Learning from Japan – embracing the seven tasks of self-reliance


Editor’s Note:

After Japan, people are asking what they can do to prepare for emergencies.  In the media we see that millions near the epicenter are struggling with obtaining the basics of life – food, water and adequate shelter, while the rest of their nation is coping with rolling blackouts, interruptions to work and transportation, and a growing concern with radiation.

Closer to home, our ears are ringing with admonitions from the Red Cross and the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management:  “Be prepared to survive in place for seven days,” or “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

In response, Graham’s Self Reliant Community, which has grown from six people sitting around a kitchen table four years ago, to now, sixty families packing the Graham Fire House, has developed a list of seven tasks that can help anyone increase their emergency preparedness.

These tasks are:  have a well with a hand pump – or stockpile water, know your neighbors, be able to build a warm room, grow food, build a greenhouse, be able to preserve food, and own a bike.  


The Seven Tasks of Self-Reliance

by Judy Spiers


Task 1:  Secure Water 

The number one issue reported in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami – regardless of region – is the problem in procuring adequate, safe water.

The average person consumes a minimum of a quart of water per day to maintain proper health, and can survive only for three to five days before problems arise.

If you have a well, can you pump your water if the power goes out?  If not, store a gallon per person, per day, and have at least a week’s supply on hand.  A simple solution is to put tap water in a supply of 2-liter pop bottles and empty and refill them every six months.  Better though, is to store water in 55-gallon barrels.

It is essential to provide water for cooking, pets and hygiene.   I shuddered to think of going for days without bathing, as the Japanese have.

My husband, Mark, and I bought a water storage barrel from Home Depot a couple years ago.  But, we recently learned about a fellow named Sky, who sells barrels to collect rain water from downspouts at his Buckets, Barrels, Drums, Recycle & Consignment.  55-gallon barrels are $10 and $15.  He also has barrels available for storing food and emergency supplies.  We bought one with a nifty handle that even I can open.  Information is available at skyrocket42@MyWorldResults.com , or call (253) 495-5943. 


Task 2:  Know your neighbors.  

In the December 2006 storm that had winds over 100 mph and knocked out power locally for days, the wind chill made temperatures very cold, raising the risk of hypothermia and compounding the impact of shock.  One traumatized woman in our neighborhood refused to leave her heatless house for the three days before the power was restored. 

Other neighbors had drastic needs and suffered alone, i.e.:  a 90-year-old blind lady lived two doors down, and we’d have helped her had we known.  The lesson that Japan’s people are teaching the world is how important it is to assist and share with each other.

Taking that to heart, I recently went door-to-door to the seven closest homes and got phone numbers for emergencies.  It only took thirty minutes.

Along those lines, Barbara Hanson of the Department of Emergency Management will address the Self Reliant Community’s (SRC) at their May meeting to offer help in organizing our neighborhoods, particularly in how to identify the skills and needs of those who live within walking distance, ie: who is a doctor or nurse, and who has medical issues.  The meeting is open and will be held at Graham’s 70th ST E Fire Station on May 4th, Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m.


Task 3:  Design and prepare a warm room.   

Many people in Japan had no shelter, which made us wonder where we’d stay if we had a 9.0 earthquake in the middle of winter. 

If you have a wood stove, you probably will be able to heat at least part of your house.  But, if not, the next best thing is to prepare a “warm room,” such as a bedroom and put blankets over windows.

We have some camping gear, such as a large tent, picnic table and chairs, propane stove, pots, pans, lanterns, sleeping bags, and – don’t laugh – even a queen-sized, blow-up mattress and bed.  

So, if a storm or earthquake knocked out power, we could survive indoors. 

“Bundle-up the kids,” says Wayne Cooke, leader of the SRC.  “Set up a tent in the room where they can play and sleep.  They’ll stay warm and have lots of fun.”   

Fun?  Well, that is debatable, particularly if the storm brings sub-freezing cold and howling winds.  Or antsy kids.

“Have you any idea what it’s like to sit under blankets, on the couch, with a five-year-old who talks non-stop for five hours?” a neighbor asked me last fall, after an outage.  

Harsh winter weather seems to be over here, but there are lots of things you can do to cover your bases year round. 

Have light.

