Posts Tagged ‘Disaster


Use your people

Virginia Emergency Operations Center

Image by VaDOT via Flickr

I have noticed that EOC’s and emergency managers are always asking for money and anyone who reads the comments sections of online news articles can see that the public always thinks it’s unnecessary.  I completely understand.  You buy these beautiful, technoligically advanced, and outrageously expensive rooms to be used a few times a year (if your lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view).  I think it’s time we evaluate the use of emergency managers and emergency management agencies.  Preparation is key but we have shrinking budgets and agencies are losing their best people to retirement out of fear of not having the option.  I think that EOC’s and emergency manager should get more active.  Respond to calls that aren’t normally part of your scope but require multi-agency response.  Firefighters, police, and EMS become better at what they do because they are active.  An agency that activates a couple times a year is not going to have their stuff together when the big one hits.  I am always amazed at the requirements to activate an EOC when looking at emergency operations plans.  Some places require the town to essentially be wiped off the face of the earth before it’s a situation that warrants an EOC/EM activation.  As a volunteer who is always looking for a chance to participate in an activation, I find that there are many situations that would have been helped by an EOC activation but the EOC sits dormant.  All the fancy equipment laid out with nothing to do.  Just my opinion though, perhaps I am just bored and looking for some excitement (I don’t wish anything bad on anyone, I really don’t).


We need a new American dream

As I sit and read and watch the horror and atrocities around the world I realize how quickly these events can happen and how our country is always at risk.  I see hope that there are people who are doing what they can to help by either responding directly or by donating what they can.  This is great and makes me proud to be an American.  Yet, there is a disturbing trend that I have noticed since the quakes in Chile and Haiti and it disgusts me on every level.

The United States of America is in conflict.  We are losing our position as the most powerful country on our planet and I am seeing changes that scare me to death.  The trend I am seeing that indicates these changes can be found on any forum or comments section of a website or around your local watering hole.  It’s the large number of people who are saying we shouldn’t respond to these disasters anymore.  They say “we have problems of our own”.  To me, this is more un-American than burning the flag.  The thing that helps me deal with all of the tragedy that takes place around the world and makes me so proud to be an American, is the fact that we respond.  No matter what.  No matter our financial situation or the problems we are having, it has been a proud tradition to send whatever aid we can and rallying our nations citizens into action.  Abandoning those around the world in need will unseat us from the head of the table far faster than any economical crisis ever could.

Our American dream of a big house and nice cars is no longer feasible for everyone and everywhere I hear people who are talking about how bad we have it and what a sorry state the country is in.  I myself have recently lost my job due to a budget crisis but I almost laugh when I think about “how bad I have it”, yeah I lost my job and it sucks but I have good health, a roof over my head, and a good chance that I will find another job and be back to “normal” at some point.  This brings me to my point; We don’t have it bad.  When countries see us whining because of money troubles and see us sitting on our hands because our citizens don’t want to spend money helping anyone, they see weakness.  I mean unemployment of 9%?  If that’s the worst thing that happens to us this year than we are incredibly lucky.

There are countries who are facing famine, genocide, one natural disaster after another and you don’t hear as much whining!  I have a new American dream.  My dream is that our country and citizens stop making excuses and complaining and we pull ourselves up by our boots straps.  I want to see the same vigilance and resiliency I have seen through our history.  We have to respond to other countries because that is what the United States of America does.  We save lives because we know all that we have, have had,  and are thankful and appreciate all of it.  We do not take what we have for granted and we understand how bad it could be.  We can rebuild our credibility, our status, and our pride by continuing to be that guiding light in the world.  I am probably preaching  to the choir, but my dream is that everyone takes responsibility for this.  I know that not everyone can be the hero who kicks in a door and saves a family from a burning house but we can all do something.  Even now that I am trying to figure out what to do next, I am going to continue volunteering as I have for the last 13 years of my life (i’m 27 now).  I do this because I was inspired to do so by people who are hold in extremely high regard because of their service to their communities and this country.  So, when considering whether or not to help or not, I hope you will stop and think about everything you have and how bad things could really be.  Give what you can because you know it’s right and it’s what we do as Americans.  Most of all, please appreciate all that you have and have mercy on those who are truly struggling.


long term disasters

Massive ice blocks and flooding inundate the t...

Image via Wikipedia

The disasters that happen fast and violently are the sexiest disaster.  They match the short attention span of the American people.  An explosion or tornado will garner a lot of attention.  However, these are rare events.  The possibility of encountering these is relatively low compared to the common disasters we take for granted.  For instance, right now we are dealing with ice jams that have resulted in some flooding.  The next few days could prove to be extremely disasterous for the area as temps increase and we recieve heavy precip.  It’s a very slow process that started last weekend and we may not really see any problems until later tomorrow or Friday.  People are not preparing and haven’t taken the situation seriously because it’s a slow moving rain system.  People are oblivious to the danger.  Remember when talking to your constituents that disasters are not just events that can happen in an instant.  We need to make sure that we let people know that even something as mundane as a rain storm can quickly lead to a life/property threatening situation.


