It would be a pretty cheap shot for this blog to list all the things your average four-door sedan can’t do that a bike can, but in the event of a general emergency when fuel is short, automobiles are damaged, and there’s still the need for people and goods to get around, there will always be the bike.
After the rain from Super Storm Sandy stopped, New Yorkers were hit with a fuel shortage and thus fuel rationing. Personal automobiles quickly became useless (if not from the lack of fuel, then from water damage). Public works, emergency responders, and transit were given priority for fuel and the lines to get on the running buses will go down in history.
People had to get places and for most New Yorkers, the only way to get from point A to point B can be by motor. Still, there were others who not only got around without gasoline or diesel. They thrived.
So just like any tech, when the most relied-upon gadget fails, people will always fall back on the most reliable gadget.
That brings me to actual preparation. While good people can always bet on good people helping out, it shouldn’t be governmental or organizational expectation that the needs of the masses will be met by those with simple good will.
What we need is a back-up plan for when the automobile fails us. It may be a quick unforeseen disaster (California Earthquake) or disaster that we can actually prepare for (Sandy), but either way we need to accept that our roads will become quickly useless in a mass-panic and evacuation.
Earlier in the history of this blog, I ran across an article describing the use of bicycles for EMT travel in London. That’s right, traffic is so congested in London that it’s of genuine benefit for the community at large that some EMTs be on bikes. Here’s the official site (Click me to learn more!) I’ve loved this idea since I found it and have found many other versions under the term “Bicycle Emergency Response Team” or BERT.
Fire trucks, ambulances, and service vehicles need roads. A bicyclist just needs a direction. How serious do I think it is to integrate the use of bicycles in emergency planning? Well, take a look at UC Irvine:
The campus is a set upon a set of very odd concentric shapes. That’s great in that it preserves a minimally-motorized central campus, but it also provides for multiple very-limited points of egress. If the area was struck by an 8.5 earthquake in the middle of week 6 of Winter Quarter, it’s easily imaginable that faculty, staff, and students alike would feel compelled to leave the campus to be with loved ones… especially if there is news of injured loved ones. The bottlenecks would be Anteater Drive, Bison, and Campus drive wherever it touches the campus and Arroyo Drive would be useless when those parking lots empty.
We know this congestion as “rush hour” on a daily basis but with so many people scrambling to get out while emergency vehicles are scrambling to get in, we’re headed for gridlock. Gridlock is annoying, but it’s genuinely dangerous when people are trapped under heavy cabinets or if they’ve fallen down stairs. Response time is important and that’s why UC Irvine has the Campus Search And Rescue plan/team/training/thing.
UCI has a program similar to most major cities that trains willing students, staff, and faculty to respond to general emergencies in a hierarchical and organized manner. Resources, after all, quickly become limited and without some sort of organization, those resources can just rot when they can be used.
I completed this program recently, learned a ton, and will be taking the City of Irvine CERT training after the new year. If you would like to learn more about UCI CSAR or the City of Irvine’s CERT programs, just click on the links.
I mention all that because for at least 10% of each of the classes, I was thinking “Well, how will people be getting from one part of campus to the other with gear and in a hurry?” The obvious solution is to train people to bike with gear so that they could use that experience in daily life and emergencies, but it didn’t seem obvious to anyone else. Imagine the value of a cargo or touring cyclist in an emergency!
At the very least, I have my own top secret plan to release ~20 bikes to emergency responders on campus, but it’s of significantly lower value than people actually being prepared.