We now have lanterns in every room where we can find them if it’s pitch black.        

Styrofoam insulation is something we bought during last year’s extreme-cold weather.  We cut 4’ x 8’ sheets to fit over our large double-pane windows.  They work like walls to keep heat in, and we can remove them to let in light and heat from the sun.   

“Heating alternatives” searches turned us onto the catalog of an outfit called Emergency Essentials.  It’s loaded with emergency supplies, and advertises “Indoor-Safe Heaters.” 

For $139 we ordered a propane gas “Mr. Heater Big Buddy” and asked questions later.  The fire department said that to be used safely indoors, you might have to provide so much ventilation that any heat gain could be lost as cold air comes in.   

Further, when “Big Buddy” arrived, it pictured a man with the heater behind him in what appeared to be a barn with the end door wide open, so we returned it.  Even so, the unusual variety of emergency products offered at BePrepared.Com, were worth looking into.

We also checked with Propane Connection in South Hill about the use of propane camping stoves for emergency cooking.  

“We do not tell people they are safe to use in homes,” they told us.     

Generators are good, but come with a host of problems. 

Nevertheless, in two, long power outages last fall, we discovered we’re not much into roughing it, and our generator ran one space heater, the refrigerator and freezer, and a three-burner cook stove, but no TV.  And the power cord in the sliding glass door left a half-inch gap all the way up the door for a draft to come through. 

As a result, Mark installed a plastic pipe through the wall so he can slip the main power cord from the generator through the wall and safely runs five electrical cords where we won’t trip on them.  We store the cords in a small suitcase.  And, yes, now we can run our TV.

Household wiring systems can be successfully modified so that a generator can run through your household circuitry.  However the installation requires a licensed electrician and a follow-up inspection by the electricity utility.

Other problems with generators are that they are noisy.  Worse, they are targets for thieves.  Worst, they require the storage of a lot of fuel, which brings its own set of safety concerns.  The Graham Fire department recommends storing gasoline NOT in a garage where fumes can be hazardous, but rather in a separate, outdoor facility, such as a garden tool shed.

Wood burning stoveslook good for emergency heat and we all love the ambiance of an occasional fire, but these stoves come with drawbacks. 

The lowest price, $1600 for the stove only, doubled once complete.  

“We have a wood burning stove,” a stranger at Home Depot said.  “It was great while the boys were home to chop and haul wood, but now I have to do it.  And I don’t like it.” 

We stopped looking for wood stoves.   

Pellet stoves are clean but require power to feed the pellets.  Our neighbor has one and loves it.  She said, “Installed, it cost about $8000.” 

That was out.  Craig’s List has lots of used wood and pellet stoves, but having no experience in knowing what to avoid, we passed on those, too.   

A propane gas heater came along when we’d given up.  My brother, Deryl, helped us find one that is approved for both stick-built and manufactured homes because it draws fresh air in from outside.  It’s a pretty Vermont-type stove with shiny porcelain finish and a glass front so you can see the fire burning. 

However, the installation was a little tricky and even though Mark put many hours and a lot of sweat into it, ultimately it took the experts at the Propane Connection to get it running properly.  Now, though, it heats the whole house safely and reliably. 

Total cost for the stove,  fixtures and piping was $1,000. 

In addition, we bought a 25-gallon propane tank, and no permit is required for tanks under 125 gallons.  It now sits on a concrete pad, strapped to the house.  It’s not going anywhere in an earthquake. 


Task 4:  Grow your own food.

Wayne Cooke’s list of tasks toward self-reliance has growing food as high priority, but the need to have enough food really became apparent in news reports that Japan’s stores were cleaned out within two days and restaurants were closed.

So, we need to store food – lots of it – besides developing the capacity to grow our own food.

“Enough rice and beans to sustain one person’s life for a month can be stored in a 5-gallon bucket,” Anuttama Budd presciently reported at our last SRC meeting, which was held a week before the Japanese earthquake.  

“The Eatonville Mountain Community Coop has 50 pounds of organic wheat berries for $50,” said a man whose name I did not catch.  

A young man told us, “You can put organic wheat berries in a special thermos and add boiling water, and the next day you will have a nutritious meal.”   Information on that is available at http://survivalplus.com/foods/Saving-Money-With-A-Thermos-Bottle.htm. 

