September is National Preparedness Month, a designation that prompts government and other entities to issue worthy announcements encouraging citizens to prepare for the emergency situations that can arise in Alaska.
“Disaster preparedness is every Alaskans’ personal responsibility,” according to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s announcement regarding National Preparedness Month.
We agree that individual and family preparedness is important in Alaska.
“In the last few years we have experienced the 2018 Cook Inlet Earthquake, COVID-19 pandemic, and the 8.2 magnitude Chignik Earthquake,” Division Director Bryan Fisher said in the prepared statement. “The need for Alaskans to prepare for disasters has never been clearer.”
And it might be even more important in Alaska because of unique conditions here — although we’ve been amazed this week at the damage wrought by Hurricane Ida from Louisiana to New York City, not to mention the massive Caldor wildfire in California.
The division announcement noted that although individuals in the Lower 48 should be prepared to be self-sufficient for three days, Alaska emergency managers recommend that Alaskans be prepared to “shelter-in-place for two weeks or more.”
That’s because of the “frequency, variety and magnitude of Alaska’s disasters,” sub-zero temperatures in some areas, the remote nature of Alaska communities and “reliance on fragile supply lines,” according to the division’s announcement.
The “reliance on fragile supply lines” concept caught our attention.
As we recently noted in this space, Ketchikan and many other places in the U.S. are experiencing emptier store shelves because of pandemic-related supply chain issues that don’t appear to have an end in sight. The previous sense that today’s empty shelf will be stocked by tomorrow no longer feels true.
We’re reminded that an island community that’s at least 600 miles from Lower 48 supply ports (although just 90 miles from access to the North American road system and a major North America-Asia cargo port at Prince Rupert, British Columbia) could be susceptible to the sort of “fragile supply line” referenced by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
We’re also reminded of an extraordinary document drafted by Ketchikan City Council Member Mark Flora and discussed by the Ketchikan City Council in September of 2020.
“Ketchikan Food Security” was five pages long, with an additional template from the Alaska Food Policy Council and Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Alaska Fairbanks for measuring community food resilience and outlining procedures and resources that would be available to the community in the event of a food emergency.
"Food security is not political," Flora wrote in the Sept. 17, 2020, document. “The primary rationale for bringing this to the community and city council has its basis in these extraordinary times. A year ago, if anyone had said that our community would see no cruise ship tourism, that statement would have been met with disbelief. What we have learned, at the least, is that what once we thought impossible now must be considered.
“While our local barge service has been uninterrupted, it is not prudent to dismiss that a future unanticipated event could leave our island community short of basic needs such as food,” Flora continued. “It is time to consider a municipal food storage program that could provide food security to residents, especially our elders, children and those struggling to provide for themselves and their families. We already store large volumes of fuel and heating oil, and food security preparedness could be essential if an interruption of barge and/or air service were to occur. We have already seen shortages in our local stores as the pandemic has unfolded, and the timeline to a return to "normal," whatever that may be, has yet to be determined.”
The document doesn’t raise a sense of panic — nor do we have that sort of sense now, one year later. What the document does do is encourage planning toward the accumulation and storage of a non-perishables food supply, and notes that development of a program also could be a catalyst for the community coming together and working toward a common goal.
The council discussed the concept at some length during its Sept. 17, 2020 council meeting but didn’t proceed further. One of the concepts raised was that encouraging people to take care of themselves would the correct approach.
It certainly is vitally important — and many Ketchikan residents have ample stocks of emergency goods, as well as home freezers and shelves of locally harvested seafood, venison and other subsistence foods.
But there remains something to be said for the potential of a community-wide capability. Ketchikan has another year of experience with the circumstances noted by Council Member Flora. His “Ketchikan Food Security” document remains available on the City of Ketchikan website for the Sept. 17, 2020, meeting of the Ketchikan City Council — and it continues to be good food for thought.