Category Archives: Engineering


This week’s airline disaster – and in particular the engineering and procedures that got everyone out of the plane alive – reminds me that I’m attracted to preparing for the worst. I’m the one on the plane who checks where the nearest exits are and what kind of flotation device is available. Not that I want the worst to happen, but I feel better knowing Plan B in case Plan A goes south.

Being prepared is also a challenge, a way to think deeply about the infrastructure I rely on even when it’s practically invisible. (Yes I am still thinking a lot about water thank you.) What would I do if the power went out? What would I notice? How would I change so I could keep doing the things I need? The answers let me design alternate systems that take effect when things go wrong, or (in the absolute best case) replacement systems that keep working despite the trouble.

So let’s talk about preppers, though. I grew up loving trips to the army surplus store. Survival gear and wilderness-focused preparation strategies are attractive because they involve stuff that feels tough and adventurous even if I can barely operate a can opener. Now, though, I reject the idea that my survival has to be set up in opposition to other people. It doesn’t just feel wrong, it completely contradicts how I’ve seen a good community operate in a time of crisis. People help each other to survive and recover.

The moment that convinced me was a multi-day power outage when I lived in San Diego. It’s the classic example of what preppers are prepping for: the city is without power, everything shuts down, no one has any of the things they need, and… well, what’s supposed to happen is chaos, looting, folks barricading themselves in their neighborhoods and trading with gold. What actually happened is folks took the day off work, emptied their fridges and freezers, went outside to be in the evening light, and had block parties. Want some ice cream? It’s just going to melt. Need to charge your phone? Here’s  a brick and a solar panel, go ahead. Need a spare flashlight? Let’s share.

It’s hard to describe the feeling in our neighborhood over those couple days. It was a time out of time. People really didn’t want it to end. Which is better than survival, isn’t it? It’s something different. It’s resilience. And it wasn’t even planned, it’s what we all fell into when there was a pause in television broadcasting.

More recently, the state of Washington has talked about resilience centers (or resilience hubs, I’ve also heard), which are places that people can go for essential things during a disaster or an outage. Each center builds up the infrastructure it needs to keep the lights on, to keep the wifi going, to keep the water running, to keep cool or keep warm. I love the idea, because it’s just as attractive a prepping opportunity but it assumes we’re going to find each other, to work together, to form community when something goes wrong. A resilience center doesn’t need an arsenal, it doesn’t need a way to bug out. It still has challenges, though, but they start to look like resilient infrastructure. How would we keep the wifi on? How much power can we produce? What does at-hand food storage look like in the long term?

So now when I prepare for the worst, I think about resilient infrastructure. How about you? What would you build? How could you share it? What helps when we all know how to do it?