One might imagine that, in an emergency the scope of Japan’s, you’d be tempted to hoard food.  But they shared what they had.  When the 2006 wind storm peaked, the first urge we had was to share our fire and food with our neighbors. 

We did not have enough on hand, and neither did anyone else.  Mark walked to the store as soon as it opened and purchased supplies before the run cleared the shelves. 

After that we started buying an extra case of canned tuna, chicken, spam, canned soup or other quick-to-eat items every time we went to Costco.  Dry cereals can be eaten as snacks along with dried raisins, nuts, fruits and beef jerky. 

We also stocked iodized salt, pasta, vinegar, corn meal, flour, oat meal and powdered milk.  These should be kept completely dry and at a consistent temperature year round. 

For more information contact How to Stockpile Survival Food |eHow.comhttp://www.ehow.com/how_6117734_stockpile-survival-food.html#ixzz1HlL9z41B

Growing food is a Self-Reliant life style!  I grew up on a farm where we grew our own.  Mark’s grandparents lived in town, yet, his grandfather raised food in the back yard.  It’s pretty basic: you prepare the soil, plant seeds, weed and water, then harvest, preserve, and eat what you’ve sown.  So don’t panic – just do it. 

Besides the need to survive for a lengthy period of time in the event of a Japan-type earthquake, other issues with the global food supply make growing one’s food a priority.  To whit: winter crops in North Korea, China and Russia have been largely destroyed through harsh weather.  Further, the United States has only enough surplus grain to get through August, and the price of food is spiraling up. 

But even if a shortage never occurred, there are other benefits to raising your own food.  Home grown is more nutritious, and it’s free of heavy chemicals and pesticides.  You don’t have to start big.  Wayne Cooke suggests growing potatoes, squash and beans which are easy to grow and last well.    

Mark and I tried vegetable gardening two years ago.  Corn took up too much room for the yield; we leave it to commercial growers.  Our Fred Meyer pea starts grew, so, if you like peas start them now. 

We bought tomato starts, grew them in huge landscaping tubs, and had a bumper crop.  We later learned that some had tough skins because of uneven watering.  Nevertheless, we pulled them before the first frost, washed the dirt off, and hung them upside down in a cool room.  We had tomatoes until December. 

However, last summer our tomatoes were a bust due to the wet weather.  But we’ll plant them again, next to our 3-foot high masonry wall where they can absorb the heat.

As for fruits, experts said to remove all blooms from first year blueberries to build healthy wood stock.  I can hardly wait for this year’s, especially when I see the prices they’re getting for such little packages in the stores. 

We also planted raspberries.  The only sunny place was over our septic drain field.  However, Scott Connor, on his 10:00 a.m. Saturday gardening show on AM 1090, counseled that berries could become contaminated if we planted them there.       

As a result, Mark took his advice and first laid landscape fabric to contain the roots.  He then built two parallel cinder block walls two rows high and filled the space between with good topsoil. 

Then, he anchored 4’x4’ treated posts in concrete so they would not penetrate the drain field.  He planted alternate rows of June-bearing and ever-bearing raspberries which bore fruit until frost came.   Our raspberry plot is decorative, and birds find the plastic-covered wire comfy on their feet.   

We’d planned to raise potatoes, squash, beans, and onions, but after talking with our neighbor who is a fabulous gardener, we’re adding lettuce, radishes, garlic and carrots, too.  

The “Maritime Northwest Garden Guide” is best at telling what to do, and what to plant when.  It can be ordered from Seattle Tilth at (206) 633-0451 for $20. 


Task 5:  Build a small greenhouse. 

In our climate, plants need a head start, and one simple option is a 3-foot-high greenhouse made out of semi-circles of plastic piping with either end stuck in the ground and covered with plastic that works and is inexpensive.  Another larger choice is a “hoop house.”  Go to www.westsidegardener.com for info.  

There’s the old-fashioned windows-over-a-frame kind for which you can get free windows from Wayne Cooke, (253) 847-4614.  He’s been recycling from a Tacoma condominium.     

Several SRC members attached greenhouses to their homes which, they found, saves them money on their heat.  Check with the building department for permit requirements. 

