Monday, November 3, 2008

Bikes and disasters

This is a post I wrote for my other blog - Preparedness and Response - which is about disaster preparedness (my professional life) issues. It draws on a few bike blogs that I read and since it is bike related I figured I'd cross post it here. 

In my last Personal Preparedness post I discussed the NEFRLS and a few ways families can avoid getting separated and losing each other during a disaster. Today I'm going to talk about another good tool for evacuation - a bicycle. I'll lead off by saying I'm a cycling junkie (as this makes clear) and this is something I've been thinking about for a while.

I've seen a few different discussions on bikes and emergencies, one was prompted by this cartoon panel:
Here is a great account from one guy who used a bike to get around after Katrina.

There are a few different things that argue for bicycle use after a disaster:
  • Fuel - One of the most reported aspect of any major disaster is the lack of gas and diesel available in the area. Add to this the increased cost for any that might be around, and you have a clear weakness in even the toughest SUV. Bikes, on the other, require no fuel beyond a mobile person.
  • Mobility - Many natural disasters can leave roads unusable by dumping debris and disabled vehicles in the way. In these instances cars are of limited use, especially in urban settings where it isn't possible to just cut around a blockage. In San Francisco this was a significant concern that a number of paramedics (who were motorcycle riders) organizedthemselves to respond to emergencies that ambulances couldn't get to. Even more than  a motorcycle, a bike is a means of transport that is almost impossible to stop. Don't believe me? Check out a cyclocross race and watch people run, jump, and wade through mud while lugging a bike. 
  • Gear - There is a clear limit to how much "stuff" (an all-encompassing term in this case) any one person can carry. By adding a few simple racks to a bike you can greatly increase that amount. Even bikes that aren't specifically equipped for racks (the holes for screwing things like racks and water bottle carriers are called braze-ons) can have racks fitted to them. This is a topic that could go on for ever, so I'll end by saying that if you are interested in racks for a bike check out bike commuting and bike touring websites.
  • Maintenance - There were stories in all the national news outlets following Katrina warning people to be on the watch for used cars that had been submerged in the storms. The warning was that these cars, which may be dead, were being sold at too-good-to-be-true prices. A bike, on the other hand, isn't going to mind a little flood. Short of leaving a bike in bad water to the point that it rusts out, there isn't much damage a flood or storm will do. This means that if you need to get somewhere, your bike will be there for you.
Obviously, using a bike to get around requires a little familiarity with it. There are things like a helmet, lock, and lights that you should have, and so on. If you are thinking of prepping a bike, either for a disaster-specific backup or for routine transport, check out one of the commuting links above or drop me a line.

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