Wednesday, September 14, 2005

…And speaking of the Katrina disaster…

…And speaking of the Katrina disaster…

Though the media are focusing on New Orleans, Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and the damage extended well into Alabama. Apparently the state governments there reacted appropriately. I don’t want to trade in stereotypes here, but how bad is your state government when it is less effective than Mississippi and Alabama? I'm an implacable opponent of my Governor Christine Gregoire but she doesn't seem as inept as Governor Blanco.

In any case, the last few nights Mrs. Islander and I started talking about disaster preparedness. While the example of the Superdome is extreme, it does point out the problems of not preparing for and not responding correctly to an emergency.

We seem to be ahead of many of the poor families paraded before the television cameras: we own a minivan and a small pickup truck, we are married with all of our children grown and living on their own, we have some small money in the bank for emergencies.

But. We live on an island, connected to the mainland by two ferry lines and a rather dramatic bridge. Our children (and grandchildren) live on the same island.

Here in the Puget Sound, the dangers of catastrophic weather are rather low, but we do have the full menu of seismic events, including volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. These events do not generally provide a lot of warning before they hit, but there are exceptions:

He [Harry Truman] became a minor celebrity during the two months of volcanic activity preceding the [Mt. St. Helens] eruption, giving interviews to reporters and expressing his opinion that the danger from the volcano was "overexaggerated". He died in the blast, along with 56 other people, and his body was never found.

So, living on an Island as we do, what considerations must we have for coping with an emergency?

We live (currently) on high ground, so immediate danger from a tsunami is limited. The major volcanoes in the region (Mount Rainier and Mount Baker) are well to the east and downwind. Earthquakes are the ultimate crapshoot. So the most preventable danger seems to not lie in some sudden, overwhelming catastrophe, but from the secondary effect of a disaster. The major danger is disruption of the civic infrastructure and civil disorder.

Remember, most people that died in New Orleans died not from the hurricane, nor even the flooding when the floodwalls gave way, but from heat and dehydration when city utilities stopped and they couldn’t drive to the Piggly-Wiggly.

Way back in 2002, Tom Ridge had the Department of Homeland Security devise a kits that would be provide a three-day bridge from the time of a disaster until help could reasonably arrive. Wizbang Blog gives a list for a kit that costs less than $50, but even I don't care for Dinty Moore beef stew that much.

In the unlikely case that we needed to evacuate the Island:

  • This summer Mrs. Islander and I picked up a couple of sturdy ice chests (not the flimsy foamed polystyrene kind). It would take less than five minutes to fill them with food and throw them into one of the vehicles.
  • We need to get some water set aside. Quickest and easiest: Safeway and Albertsons are selling gallons of spring water for a buck.
  • We have a variety of pet carriers. We plan on taking Selkie the dalmation and Daphnie the old siamese with us. (The other two cats are pretty-nigh uncatchable in an emergency. They are On Their Own.)
  • I just thought that I need to throw some hard-wearing clothes into a duffle. Fixing a flat in dress pants and shoes doesn't seem smart. Warm coat. Raingear.)
  • Having emergency contacts out-of-state is very important. The Airedale is using his parents in Tennesee; I am proposing my brother in California. This is not either/or. Redundancy is a feature. We need to make up a call list and get it to everyone.
  • If an emergency hits during a weekday, it's a good bet that the Geek and I will be in Seattle. We need to plan a possible mainland meeting spot that doesn't require anyone to try to enter the city.
For quite a while in the 1970's and 1980's I was an armchair survivalist. I read a lot of Bradford & Veena Angiers and Dean Ing. Now seems to be a good time to review some of these old lessons.

The best part of all this is that we live in a very wealthy country, with truly robust infrastructures. The fragility of the system seems to be in the immediate.

Reading list:

Pulling Through by Dean Ing
At Home in the Woods by Bradford and Vena Angier

More Later....

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