No matter the type greenhouse you use, place bricks or bottles of water on the back wall to collect solar heat during the day and release it at night to keep plants warm. 


Task 6:  Preserve food

My mother and grandmothers canned.  Years ago, so did I.  Now, Mark and I plan to can wine-colored raspberries, tomatoes and beans.  Ace Hardware has twelve Mason jars for $12 right now.  Buy now for this summer.

But canning is not just for veggies.

Last fall, my brother invited me to his place on the Oregon Coast.  He’d gotten fresh Albacore straight off the boat.  He set up his pressure cooker on the propane cook stove, on top of the picnic table, on the deck.  We spent a warm evening under a star-lit sky canning until midnight.  At the end he hosed down the deck and picnic table and the cat ate any leftovers.  

Our half-pint jars were packed to the lids – some plain and some in sweet chili sauce.  The gourmet’s prize went to the smoked albacore, which you can’t even get in stores.

Drying food doesn’t require expensive equipment.  A cheap, quick food dryer could be a rack placed inside your car on a sunny day.   

Or hang food to dehydrate over your wood stove.


Task 7:  Own a bicycle.

When people in Japan could not get around in their cars, they road bikes.  During the gas shortages of the 70s and 80s, many people rode bikes.  Craig’s List has some for pretty cheap. 

Last thoughts:  Japan’s earthquake left people feeling vulnerable and out of control, so we need to take heed.  Even with our preparations to date, Mark and I still need a stock of rice and beans so we could feed others, and to put whistles, Bibles and chocolate in the emergency barrel. 

Here at home, fire departments and other emergency aid workers could easily get swamped, so we need to be our own first responders.  To do so could give us all a merited sense of security. 

©  2011  Judy Spiers

All Rights Reserved

This entry was posted in Culture, Environment, Nature, Self Reliance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Learning from Japan – embracing the seven tasks of self-reliance

  1. Admin says:

    I was just reading your 7 tasks and I wasn’t aware that they had changed. Having water is a great idea though, along with your other suggestions for emergency preparedness.
    Our Seven Tasks are geared for more long term self-reliance.
    Here is our blog- http://selfreliantcommunity.wordpress.com/group-information/seven-tasks-completion-record/
    We would like to invite everyone to join us the first Wednesday of every month. For meeting info please check the link above.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Thanks for putting the Self-Reliant Communtiy contact information here, Holly. I forgot.

      As for the 7 tasks, they haven’t changed, we just adapted some aspects and added a few pieces to reflect the current lessons coming from Japan.

  2. Mary Schooley says:

    Judy, good article, however, what is to prevent water barrels, food storage containers (for emergency use), being destroyed in an earthquake or tsunami? Being prepared is one issue, storage of survival items is the real issue. Just asking…. Mary Schooley

    • brucesmith49 says:

      There are many more issues to discuss regarding emergency preparedness, Mary, and you’ve touched on a couple. Certainly, water barrels and food containers need to be secured so that they are not destroyed by rolling around in an earthquake, and sheltered so that crumbling buildings don’t puncture them.

      In general, the best way to secure stuff in an earthquake is by anchoring the storage containers to the earth. Sink “pin blocks” or improvise cement footings and use them as anchors, and then afix chains from them to the storage containers.

      The Mountain News will examine these kinds of advanced preparedness in future articles, especially the need to stock pile medical suppplies and medicines, and how to treat injuries.

      Further, are you concerned about tsunamis here in Graham, Eatonville and Yelm, Mary? If so, we need to take this discussion in a much more dramatic direction. Let us know.

  3. Thanks for all the good suggestions wisdom, Judy. We have water in containers and stored in a number of various places, knowing that in an earthquake, some would survive. Also, like you I buy a case or two of different foods at Costco, have gallon containers of rice, beans, oatmeal (yuk) wheat berries, 10 grain pancake mix, Spelt flour, whole wheat flour, etc. Before I use a container up, I buy enough to fill it up again. We have a stove downstairs that burns wood and I have cooked all kinds of things when the power goes off. Other than that, we may come to your house!!! smile

    I love your positive, challening, encouraging writing style, keep it up!

  4. Pingback: Wayne’s E-mail 5/6/11 Meeting Information | The Self Reliant Community of Graham

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