Friday, September 02, 2005

Be Prepared

I’ve been meaning to write this for much of the hurricane season, but since Katrina hit and September is National Preparedness Month, I’ll stop procrastinating.

Prevention is important when dealing with potential disasters, both natural and man-made. But not every disaster can be prevented, so both individuals and government officials need to be ready for an emergency. While the nature of the emergency may vary, there are many things you can do that will apply to just about any emergency. Remember, it’s much easier to do your thinking and planning now while you are not in physical or emotional distress and supplies are not yet scarce or unavailable.


Keep in mind that, in an emergency, the usual infrastructure that people depend on for day-to-day comforts and securities may be strained or unavailable. Emergency response teams may be overwhelmed by serious cases, leaving minor cases to care for themselves. Roads may be blocked, making travel difficult or dangerous. Phone, water, electricity, and other utilities may be down for extended periods of time. So what can you do?

Stock supplies. A flashlight (my preference is LED flashlights, which last longer and use fewer batteries, but tend to be more expensive initially), a first aid kit with bandages and medicines you require, bottled water, and canned food. At a minimum. Even if you live where water is usually still available when the power goes out, remember that central water treatment stations require power, too.

It would also be a good idea to keep a phone that plugs straight into the wall since these will work if the power is out but the phone lines are still up. Wireless handsets DO NOT work when the power goes out. Cell phone towers will only work for about a day after a power outage, so if you have a landline, have a way to use it.

If you have a generator, be sure to have gas for it BUT STORE IT SAFELY. My father has a policy of not letting the gas tank in his vehicles get below half a tank so that he can siphon the gas out for the generator if need be. You should stock oil, oil filters, and other maintanence items on hand since these supplies will probably be in shorter supply than gasoline in an emergency. Also, be sure to run the generator for 10 minutes every month so that it will run when you need it.

Skills and knowledge. Basic first aid skills and CPR can go a long way in an emergency. As I’ve said, help may not be immediately available, especially if your case is less urgent than other cases. Know what emergency situations are most likely to arise in your area (in other words, pick your battles: don't worry so much about hurricanes in Alaska or earthquakes in Florida). In rural or even suburban areas, any camp skills are useful, like knowing how to start a fire and cook food in that fire or knowing how to build a makeshift shelter.

Have a plan. If you have to evacuate, have an idea of where you would go and how you would get there. This is particularly helpful for truly unexpected emergencies where your family may be split up and unable to communicate. Have near (in case of fire, leave the house and go to the top of the hill), local (if you can’t get to the house, meet at the gym), and evacuation (if we have to flee, meet at Aunt Jane’s in Pennsylvania) locations.


You may find yourself getting to know your neighbors more than you ever expected in an emergency, but there some good things to know before the emergency hits. For supplies that are more expensive or harder to come by (like generators, tractors, and chain saws), know who, if anyone, has access to those supplies and know what you can offer in return for their use. Give five gallons of gas in exchange for a shower. Share the food in your fridge in exchange for the means to cook it. Offer to help with clean up in exchange for help cleaning your own property.

Be a concerned citizen. Check on your neighbors in an emergency to see how they are fairing. Be willing to help where help is needed. Working together with your neighbors can make some tasks much easier and go much more quickly than any of you working alone.


Local governments should have their own emergency response plan in place. State and federal governments may take time to mobilize help, so local authorities are responsible for first response. In terms of personnel, this means police to maintain order and direct evacuations or block access to quarantined areas, fire-fighters and other rescue personal, and medical response teams to take care of the injured.

An evacuation plan MUST BE IN PLACE, particularly in urban areas where the population is large, the number of paths out of the area are limited, and there are some people who may not be able to leave on their own. Urban areas are also more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, so this evacuation plan should be capable of being executed quickly and efficiently. Florida turns all lanes of I-95 into north-bound lanes when they evacuate for hurricanes (no one in Florida evacuates south). This means they double the usual capacity of the interstate when they area trying to get people out. Cities should know which roads they would make a temporary one-way street to expedite an evacuation.

There should also be a plan for getting those who have no personal modes of transportation to safety. It may be necessary to co-ordinate with state authorities on this.


Local authorities will have to be the first responders in an emergency, but they will eventually need help (depending on the scope of the disaster). They will need additional law enforcement, rescue personnel, medical help, and supplies (food, water, and equipment). In the case of evacuations, they must have an idea of where to send evacuees. The state has the authority to mobilize the National Guard, which can be used to maintain order and deliver supplies and personnel.


The federal government has the big guns and the big money. When a disaster impacts a wide area (directly or indirectly), the federal government needs to be able to step in and manage the response efforts. This reduces the chances that one area gets far more help than it requires while another area is neglected. The federal government can also pull resources from around the country and may have better access to specialized training. Federal assistance may also be required to assist in post-emergency recovery efforts if state and local authorities are overwhelmed.

Obviously, some of this stuff is biased toward natural disasters. If I had written this back on 7/7 (when I was last inspired to write it), it would have been more biased toward terrorism. But no matter what the emergency, the key is to be prepared. Consider this post highly update-able and open to suggestions.

Keesler AFB

I seem to be getting a lot of hits for people looking for pictures of Keesler AFB in Biloxi. This collection of pictures on Flikr are the best I can find. The air strip is still functional, though 50% of the base did flood.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

International Aide

Other countries are offering aide, by the way, though Canada is the only country I've found specifically mentioned as sending people and not just supplies or money.

