential point after Katrina. The essential point being that if we are ill prepared for a disaster that gives us 48 hours notice, then we are even worse prepared for a worse disaster.
Unfortunately, it was too rich of an opportunity for many to beat up their opponents with. Righties wanted mayor Nagan's head, and lefties screamed impeachment against the President.
Bottom line is, everyone failed:
From the individual citizens, who given 48 hours notice that their homes would be underwater should have got out...
To the mayor, who sat on buses with the excuse the he didn't know where to take eveyone (how about north, or somewhere not underwater?)...
To the Governor and President, whose emergency management agencies should have been more effective.
Seems too many started locally, and worked up the ladder until they found someone they didn't like politically to blame. And in doing so missed the essential point--we need to be more prepared, and the next disaster may not give us 48 hours notice.
Sorry about the duplicates. Forgot to put a name, and tried to hit stop.
> Keeping a stock of emergency rations
> enough for a year presents some
> logistical problems.
Indeed it does. But living off MRE's (which tend to have a shelf life of 5-7 years) is not how it's typically done. If you want to see how the Mormons do it, go to http://www.providentliving.org/
"...you seem to think that if you tell a group of people to prepare, that they'll all prepare."
Of course I don't seem to think that. How ridiculous.
"...they're going to be a dangerous mob." "A mob of hungry people are going to smash through houses at random.." "...mob is going to be more interested in finding something to eat..." "...you're just as likely to be killed (or have your supplies destroyed) by the ancilliary effects of mob rule..."
You've got mob on the brain, Pat. It doesn't matter how many times you write the word "mobs" in your postings, Pat. The idea you're advocating remains bad. Let me try to be extra clear why angry mobs will not be a problem for me or people like me. Ready? Here it comes:
They won't find me. At all. Clear?
They aren't gonna burn me down, they aren't gonna smash my windows or knock down my doors.
Pat's response: "But they'll find me! There's millions of them!"
So take full responsibility for your own in-time-of-crisis needs, Pat, and no, I'm not talking about an 'earthquake kit' and a week's supply of food and water. Show some intelligence, and do some serious planning for yourself and your family. Consider moving into or close to a community of like-minded families who HELP each other in times of disaster, even years-long disasters. Don't complain on the one hand that you're sure that mobs will start trashing and burning your community within 72 hours of disaster, while you cry desperately to the government to save you from the consequences of your decision to live there on the other. If you're aware you've made a choice that has some risks associated with it (where you live), take the adult responsibility to ameliorate those risks, instead of demanding that others pay for your risky choice. (You remind me of the people in Florida who expect you and I to pay with our tax dollars to rebuild their house for the fifth time when it gets wiped out by a hurricane, AGAIN.) Grow up.
Pat's response: "But what about the unwashed masses? Millions of them will surely perish! They're too lazy or dumb to plan or prepare for their own survival! They must be saved from themselves!"
Spoken like a true collectivist, Pat. What a shock that you want MY money to pay for the lack of planning and foresight of others. If you'd like to donate a portion of your wealth to subsidize bad choices, please feel free. Stop demanding that I do the same. My wealth is not yours to donate.
It's irresponsible to tell people that a paternalistic government is, and should be, their savior, and is waiting to adequately serve their needs when the time comes. Katrina should have taught you that, Pat. Those who believe in the fairy tale of government as savior repeatedly protest that Katrina-like failures are the exception. But such failures are not the exception Pat; they're the rule. Your advocacy of government agencies is the worst kind of advice, since it creates a false sense of security among the very people whom you seek to save with your transfer payment programs. Stop giving it. You're not helping to take responsibility for themselves. (And you do want to help, don't you?) :)
"You're not helping people to take responsibility for themselves." is what I meant to write in the second to last sentence of the immediately-above post.
"How could they prevent a flu pandemic without suspending habeas corpus, or prevent a meteor strike without wiretapping everybody who's been in contact with somebody who knows somebody who has a friend who's been to Pakistan?"
How could that possibly happen, right?
Couldn't. Government programs never expand to encompass thousands of "directives" beyond their initial purview. Never have, never will.
Okay, you've moved to a survivalist community, presumably hardened against major disaster. You've demonstrated that you are sufficiently afraid of a low-probability event (how many people go through major disasters in their lifetime?) that you're going to shape your life around preparing for it.
