Matthew Stein: When Disaster Strikes

With major hurricanes in our immediate past, present & future, the topic of how to prepare for a natural disaster is an extremely timely one. The right advance preparations can literally mean the difference between life and death.

And of course, hurricanes aren't the only reasons to prepare for an emergency. As emergencies can be naturally-caused -- like a flood, tornado or earthquake -- or man-made -- such as a financial crisis, social unrest, or war -- everyone listening to this podcast has a vested interest in taking steps today to reduce their vulnerability should one of these unfortunate events occur where they live in the future.

So, to make sense of which steps are most important to take soonest when preparing for a major disaster, we've invited Matthew Stein back on the program.

Mat is a design engineer, green builder, and author of the two bestselling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency.

On this week's podcast, Mat details his recommended steps for those facing imminent threat of crisis (Hurricane Irma), those with more time to prepare for one (Hurricane Jose), and those dealing with the aftermath of disaster (Hurricane Harvey).

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Mat Stein (54m:04s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Here are links to the resources mentioned in the podcast:

Well we are about to have a direct hit from Irma. We are pretty well prepared but learned some very valuable lessons. Don’t underestimate how much people will panic or worse just become zombies wandering around unable to make a decision. Anything and everything of value will become unavailable almost immediately.
Don’t count on all government agencies to be well organized and prepared. Mine was not!
After this is over I will work on improving plan A staying in place with better organization, a boat and dirt bike as mentioned. More water tight storage containers for our suppliers and definitely some kind of dolly or carts to quickly move supplies from one location to another or to a vehicle. Good set of radios for communication.
I will definitely develop a plan B and C! B will be some kind of storage unit with supplies within a few hours drive. C will include something in a different state.
We have a estimated six million people leave for this storm.

Stein started to talk about climate but the subject was immediately changed. Interesting.

At least 32 people have been arrested across Florida for trying to loot empty businesses and homes that have been evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Irma - 28 alone in Miami, according to local authorities.
For the criminal underclass (those inclined to regularly engage in crime as a normal part of life), a natural disaster is an opportunity because police are either overwhelmed with massive needs or absent altogether. As soon as the criminal underclass sense that police will not or cannot respond, they spring into action, committing whatever crimes appeal to them and their favored criminal acts. And you can be absolutely sure that the number of crimes committed during a natural disaster vastly outnumbers the crimes that are actually reported to the police. Protecting yourself, your loved ones and your property becomes much more urgent and difficult under these conditions. Criminals become much bolder than usual and the average citizen is surprised to see how vicious others can be when not inhibited by the fear of capture and punishment by the police. Law abiding citizens have to cope with the emboldened criminals by adjusting their strategies to rely nearly 100% on themselves and their neighbors rather than on the police. That is a huge adjustment for many people, and there are many who simply can't or won't take personal responsibility for their safety no matter the circumstances. Many people are obvious and easy marks for criminals in disaster situations. One adjustment that nearly always works is for citizens to take the actions necessary to make the criminals replace their fear of the police with their fear of armed and determined-to-resist citizens. Openly armed citizens who look willing to defend themselves and their property are almost always given a wide berth by even the most determined criminals. Criminals don't want to get hurt or killed by armed citizens, and they know there are plenty of vacant properties and unarmed victims around so it doesn't make any sense to go head to head with armed citizens. Some citizens simply guard their own properties; others get organized and defend whole neighborhoods. Another strategic change citizens have to make is to make sure they and their property is protected in a way that assumes no police response or a very slow response. In a jurisdiction where the average police response time to a burglary call is 5 minutes, a home or business owner knows all they have to do is hide or protect their valuables well enough for a criminal not be able to make off with them during those 5 minutes. A burglary alarm is usually sufficient for that purpose as very few burglars will stay in a house or business stealing valuables for 3-4 minutes and planning to escape with 1-2 minutes to spare. In a natural disaster, a property has to be physically much more difficult to enter because the burglars are going to assume they have as much time as they need to make entry and steal valuables. The two teen burglars in this excerpt from the above article roamed through a neighborhood with a tool to break glass while looking for houses the windows and doors of which were not boarded up with plywood. In their case, it still worked out poorly for them:
Marvell Parkinson, 18, and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida home.
Marvell Parkinson, 18, (pictured) and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida, home

Marvell Parkinson, 18, (pictured) and a 17-year-old boy were arrested by Polk County Sheriff's Office for burglarizing an empty Lake Wales, Florida, home

A witness noticed that two suspects were at the back of her neighbor's home on Friday around 1.45pm on Beverly Drive.

