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Alaska creating emergency food stashes

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Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 11:57 pm

FAIRBANKS — In the ongoing mission of making Alaska and its remote communities ready to weather storms and disasters that would sever its ties to the Lower 48, the state is in the process of creating emergency food stashes in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

The state is in the final process of awarding a contract to stock large warehouses with enough food to feed 42,500 people for a week, an emergency management spokesman said.

Jeremy Zidek said stores of food are intended to be readily deployed from Fairbanks or Anchorage to feed disaster-struck communities as crews work to restore regular supply links.

“There are multiple points of failure in our logistics system, and we can prepare to replace and repair them quickly, but all of that takes time to establish,” he said. “Typically in the Lower 48, help can stream in from all different directions. Here it’s realistic to assume that we have to stand alone for a little bit longer.”

The stashes would have seven days of shelf-stable food that will be good for up to five years. The food would be a mixture of ready-to-eat meals and bulk food that would require some preparation. The food would meet cultural requirements and include salmon.

The issue of food safety in Alaska has been an ongoing concern, and many officials estimate there’s just about a three-day supply of food on grocery store shelves.

Zidek said Alaska is particularly susceptible to disasters because it relies on just a few supply lines. About 90 percent of all commodities come through the Port of Anchorage.

“There’s a wide range of natural disasters, but also Alaska is in a situation where our supply lines are situated to be very important to the state,” he said.

When a Yukon road washed out last summer and the supply chain to the Lower 48 was interrupted, produce sections at local grocery dwindled to a few wilted heads of lettuce.

Zidek said food storage is just one element of the state’s ongoing efforts to prepare for storms. He said the state also has made strides to improve communication, power generation and water purification in case of disasters.

During the past few years, the state has purchased everything from small backpack communication units to sophisticated communications trailers to be deployed where they’re needed.

Despite the state’s strides, though, Zidek was adamant that Alaskans need to take steps to make sure their households are ready with water, food and other supplies to weather disasters.

“One thing that we always stress is that the state is preparing doesn’t mean people shouldn’t prepare on their own,” he said. “Have emergency preparedness kits put together. We’ll have the supplies to the people who are affected to the greatest degree, but people can take a few steps to weather the disaster in their home so they don’t have to go out in search of aid.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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