Unless we're going to abandon civilization entirely, we're going to have cities, and large numbers of people who live in cities. They will not all prepare on their own, and they will need government action. They won't get all they need from the government, but not all that many will die from it.
If we are going to abandon civilization entirely, we can't possibly support the current world population, and billions of people are going to die. It seems to me that killing billions of people to avoid other disasters that can potentially kill hundreds of thousands is uneconomical.
We aren't at a tech level where we can run an advanced world economy with everybody scattered in little communities, concentrating their efforts on preparing for disasters that probably won't happen.
"...you've moved to a survivalist community [and] you're going to shape your life around preparing for [a major disaster]."
C'mon. Do a little research, won't you? Why must "intelligent planning" necessarily include moving in a nuke-proof bunker and living like cavemen? There are plenty of secure communities within cities in this country.
"They will not all prepare on their own, and they will need government action."
Wrong. While it's true that not all will prepare on their own, and it's more accurate to say that less than 1% will prepare on their own, what they need NOW is planning. That planning need not be government planning. In fact, planning by government agencies will be the poorest type of planning of all the options we've discussed (see my post above - "No government agency can plan for your individual needs as well as you can." )
You've fallen for the idea that the only solution is to REACT, and that it's the job of government officials to provide for the needs of their children-citizens AFTER THE FACT. That's one way to deal with disasters. A poor way. Planning ahead is much better.
"If we are going to abandon civilization..."
What an absurd suggestion. Why we would we do that?
"preparing for disasters that probably won't happen."
It doesn't matter if the disaster doesn't happen. The government agencies in charge of disaster relief take on a life of their own and demand billions of tax dollars. Billions aer then wasted. My gosh, don't you have Internet access? (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14502390/ , http://www.foxnews.com/story/... , "The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer, congressional investigators have found."
"We aren't at a tech level where we can run an advanced world economy with everybody scattered in little communities..."
We do it already. Ever heard of commuting? How many people do you know who walk to work? (None.) Telecommuting is already an option for many.
But again, we need not abandon cities. There are safe areas in cities, and if there aren't any in your city, such areas can be created (where do you think the first ones came from?) Or you can choose to move to a safer city.
For those who choose to work and live in communities where "the mob rules (or where they believe the mob will rule shortly after a disaster strikes), then that is a CHOICE they have made, one which entails a certain degree of RISK. If it's too much risk, then they should make a different choice.
But just as I don't ask you to pay for (subsidize) the risky choices I make for MY life, don't ask me to pay for a type of restitutive insurance that would (or wouldn't, as we saw with Katrina) pay for the risky choices that you make in YOUR life, or that other people make in theirs.
> Keeping a stock of emergency rations enough for a year presents some logistical problems.
Yes it does, but they are not as severe as you seem to think.
> Unless one stocks MILSPEC MREs and stores them at a cool temperature, most ordinary packages foods don't have a shelf life much longer than a year.
This is simply not true. The effective shelf life of packaged foodstuffs varies considerably, but there are many very common and inexpensive ones which are considerably more than a year, even at room temperature. For example, MOST tinned goods have a shelf life of at least two years, quite a few as much as 5 years, and some much longer. Apart from tinned goods, there are many other common foodstuffs with a room temperature shelf life greater than a year: chocolate, coffee, some types of flour, Jello, honey, pasta, instant noodles, rice, soup sachets, freeze-dried instant meals, most cooking oils, sugar, salt, peanut butter, even some firm cheeses (whilst still sealed), etc. etc. And this is just at room temperature; with refrigeration the list expands again, as almost any material that can be refrigerated has its shelf-life considerably increased. Many groups collect and distribute detailed information on the subject for those who are interested. (The one thing you will really miss out on is vitamin C from fresh fruit, but fortunately some vitamin C supplements have an unrefrigerated shelf life of 36 months!)
> Consider a hypothetical scenario in which the emergency rations have a shelf life of two years and expired stock is replenished on a staggered schedule at six month intervals.
There's one problem right there: don't replenish it at 6 month intervals. Rotate constantly, every time you buy groceries. This makes the process almost completely painless.