They ran when they noticed her but were taken into custody.

According to the deputies, the 17-year-old suspect had a window punch in his pocket.

He told them that they had walked through the neighborhood until they located a house that had not been boarded up.

Some criminals rose above their peers in creativity and viciousness, and would be much more difficult to cope with:

A utility company near Orlando is reporting that residents are complaining of looters posing as utility workers who rob homeowners at gunpoint

A steel security door through which you could interview someone at your door claiming to be from the utility company, if used properly, would in most cases permit you to discover if they were imposters rather quickly. Most of these kinds of robbers and con men put little to no effort into preparation and instead rely on the average person's gullibility and their own ability to tell a convincing story about why they should be granted entry into your house. Almost none carry a realistic looking ID card or wear a realistic looking uniform. Most just walk up to the door and try to talk their way in. Others may do as little as put on an orange reflective vest (most with no company name on it). Use the steel security door and conduct a thorough interview. If in doubt, call the utility company to verify the person's employment. And by all means, go to answer the door openly armed (See for a discussion and video on how to use a steel security door to prevent a robbery or home invasion that starts at your front door.)

For the positive perspective on disaster situations read “A Paradise Built in Hell” by Rebecca Solnit

Keratin event
That should be “Carrington event”

I wanted to second richcabot’s recommendation of Rebecca Solnit’s “A Paradise Built in Hell”.
this essay “In Haiti, Words Can Kill” puts a new spin on the concept of looting after major disasters. “We need to banish the word looting from the English language,” she writes, “It incites madness and obscures realities.” She challenges the media for perpetrating the image of the lawless looter after the earthquake in Haiti. “Immediate personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster,” Solnit argues. The problem with a hyped-up view of looting, she maintains, is the inevitable emphasis on protecting private property over saving human lives, a situation that led to multiple, avoidable tragedies in Haiti and New Orleans."…
Stachybotrys is terrible. That was my first thought after the flooding in Houston: all the folks unwittingly getting exposed to mycotoxins. BTW, I think Matt misspoke by saying the mold was in his his wife’s blood…likely it was elevated antibody titer to the mold or a detectable level of mycotoxin the mold makes. I don’t treat mold patients, but do know of Rich Shoemaker and cholestyramine treatment. When you combine chronic mold exposure with other co-morbidities (chronic low grade infections, metabolic syndrome) and the toxic soup in flood waters: synthetic pesticides, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, etc. that is a recipe for the canaries in the mine to get sick for sure. By canaries I mean folks who are susceptible either through genetic mutations that hinder ability to clear mycotoxins or peacefully co-exist with mycotoxins.

In addition to the excellent preparation piece for emergencies that Adam linked too, I would add physical preparations. One of the blessing/curses of cheap oil has been our addiction to comfort. We shield ourselves from the heat and humidity with air-conditioned spaces wherever we go. In a loss of power, many people get uncomfortable very fast because they are no longer heat adapted. It can be deadly for the elderly.
Most people, less than 70 yo, even boomers with underlying cardiovascular can safely adapt to at least some increased heat and humidity via the therapeutic use of sauna, hot bathing, spending time judicously (proper clothing, evaporative cooling with damp clothing, hydration, pacing, rest, shade) in the heat and even exercise in the heat as long as they understand their limits and don’t over do it. Your ability to sweat and thermoregulate can be improved with practice.

What does not bode well is the prediction that due to climate change, it will become so humid in some parts of the world, even young, healthy people will die due to lack of ability to rely on evaporative cooling…it will simply be too wet for your sweat to evaporate.

“Appropriating” food, water, and necessities after a disaster may not best be described as “looting.” However, let’s keep the word “looting” in the English language because sometimes it DOES apply to what people are doing in the midst of a disaster.

I've been in a shoe store after it's been looted. You know what's left over? Work boots.