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The Longest Now

The self-bloglist
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 7:26 pm
Filed under: chain-gang

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Incapacity in times of crisis
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 4:21 pm
Filed under: metrics

I am amazed by the number of people who think that a perfectly acceptable response to an emergency is disruptive, individual flight.  I can think of a number of positive responses to emergencies, but this is an entirely negative one. Roads jammed with uncoordinated traffic
and hotels overwhelmed in the absence of coordination; people
struggling alone to cope with traumatic decisions — what a gray joke.

A few positive alternatives:

  • Individually : stay and
    prepare when at all possible.  Start preparing at the first sign
    of possible trouble — at the neighborhood level — if you’re one of
    those people who thinks this is possible.  If you are trained for
    emergency response, make sure the local response offices know how to
    reach you.  The well-prepared New Orleans residents on high ground
    who insisted on staying long after the whole city was evacuated —
    there should be more such people, not fewer.  This requires education and preparation ahead of time; teaching citizens how to preserve themselves and their things through a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood, drought, heat wave, mud slide, or electrical/oil/water/food shortage
    Teaching citizens how to help their neighborhood in these events; what
    organizations to contact and how during the aftermath; how to identify
    and shelter affected survivors.  It would be worth a great deal
    for one family in each small neighborhood to be well and truly prepared
    to ride out a disaster.

    And this business of stores and people ‘running out’ of key supplies in
    the run-up to every disaster gets old fast.  In the first place,
    each neighborhood should maintain a decent supply of these
    staples.  In the second, if Wal*Mart can figure out how to alert
    their suppliers to up production every time there’s a sale, surely
    cities can find a way to alert the usual suspects every time there’s an
    impending disaster-alert.

  • Gathering together for shared action;
    by block, neighborhood, or district.  Thursday and Friday are days
    off?  Great.  Have a local neighborhood meeting Wednesday
    night to discuss plans and options.  Where are the nearby bunkers
    and reinforced buildings?  Where would there be food, water, and
    shade for a week-long holdout?  Where can people bring cars and
    belongings that need better protection from the elements than their own
    rooms afford?  Oh, you don’t have a way to contact everyone in the
    neighborhod on short notice… noone responsible for maintaining
    contact numbers for everyone and organizing such meetings?  Better get on that then.

  • Gathering together for shared flight.  Tell everyone to share vehicles; at least three to a car and six to a van.  Give direction,
    train citizens how to respond quickly and effectively.  Make
    contact with all neighbors; don’t bring more than two bags with you for
    safe-keeping — leave them with a protected depot, or secure them at
    home, depending on where you live.  Coordinate the use of large
    trucks, buses, and vans; reimburse owners for transporting
    people.  Promote central message-boards for ride-shares and shared
    floor-space in nearby cities.  Open nearby halls and other
    facilities for short-term emergency occupants.  Encourage people
    to stay as close-by as possible.  Expecting
    people to take refuge in hotels and find transport via rental cars and
    scheduled buslines in times of disaster is a disaster in itself.

  • Helpful city responses.  Recruit
    a few thousand short-term staff from the ranks of the trained
    citizens.  Don’t have enough of those whom you trust?  Start
    a national emergency reserve program asap.   Offer safe, guarded repositories
    for belongings.  Provide guards for such repositories, and for
    sensitive or priceless areas such as hospitals and museums and those
    reinforced hotels/halls being used as shelters.  Do not double-book these guards; this
    is a full-time job.  Are people starved for food or water? 
    Set up ration lines.  This is one of your primary duties while
    people remain in the area.  Are half-destroyed stores and
    pharmacies vulnerable to looting?  Gather key goods in an orderly
    fashion, to distribute or preserve them.  Are there armed people
    wandering the streets?  Give them something useful to do, a
    partner, and proper gear.  No spare gear for such
    situations?  Better get on that, then.
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The Galveston Hurricane of 2005
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 3:08 pm
Filed under: %a la mod

In 1870, Indianola, Texas
was growing rapidly; a coastal town with 5,000 inhabitants.  Then
in 1975 it suffered the first of two massive storms, killing hundreds
and flattening the city.  It was rebuilt; but a second storm in
1886 caused residents to give it up altogether.  Today, thanks to
storm erosion, most of the original city is underwater.

In 1900, Galveston
had enjoyed even greater growth without disaster.  It had a
population of 42,000.  The city had worried about facing the same
fate as Indianola, but as decades passed without any serious storms at
all, some experts (including then-director of the Galveston Weather Bureau, Isaac Cline) suggested that hurricanes “could not” hit Galveston, for one reason or another.

That fall, an unnamed hurricane swept through town, killing around
8,000 people and flattening the city.  There were communication
problems back then… bridges and telegraph lines were cut, making it
hard to send messages to the mainland.  Once messengers did
arrive, they had a great deal of bureaucracy to negotiate, despite the
extraordinary damage.

The first message ran, “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of
Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins
.” The
messengers reported an estimated five hundred dead. This was considered
to be an exaggeration.

When rescuers arrived, they found thousands dead, instead. 
Funeral pyres were set up all around the city, and burned for

Since then, over the following century, the city has built up a 17-foot
high seawall, and raised the city some 4-5 meters with dredged
sand.  The seawall itself has become a tourist attraction, and
hotels and other tourist sites have been built along its length…
buildings along the main Galveston Strand are marked to indicate they
survived the hurricane.  So far, this has sufficed…

Losing to nature

“Nature will win if we decide that we can beat it.” –Bill Read, from the documentary  Isaac’s Storm

The pending storm produced by Hurricane Rita
boasts sea surges of over 30 feet (some have suggested 50), making the
seawall seem rather slender protection.  Galveston has built out
towards the water, not back away from it; and the whole city has fled
before the potential disaster. 

If history is any indicator, it will take another storm of similar size to change anyone’s habitation habits.  But perhaps architects and developers will learn to be more respectful to nature in laying out groundplans and designing seaside retreats.

The Galveston Hurricane of 2005 …

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GFDL places Rita directly over central Houston
Thursday September 22nd 2005, 1:37 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire

Hurricane Rita is apporaching the Gulf Coast, and will hit land somewhere between Texas’s Corpus Christi and New Orleans
Galveston, one of the country’s largest ports (New Orleans was the
largest), is the most vulnerable target, despite its protections
against normal storms.  Parts of Houston are also at risk, and the
early evacuation of Houston has lead to much of the clogging of roads
in southeast Texas.

The GFDL (an acronym for “Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory“),
is one of the key modern hurricane path-predicting models.  It is
a “limited-area baroclinic” model developed specifically for hurricane
prediction, including convective, radiative
and boundary layer parameterizations.  It makes special allowance
initializing the storm circulation.

GFDL is a ‘late‘ model, meaning that it is run with hard data, and not
with interpolations from earlier data… as of 10pm last night, the GFDL had Rita passing through central Houston and veering west once it comes level with Fort Worth.

UPDATE: Rita is veering East a bit, pushing it more directly towards Galveston and moving its water-heavy easterly side away from Houston.

GFDL places Rita directly over central Houston …

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