> Every six months, one quarter of the emergency rations stock, which is food for about 90 days, will be expiring (or have expired, depending on exactly how the inventory is managed).
Ah, no there is a big misunderstanding here. If you are stockpiling a year's worth of food (which is what was recommended), and rotating every six months (which is not a good idea), then on each rotation you will need to use half your stockpile, not a quarter. It doesn't matter that the stockpile could potentially last two years. Most people actually rotate every time they buy groceries, or at least monthly.
> In order not to let soon-to-be-expired emergency rations go to waste, they need to be consumed before they actually expire. That means, on average, one would be eating emergency rations that are more than 1 1/2 years old half of the time, even if there is no emergency.
Bzzt, no, big misunderstanding. If you have a 12 month stockpile and rotate monthly it actually means that your stored goods will be 11~12 months old when consumed. Since the types of goods stored in this way typically have a shelf-life of more than 24 - 60 months, often extended to 36 to 90 months by storage in a partially refrigerated cool store, eating them after 11 months does not cause any problems at all. In fact, you probably already come much closer to this than you realise, simply by grabbing the cans from the front of the stack at the supermarket!
1. A couple of years is good for normal store bought rice kept dry and protected from insects and vermin. But most cereals, if packaged carefully, can be kept for decades! Of course, you aren't actually going to store a 30 year supply of wheat.
2. Actually, 3 months is a more common recommendation. 12 months is considered quite a bit more dedicated. In most actual disasters, a "12 month supply" is more usually used for helping out neighbours for a couple of weeks.
3. People who are dedicated to this sort of thing sometimes band together for a monthly bulk purchase to rotate into the stockpile. That gives enough buying power to get wholesale prices, and makes stockpiling considerably cheaper than "normal" weekly grocery shopping.
My head hurts from all that insane detail you've outlined, Roger! Who could possibly understand the difference between 3 months and 12 months?
Wouldn't it just be easier to let FEMA do all my food planning for me, and let them store my stock of emergency rations? Who wants the hassle of taking responsibility for my own life! Ugh!
I can count on the FEMA guys instead, right?
The lesson from Katrina and September 11th is that the US government regards its citizens as expendable and is manifestly unwilling to protect them from disaster or attack. The solution is not to devolve civilization into self-sufficient survivalist camps. The solution is to get a better government.
Not including any Republicans in the executive branch would be a bloody good start.
@Anonymous at July 28, 2007 05:33 PM
: "The lesson from Katrina and September 11th is that the US government regards its citizens as expendable and is manifestly unwilling to protect them from disaster or attack. The solution is not to devolve civilization into self-sufficient survivalist camps. The solution is to get a better government.
Not including any Republicans in the executive branch would be a bloody good start."
Cheap, partisan political shot. I don't think anyone on either side of the aisle sees citizens as expendable, it's just that their approach is misguided.
Anything useful to contribute? Or do you prefer to just slam people whose politics you disagree with?
Sometimes I think that it's just too hard to get started with food storage. You've got to think about where to put it, how to keep track of it, and if you've never eaten from a bucket of wheat it's a bit intimidating. I've got 2 sisters who don't prepare for anything, and honestly don't see the need to. Since I'm the brother with the truck, I've helped them move everything from households to statues. I used to try to convince them to make some simple preparations, but never got anywhere.
Then it hit me. They just weren't going to. It didn't matter if they thought I was a nut, were uncomfortable thinking about it, or truly believed that FEMA would rescue them, they just weren't going to.
So I did. One of my brother in laws likes wine. I let him talk me into helping him build a wine cellar. It's gorgeous, with about $3,000 worth of wine racks and a cooler/conditioner to keep the conditions right. It's also got a base structure of 12 inches of ferro-cement over a ICF core (insulated concrete form). Since we were redoing the basement anyway, it's built against a new pantry that's about 10'x'10'. It took us all winter to finish, but they've got a pantry, wine cellar, (and fallout shelter), and only used 1/3 of their basement.
I spent about $1,500 of my money, but got to teach my daughter and nieces how to smack concrete! A year later, about the time I noticed that the pantry was much, much fuller, my other sister asked me if I'd build her a one.
If they came to my house hungry, I'd take them in. They're family. I figure that this is easier on everybody in the short run, and in the long run money is not as important to me as my family.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.