With its remote location and dependence on the
uninterrupted flow of supplies from the lower 48 states, the Governor of Alaska
has made disaster readiness a hallmark of his administration.
Gov. Sean Parnell worries a major earthquake or
volcanic eruption could leave the state’s 720,000 residents stranded
and cut off from food and supply lines. His answer: Build giant warehouses
full of emergency food and supplies, just in case.
For some in the lower 48, it may seem like an
extreme step. But Parnell says this is just Alaska.
“We have a different motivation to do this, because
help is a long ways away,” said John Madden, Alaska’s
emergency management director.
The state plans two food stockpiles in or near
Fairbanks and Anchorage, two cities that also have military bases.
Construction on the two storage facilities will begin this fall, and the
first food deliveries are targeted for December. The goal is to have enough
food to feed 40,000 people for up to a week, including three days of
ready-to-eat meals and four days of bulk food that can be prepared and cooked
for large groups. To put that number into perspective, Alaska’s largest
city, Anchorage, has about 295,000 people, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau, and Juneau, its third largest, about 31,000.
It’s not unusual for states that routinely
experience hurricanes or other large-scale disasters to have supplies like
water, ready-to-eat meals, cots and blankets. But Alaska is interested in
stocking food with at least a five-year shelf life that meets the
nutrition, health and cultural requirements of the state’s unique
An estimated 90 percent of commodities entering
Alaska are delivered through the Port of Anchorage. Air service is also a
critical link to the outside world and generally the only way to reach many
rural communities. A volcanic blast emitting a large amount of smoke and ash
could disrupt supply lines by air and water for an extended period, Madden
said, and an earthquake could knock out airport runways or ports. Those are
just some of the disasters that might require emergency supplies.
State officials have been working to encourage
individual responsibility, with talks at schools and public gatherings.
Emergency management officials plan to have a booth at the Alaska State Fair.
A statewide disaster drill is planned for October.
Over the past year, the state has acquired or
purchased water purification units and generators designed to work in cold
climates, including units that could power facilities like hospitals, Madden
said. Officials also are determining what the state needs in terms of
emergency medical supplies and shelter, he said.
Alaska’s Governor understands the fragility of
modern just-in-time supply lines, and rather than leaving his state completely
unprepared for a disaster as Louisiana did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he is taking
steps to have at least the bare necessities on hand in the event of a
Of note is that the State will only be stockpiling
about five days worth of food and critical supplies
for its population. Definitely a good start, but certainly not enough for any
prolonged disaster that may strike their ports or the Continental United
States. That’s why they are urging individuals to take it upon
themselves to prepare as well.
As we have seen with every major disaster in the
world over the last century, when an emergency strikes the government will be
overwhelmed. Help will
not be on the way –
police, medical personnel and local government could potentially disappear in
a serious emergency as first responders would go home to be with their
families, or simply be out of contact due to downed communication lines.
Like Alaska, every American should prepare for
the absence of government assistance and create a well rounded preparedness plan to deal with the aftermath of a disaster, whether
natural or man-made.