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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - Helping Others by Being Prepared Yourself

About 2005 or so there was another perfect storm.  This one occurred over eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

A hurricane blew up from the south and collided with a rainy weather system moving west to east.

The result was an enormous rain storm.

One that dropped some six plus inches on the area over the course of several hours.

This area of the country is relatively mountainous so the significant danger is flash flooding.  (Often entire small communities get washed away when a small river suddenly becomes a raging torrent.)

Even though I live at about 1150 feet above sea level this particular event rendered us somewhat stranded.

Creeks and rivers below us flooded or washed out roads.  Trees fell across roads.  While this was inconvenient chainsaws and ingenuity won over and things went back to normal.

However, there were no "first responders" save for the people this affected.  No police, no fire engines came.

For the people who had built an entire community in the flood plains below things were different.

Massive destruction and flooding.  Homes and business filled with river mud.  Damage to electricity, water and sewer systems much like we see with Sandy today.

What's troubling with Sandy beyond the raw destruction is that many, many people in the path of Sandy have rendered themselves helpless by not being prepared.

Along the New Jersey coast there was massive destruction.  But if you look at the paths of other Atlantic hurricanes (from Wikipedia):

You see that anyone from norther South America to Newfoundland, Canada should expect to be in the path of hurricane at some point.

Yet still people build houses right along the shore line with at most a small sand dune to protect them.

Though hurricanes hitting NYC are rare they are not unheard of and most other cities along the coast from Boston to Key West have been jeopardized in the past.  In many areas homes are built on stilts so that the storm surge simply passes under them.

Perhaps now people won't laugh quite so much at "Doomsday Preppers" and the like.

It seems as if a herd mentality has taken over:  People expecting emergency service workers to fix their problems.  Communities built without thinking ahead about what kind of disasters are common in that area.

Safety in numbers.

The same is true for the "gadget" aspect of life.  Many people today have only a cell phone for communications.  In Sandy about 1/4 of all cell phone towers were disabled.  And with power outages measured in days cell phone batteries will simply run out.

Are we too dependent on these things?

I think we are.

Here in the boondocks everyone must be prepared because no one will come and fix things for them.

Gas leaks are common in old worn-out pipelines; but common sense keeps this from being a problem.

Trees fall in storms and often they are so quickly sawed up for firewood that all you see right after a storm is the sawdust.

People have generators and gas because the power can go off for days.

Yet only a few miles away "in town" there is much less preparedness.


I think its because people feel "safe" near others - regardless of  whether or not "others" can actually help them in a disaster.

Kind of like domesticated dogs that forgo about 30% of their intelligence as compared to their wild counterparts.  Domestication removes the need to be self reliant and smart about day-to-day life.

The domesticated dog expects the master to feed him - just as the "towny" expects that someone will come and fix the water or electricity when it fails.  When no one shows up right away things go down hill quickly...

One has to ask really basic questions about NYC.

For example, if it were my town I would install water-tight emergency doors on all my critical tunnels.  These doors, while expensive, would be a infinitesimal investment compared to the cost of what's happening today.  When a storm sure was eminent you close and seal the doors.

As for Wall Street and the rest of the city close to sea level I would convince landlords and builders to ensure that all buildings can continue to operate with the loss (in terms of flooding) of the first two floors.  Critical systems could be below be would have to be in water-tight compartments.

Rather than force this on anyone I would simply make aid to those that took the time to be prepared a priority of those that did not.

(While this may sound cruel its not.  Those that are not prepared are in fact jeopardizing everyone else...)

You also have to ask that why, when a storm like Sandy is bearing down, doesn't someone shut off the power in advance?  Particularly to low-lying areas prone to flooding?  Sure, leave the some on on the main drag that's reasonably above the floodable areas, hostpitals, etc.  Shutting it off first would eliminate all those nasty dangling "live wires" everywhere.

Today in many places outside the "big urban areas" you still see regular folks fixing disasters.  Local folks with chainsaws, plumbing trucks, electrical businesses and so on showing up to fix things.
At least as far as they can.

The more urbanized, however, the more "special requirements" there are - imposed by government, unions, and so on - to make things only repairable by those entities.

"Sorry - I don't have have the funky specially shaped wrench to turn off the gas..."


Instead the "Shepard" shows up and herds everyone off to where its "safe" - even if it isn't always safe - so experts can handle things.

I say nonsense.

How about instead everyone be prepared on their own? 

If this were the case then there would be far less pressure on the "first responders" to rush in to save the day. 

Social pressure to put some effort into preparations rather than to sit in ignorance.

More than thirty years ago I lived in NYC.  In a giant apartment building with a tiny refrigerator.

Had the power gone off we could have lasted a day or two before the food ran out.  Had there been no water we would have lasted an even shorter time.

I have no doubt things would have reverted quickly to barbarism.

The best way to help those unable to help themselves is for you to be prepared.

1 comment:

  1. My thoughts as well. I live in a town, but we are used to power outages during the winter months, so most people are prepared for that.

    The hard cold facts are that the wealthy live in the better areas and on higher ground for a reason. Most other people live where they can afford. Something like this where so many people are put out of their homes is another matter altogether.