Solutions for Self-Reliance

How to Bounce Back from Increasingly Extreme Weather Events


Climate change is here.  We’re seeing increasingly frequent and extreme “heavy weather” events like these every day:

  • Record setting droughts and heat waves.
  • Once in a century floods and epic storm surges.
  • Violent weather of all types.

In fact, all the evidence I see suggests that heavy weather is going to become a critical part of our daily lives as climate change continues to intensify.

Fortunately, there is a small silver lining to this.  Resilient communities handle heavy weather events much more easily than communities that haven’t become resilient.  Further, each new heavy weather disaster isn’t only a disaster, it’s also an opportunity to increase your community’s resilience.

Let’s dig into this a bit.

What People Actually Do During a Crisis

In a crisis, people don’t usually panic.  That’s a misconception (perpetuated by Hollywood, Government planners, and the Press).

What do people actually do during a crisis?   They form ad hoc communities and help each other out.

It’s amazing how common this is.  I suspect this reaction is buried deep in our DNA.  DNA formed by hundreds of thousands of years of living in tribes that routinely dealt with danger and crisis.

So, when a crisis hits, the modern dysfunctional veneer of “every person for him/herself” and “I don’t trust you beyond what the contract specifically stipulates” is torn away, and for good reason.  A community built on shared outcomes, as in “we are in this together,” is the best way to survive the short-term effects of a crisis.  In contrast, people who go it alone typically fail.

Here’s an example of how a community responds in action (it is not in any way uncommon).


Spontaneous Resilience In Duluth, MN

Resilient community correspondent Marcus Wynne (ex Special Operator/Trainer/Air Marshal and Prolific Author) sent this dispatch from the flood zone in Duluth, MN.


Problem:  Epic flooding blocks streets, washes out bridges and collapses roads.  People must travel, check on neighbors, gather supplies, establish communications.

Solution:  Break out the kayaks and start a waterborne recon, check out who needs help, carry supplies and messages as needed.  No standing around and wringing hands.  Just act.

June 20, 2012 Duluth, MN

This is how the bones of a resilient community are formed:  spontaneous close-to-the-problem solutions generated by the people closest to the problem.  An open source resilient community.

In most of the city, there’s still power and Internet — primary means of communication for crowd-sourced data is Twitter and Facebook and text messages.  Minnesota does a pretty good of this.

Implications:  If your personal resilience relies on your homestead, how well prepared are you for these kind of weather/natural events?  Do you have neighbors (a community and proven network) that would jump into a kayak and paddle over to check on you?  Redundant communications?

My important lessons:

  • My network of friends and neighbors was tested and found to be useful.
  • Recreational skills have utility in a natural disaster — backpacking, camping, kayaking, swimming, etc.
  • Most real world problems are solved by the people closest to it — empower, reach out and communicate solutions.  Don’t wait for the government to rescue you.  In our current situation, there isn’t currently any law enforcement communication from Duluth to the Canadian border.

Some other observations?

  • Crowd-sourced local high-tech can help.  For example, a kayaker with a helmet mounted wireless camera connected to an iPhone, can update Facebook as he recons the creek and the washed out bridges/roads.
  • Fast cars become unusable — most modern cars drown in six – 8 inches of water if driven by someone who doesn’t know how to create a bow wave.  6 -8 inches of moving water will float a modern midsize car off the road and into the stream.  When you go foot-mobile, good foot gear is essential.
  • Storing and harvesting rainwater is often critical during a flood as well as a drought.  Flood waters can overwhelm a sewage system, forcing raw sewage into the fresh water system.  If you store water locally, you are all set…

Cheers,  Marcus (currently your nomadic, but still resilient, correspondent)

JR NOTE:  After the acute phase of a crisis ends, take advantage of any residual community momentum to make headway on other projects (phone/food/water tree?).  Don’t let the opportunity slip away.

Ferrocement Update

Last week’s letter had a bit from a generous reader Federico on building strong structures quickly with ferrocement.  Here are some follow-up examples of ferrocement construction he has in his home.  It’s quite beautiful.

More from Federico:


Some time ago, Christopher Alexander’s book A Pattern Language inspired my wife and myself to expand our house, and to build concrete vaults instead of flat roofs. Vaults are easy to build, don’t require expensive and wasteful formwork, drain automatically, give you tall ceilings, and make rooms quite special.

It was then that I found Flying Concrete, a fantastic web page of ferrocement construction, especially vaulted structures. The idea is to build catenary vaults. A catenary is the curve that results from hanging a chain from two points; when you turn it upside down, you get the most efficient vault possible. The church of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, by Antoni Gaudí, is a very tall structure built entirely out of catenary vaults and arches.

Ignore the light brown strips under the structure; originally I wanted to use flexible wooden strips instead of rebar, but got MDF by accident – and only later discovered that it got unusably soft when wet. Other than that, the structure of the vault is the same as for the little bridge: rebar and tied wire mesh.

First you can lay on a thin layer of concrete, let it harden a bit, and then lay a thicker layer on top of that. This prevents the mesh from sagging too much from the initial weight.

In the picture above you can see a larger vault already poured, and a similar vault in the process of being formed. The base of each of those is a square of about 4×4 meters, and the vault itself is under 1 meter tall. This requires no form-work at all; the rebar/mesh and concrete support themselves.

Free-form Structures

Finally, let me show you two staircases. The vaulted arches on the first one, and the funny curve on the second one, are a thin ferrocement shell. Then the steps are poured on top of the hardened shell, each one with little wood to hold the concrete.











Thanks again to Marcus for the community report and Federico for the examples of ferrocement.

Your always searching for examples of resilience analyst,


PS:  A big thank you to all of the people who took the survey we sent out on Monday.  It’s a big help.

PPS:  I’m off to Aspen, CO for the National Geographic/Aspen Institute conference on the environment.    I’ll let you know what I find.

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