Victoria was inundated with water yet again, which is devastating for those who are in the thick of it and may have consequences for the State as a whole.

Traralgon flood (The Age 06/06/12)

The government has assured Victorians there is no threat to power supplies after floodwaters began spilling into  the Yallourn open-cut coal mine, forcing the adjoining power station to operate on a reduced capacity.

The Yallourn mine has suffered ”significant leakage” since the nearby Morwell River burst its banks, affecting a conveyor system used to transport coal to the Yallourn Power Station, which supplies 22 per cent of the state’s electricity supply and eight per cent of the national electricity market. Read more:

There are infrastructure shocks in all countries at all times. Some countries are better prepared than others, usually because they have patchy service delivery at the best of times, others (usually Western countries) come to a complete standstill. We were living in the UK during the 2000 driver’s strike in which they blockaded fuel depots and the populace panicked and bought fuel which in turn meant there was none to be had about three days into the strike. This affected food availability as people started to panic buy and it seemed to take a long time for the Government to control the situation or enact a rationing regime. Coming from Australia which had regular odds and evens days for fuel buying when I was growing up, this seemed ridiculous. We had gone on a driving holiday from York to Cornwall and so were holed up in the very south of the country which was not a bad place to be. This experience probably sensitised me to the potential for infrastructure disruption, as I had experienced problems with gas when a Victorian plant had exploded the year before which resulted in me having to take cold showers when 6 months pregnant in the middle of a Melbourne winter with no heating. Now for those of you who deal with infrastructure issues on a daily basis, these are small issues but as the French heatwave deaths in 2003 demonstrated, many people are not prepared for climatic extremes.

Over the past couple of years, I have been investigating these issues and we have started at a domestic level to make some adjustments to the food we eat, our level of self-sufficiency and awareness of possible risks. There is plenty of information available on the web such as this from the US (opens a pdf) which gives great advice on how to deal with food in the event of a prolonged power outage – the problem is you won’t have power to access it! So what do you need and where do you store it? Sharon Astyk has some interesting links on what you might think about in terms of keeping a basic kit, she also has some interesting info on the storage and preservation of food – what to store and how to store it. I did her food preservation course a couple of years ago and it was well worth the time and money if only to force me to take a hard look at our diet and think about what we would be like if suddenly something happened which meant our ‘normal’ food was not available. Identifying bulk food sources, thinking about how much food and other essentials you might need in a crisis and having the ability to swing into action are all great provisioning behaviours, which is a key part of successful foresight thinking.

You don’t need to be a survivalist but you do need to think about how long you could operate in your home without electricity.

This type of thinking is also important when it comes to organisations, especially those who care for other people. In the Victorian floods during early 2011, there were significant issues with getting people evacuated from aged care facilities and hospitals. The good news stories were those facilities which were well situated, had emergency power and food supplies as vulnerable people were able to stay put. Many people on  pensions live in the rural areas of Australia as the cost of living can be cheaper, this means that they are at forefront of the impacts of natural disasters, and as the Hurricane Katrina experience demonstrated – those who have money leave, those who can’t afford it stay in the disaster area and need the most help. ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ by Rebecca Solnit talks about this and other disasters such as the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. She points out that through disasters the best of humankind can be on show “disaster reveals what the world could be like – reveals the strength of that hope, that generosity and that solidairty. It reveals mutual aid as a default operating principle and civil society as something waiting in the wings.” (p313)

Are you prepared? Would you know where to start?

Is your organisation prepared? Do you have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place? Could you operate with your staff working from home or without access to the internet for a period of time?