Giant warehouses with food to last for 5 years: Alaska begins prepping for major natural disasters
EP: ALASKA – Alaska is known for pioneering, self-reliant residents who are accustomed to remote locations and harsh weather. Despite that, 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. Weather isn’t the only thing that can wreak havoc in Alaska, where small planes are a preferred mode of transportation and the drive from Seattle to Juneau requires a ferry ride and 38 hours in a car. The state’s worst natural disaster was in 1964, when a magnitude-9.2 earthquake and resulting tsunami killed 131 people and disrupted electrical systems, water mains and communication lines in Anchorage and other cities. “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 demographics. That means, as part of the effort, trying to incorporate cultural foods like salmon for Alaska Natives as well as foods that would be more common in urban areas, state emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek said. 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.