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The Longest Now

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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