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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Boston Winterization

As Printed in the Occupy Boston Globe

The Occupy Boston Winterization Process

By Joshua Sager

Anyone living in the Northeastern United States can attest to the severity of its cold, long winters.  The daylight hours shorten, the temperature plummets and feet of snow can accumulate on the ground in a single day. Winter in New England can be exceptionally difficult, especially when one is planning to spend it in a tent. At Occupy Boston, protesters are planning on weathering the upcoming winter in their encampment.

The Occupy Boston camp, located in Dewey Square near South Station, is poised to bear the full brunt of the coming blizzards. Winter came early this year, with the first snow falling just this past weekend. The protesters will have to work quickly in order to weather proof their tents for the cold, through a process known as ‘winterization’.

The winterization of a campsite is intended to maximize heat efficiency, keep everything dry and find safe methods of producing heat. Tents are not particularly heat efficient and are susceptible to leaks or collapse in times of snowfall. And not only must tents be made safe, but the grounds of the campsite must be tended to in order to keep them safe for when the snow and ice come.
People move through the camp continuously during the day, so maintaining safe paths is just as important as keeping the living areas habitable. In addition to keeping the campsite safe, the winterization process includes heat production and distribution to the occupiers so that all can be made 
more comfortable in the cold.

Meetings of the Winterization Working Group have been occurred over the last week of October. This contingent of protesters have been working on the physical winterization of the camp as well as disseminating information about how to live in the elements.

In the Winterization meetings, occupiers discuss the processes of insulating, supporting and waterproofing of the tents so as to make them safe for the wintertime. In addition to purchasing military surplus tents, tarps can be used to waterproof standard camping tents, while blankets can be used to create insulating layers. Both waterproofing and heat retention are necessary in the occupier’s camp because hypothermia and frostbite are very real dangers when temperatures drop.

Safety is key if the occupation is to remain active and healthy until spring. In addition to the waterproofing and insulation of tents, additional supports are often needed to prevent collapse. Snow can be very heavy and the tents must have support for when snow accumulates.

The grounds of Dewey Square are a mixture of gravel, dirt and grass. The tents are put primarily on the dirt and grass, while the gravel constitutes the main walking path. In order to prepare for winter, the occupiers must make sure that the gravel path remains open and traversable even in times of snow and ice. The use of road salt is impossible due to the need to preserve the grass segments of the park, thus the winterization group is discussing many alternatives to chemical de-icing.

There have been numerous proposals in the Winterization Group as to the generation and transport of heat for the wintertime. Several proposals for heating include: The use of heated water as a portable heat source in tents to keep them warm; the use of chemical heat, such as the hand-warmers, to generate heat inside of tents; and the use of hot air from the subway vents to warm nearby tents. All ideas put forward are judged on the basis of efficiency, cost and what is allowed by local ordinances.

If people experience exposure, hypothermia or even frostbite, the medics of Occupy Boston have been trained on how to deal with each situation. It is hoped that winterization measures will prevent anybody from experiencing serious negative effects from cold, but if the worst does happen there are people on-site who are willing and able to help.

Spreading information on the potential hazards of winter camping (as well as the steps that can be taken to make it safer) is a large portion of the winterization process. For any Occupy Boston member who is reading this, please keep in mind the following 5 simple steps to safe occupation.
  1. Keep dry; the cold is far more dangerous when you are wet. Wearing dry and warm clothes can prevent hypothermia and exposure.
  2. Keep yourself hydrated and fed; if your body lacks energy, you are more likely to suffer bad effects from low temperatures.
  3. Prepare your living space so that it is insulated, warm and dry. The winter nights are the most dangerous times for camping because you are asleep and it is the coldest time of the day.
  4. If you are feeling sluggish and unusually warm, don’t go to sleep, seek medical help. Hypothermia is very dangerous and it is better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Don’t feel obligated to stay at the occupation if you are feeling unwell. Many people will have poor immune systems, susceptibilities to the cold or medical conditions which prevent them from participating. There is nothing wrong with finding other ways to help out if you are unable to stay at Occupy Boston during the winter months.
The Winterization Working Group will be presenting informational seminars to the General Assembly this week so that people know how to properly set up tents and keep them from collapsing during the winter.

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