(from A Whole System's Framework for Sustainable Production and Consumption)

Housing construction often requires six different kinds of centralized infrastructure

  • potable water
  • wastewater treatment
  • stormwater management
  • electricity
  • gas
  • communication

before construction can start.

  • -------------

So here's the notion. Remember that I'm thinking about this as a quick way of teaching the basic survival mindset, and that I'm mainly worried about minor rather than major disasters.

1> The Model SYSTEMS provide SERVICES which fill NEEDS

2> NEEDS Staying Healthy (safety from attack, from injury etc.) Protection from the elements Water Food Mobility Communications

I think that covers all the basics. Medical care, self defence and sanitation all go under Staying Healthy, which is a problem. Those poor folks in the Tsunami hit area are likely to find canned food and a water filter a lot more useful than rifles right now because social order is still there in most areas.

3> SYSTEMS WHICH FILL THOSE NEEDS RIGHT NOW Then, the quick model of the systems which sustain those basic needs:


  • The Armed Forces
  • The Police
  • The Hospitals
  • The Doctor
  • The Medical Industry
  • The Pharmacy
  • The Sewage Plant


  • Your House
  • Your Clothes
  • Your Tent (if you're a camper)
  • Your Sleeping Bag (ditto)
  • Your Vehicle
  • Power Stations
  • National Grid
  • Gas Drilling
  • Gas Distribution Pipelines and Trucks


  • The Water Treatment Plant
  • The Plumbing


  • Agribusiness
  • Megafarms
  • Agricultural chemical companies
  • Massive transport and distribution infrastructure
  • Futures markets (to pay for future crop production)


  • Shoes
  • Bicycle
  • Car
  • Public Transport
  • Oil Industry
  • Gasoline Distribution Companies


  • Phone Companies
  • Your Telephone
  • Postal Service
  • TV/Radio Companies
  • Your TV/Radio
  • The Internet
  • Your Computer
  • Ham Radio

I think even a very crude break out like that helps people see that this stuff doesn't just happen... that we actually have a huge society and technology dedicated to serving these basic needs.

Then you show people how blocks can fall out of the puzzle: the "three day power outage" where you say "ok, there's no power. So your house is dark and cold, and you can't cook on your electical stove or microwave. Now what?"

The key, I think, is giving people a framework. That's what allows the to generalize. When you say "power outage" is a "protection from the elements" problem then you can say, "well, what helps in a winter storm, and in a power outage, and if you're caught in your car in a blizzard, and if you're camping" and they can say "well, a sleeping bag, I suppose. I should keep that in the car?"

4> SYSTEMS FAILURE Then we talk about covering those needs if the basic systems fail, or you can't get to your normal basic systems.

I think, personally, that the timescales worth thinking about are: three days, six weeks, two years, indefinitely. And 95% of people can not think effectively about two years or longer outages of basic services. It's just too frightening and their minds shut down.

So first you teach people to understand basic needs for three days, starting from the most urgent and working on out. Then do the same for six weeks.

Talk about causes of systems failure: being lost away from home in the woods, being in a war zone, being in a country with infrastructure failures like the massive power ourages. Being broke counts too.

Teach people to think about crisis in terms of systems failing, in terms of their basic needs suddenly being unmet, and having to respond to those needs from their own resources, rather than from societal support networks.

5> ALTERNATIVE SYSTEMS Basically work down the BASIC NEEDS for each timescale, and list what kinds of alternative systems people use to cover those basic needs.

A "system" for the "six weeks" need of "protection from the elements by staying warm" is probably a wood stove, or a large supply of propane. That's where you start teaching people about systems: it's not a system if it doesn't have:


Without those things, it's an object. If it goes wrong, or runs out, or something breaks, you're left stranded. Systems have to be resliient, because you're going to count on them to fill your basic needs. People will usually want multiple systems, just as we have both the police and the army. Teach the rule of threes here also.

Go through each of the basic needs proposing systems which cover that need. Go in depth, but keep it appropriate to the two major timeframes.

Methodical and long would be this section. Boring as hell in places, but very meaty.

6> DOING IT I think once the actual problem is broken out clearly, and people understand what the point of all of this stuff is they should be able to figure out for themselves from fairly basic checklists what to do next. "If you live in a cold area, protection from the elements could look like a tent and sleeping bags for every member of your family which you pitch in your warmest room."

Map out places to learn skills, have essential purchase checklists, but present everything inside an integrated framework so that people can see clearly what they can substitute, what they can replace, and hopefully learn to think clearly about how to take care of themselves in times of crisis and hardship and want.

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Related 0 subpages, 1 pages link here
Impact 329 page views
Created October 8, 2006 by Anonymous1
Modified February 11, 2023 by Irene Delgado
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.