There no such thing as a natural disaster

A picture of the 2004 tsunami in Ao Nang, Krab...

Image via Wikipedia

Sounds crazy but think about it.  What is a natural disaster?  Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and the list goes on.  We call these natural disasters.  They aren’t.  These are natural phenomena that have occurred on this planet long before humans ever came into existence.  This is critical to dealing with mitigation and recovery to “natural disasters”.

We have long blamed nature for destroying lives and property.  We try to engineer our way out of disaster.  This is flawed thinking, I understand it but it’s flawed.  The reason it’s flawed is that we think that nature is our enemy.  This is manifested in our over consumption, our wastefulness, and in the fact that we are now just beginning to appreciate nature with the “green” movement.  When it comes to emergency management it’s dangerously clear that we haven’t really gotten to that point where we understand our place in nature.

We build houses in floodplains, we build cities below sea level, we are apathetic at best when it comes to the natural hazards that are present in our lives.  When something like the tornado that stuck Greensburg, Kansas happens, we get angry and ask “why us?”.  It’s because we live intertwined with these processes.  The goal is to find a way to coexist with these hazards.  That means not putting ourselves unnecessarily at risk and planning accordingly for risks that we are willing to accept.  Planning for risks is something we can do now and communities all over the country have been doing for a long time.  It’s the bread and butter of emergency management.  Not putting ourselves at risk is more complicated.  The obvious example is New Orleans.  It’s a city that seemed destined for destruction.  They try to engineer their way out of it, there was an apathy in the government about the true dangers, and the people love their city and don’t want to leave.  So is it logical to rebuild the city when it’s at just as much risk today as ever?  This is the great question that citizens, government, responders, and emergency managers struggle to answer.  People want to live in inherently dangerous areas and expect to be safe.

I should note that I am a geographer by training.  I studied how disasters affect humans and studied these natural hazards and the dynamics behind the hazards that affect us.  One thing I have learned and has benefited me greatly is thinking about emergency management critically and really analyzing why things happen and this includes the social concepts such as understanding why people choose to live in areas that are prone to disasters.


iPad and Disasters

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...

Image via Wikipedia

iPad and Disasters, This is a post from Eric Holdeman’s blog “Disaster Zone”.   The article refers to a EMA that is considering using Ipads in their EOC.  This blows my mind.  This is why I created this blog.  Now nothing against Eric, he is a very highly respected and experienced emergency manager but the concept of using an Ipad in an emergency situation scares the hell out of me.  The Ipad is an entertainment device.  It uses proprietary apps (read:cannot use current EM software), it has a single port (read:zero peripheral options), it can only run a single application at a time (can you really get by with one application and closing it to run something else?), the cost is very high compared to included features, you can’t replace the battery and you can’t upgrade any of the hardware (read:this thing will be a utterly useless in a year or so and you can’t upgrade it), and finally it’s fragile as hell.  So thats the bad.

Here’s the good!: There are many other flavors of tablets coming out on the market.  I do see their place and function in an EOC and other emergencies.  Their long battery life, lightweight, small size, and touch screen feature can be very useful.  So far there is only one company who is making a tablet that will run a regular OS, Hewlett Packard aka HP.  I would NOT recommend a tablet without an attached keyboard however.  The reason is that when you type for extended periods of time, the flat glass screens will irritate the hell out of your hand, don’t believe me?  Take you hand and start fake typing onto your table top.  It will get old very fast.  Keyboard keys have give for a reason.  Also, tablet laptops have a little more real estate inside to include better hardware options.  They are also built more robust and will not break like the giant Ipod I mean the Ipad.  If weight is an issue than you have bigger problems than picking a computer.  Modern laptops are very light and you can get some pretty compact computers now a days. Honestly, for emergency service use I would recommend a rugged or at least semi rugged laptop like the Panasonic Toughbooks or Itronix models.  The Ipad is a clever device that has gained a lot of popularity but I WOULD NEVER buy the current version.  First runs on technology are notoriously bad expenditures.  They are full of bugs and are prone to failure.  This is not an Apple thing, that’s an electronic thing.  All first generation electronics come out with limited testing and they can’t account for the failures that will come with day in and day out use by normal people.  Now take someone in emergency services who will beat the ever living hell out of it and see how well it does.

****UPDATE**** So the HP slate, the tablet that can run Windows 7 is apparently pretty disappointing.  To quote Engadget, it’s hardware is “meh”.  I am not surprised.  The hardware isn’t where it needs to be.  I am willing to concede that these are first runs and are a new form factor so we will see what the future holds.