Pondering Katrina's Aftermath

I am finding it difficult to fathom all the death, destruction, and chaos on the Gulf Coast. I can’t imagine an entire city under water. An entire city made unlivable for months or years to come in less than a day. People stranded on roofs and law enforcement personal torn between search and rescue efforts and looting prevention. I can’t imagine people dying of exposure, starvation, and dehydration on a large scale in America. Dead bodies floating and lying the streets. Snipers shooting at hospitals. Citizens shooting at rescue helicopters. People taking refuge in high places so they can to escape not just the floods, but the violence. Families splitting up in the hopes that at least some of them will find help. This is the kind of thing that happens on the other side of the world or in a horror movie. Not here. Not for real.

The desperation of survivors still stranded makes the situation even worse. It is one thing to lose everything. It is yet another to lose everything then die slowly with no way of knowing if help will come in time. When your life is in danger, your instinct isn’t exactly to sit around and wait for someone to tell you what to do now. Normally, after a disaster like this, you would start to clean up and either rebuild or move on. These people can’t even do that. The disaster is still going on for them.

When there is an emergency, the states often turn to the National Guard. But the concept of the National Guard as reserves and emergency help has been demolished by the Iraq war. They were called up as a first, not last, resort and sent across the world to “take the war to the terrorists”, only now our troops are over there, and we need them here. Yes, some troops are in LA, MS, and AL. And more are on the way. But many more could have been there much sooner.

If it takes this long to respond to an emergency we at least had some idea was coming, how prepared are we for an unexpected emergency? Natural or otherwise? Perhaps a terrorist attack could not impact this large an area, but what about an earthquake? Or a volcanic eruption? Or another hurricane? I recognize that this is an extreme situation, but it’s been 5 days and the death toll is still rising.

Even if the situation is only 20% as bad as the media makes it out to be, it is still overwhelming. It is still mind-boggling. And it’s still not over.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Good from the Bad

Apparently, Michele is tired of all the bad news coming out of New Orleans and other areas devistated by Katrina, so she's rounding up feel-good news stories about rescues, families reunited, etc. Thanks to Dean's World for the link.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On a Lighter Note...

Christiana has a link to a very cool video. It's... oddly mesmerizing.

Katrina Roundup

It's bad and getting worse in New Orleans. Katrina has passed, but the city's flood waters are rising due to at least two levee failures. Even the Superdome (where 10,000 people originally took shelter, but hospital evacuees and those recued from the floods have since added to the number) is beginning to flood and officials are saying that the city needs to be completely evacuated. The Weather Channel's website has a post on it's blog called "Desperately Seeking..." where readers are posting to find more information about how people they know or the regions they live in are fairing. They are also encouraging readers to post info they may have and they are posting links where you can get more information.

According to Jeff Masters' blog, six NWS locations lost communication yesterday, leaving a hole in the radar picture. Also, the Hurricane Hunters' home base, Keesler AFB in Buloxi, MS, took a direct hit from Katrina and has suffered exstensive damage (some pictures have been posted on Flickr, but information is hard to find). I'm not sure what this will do to our ability to monitor future hurricanes this season, but they suffered a hit from Ivan last year and managed to continue their missions after that (I believe they moved their planes elsewhere before the storm).

An oil rig broke loose in Alabama and is now lodged under a bridge. Oil prices, of course, have skyrocketed to near $71 a barrel and closed at $69.94. Though some of that is panic due to the uncertainty of how much damaged Katrina did to the rigs in the Gulf, there is the real possibility of $3.00 a gallon coming soon rather than later because of this.

If flood waters continue to rise, the entire city of New Orleans may be under water by this evening. I'm not sure how they plan to evacuate the Superdome, escpecially since there are so many people. For now, people will just have to move to higher floors to avoid flood waters. Even if they manage to fix the levees in the next few days, they then have to get rid of the water.

Keep in mind also that New Orleans didn't get the brunt of this system; southern Mississippi did. News from these areas will come out more slowly due to loss of communication, infrastructure losses, and travel difficulties. I am reminded of Mitch, which rewrote Honduras' geography, though the death toll here will (hopefully) not be as high. Here's a map of the total rainfall from the storm.

If you want pictures, the Weather Channel (click on "Slideshow: Katrina's Force") has the most extensive collection I'v seen. also has several picture galleries. Washingon Post has pictures from more than just NO.

WWL is apparently a local news station in New Orleans that a lot of local blogs are using as a source (in addition their own eyes). This video is long (so don't click if you don't have broadband) but informative. Via Jody, here's a local NO blog that's updating regularly.

The Red Cross is accepting donations, of course. This disaster will take a long time to recover from. If you pray, please do so. The victims and survivors need all the help they can get.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Temste Tawnai

Hmmm, I've been called on my weather obsession. Of course, that's how this blog got started in the first place. Since this is my first full hurricane season blogging, it's the first opportunity I've had to really obsess. Besides, it gives me something to write about when I can't think of anything else and it gives me something to do when I can't sleep (like za).

Sunday, August 28, 2005

What Scares a Field Meteorologist?

The meteorologists on the Weather Channel are freaking out. With every storm, of course, they warn people to stay indoors or evacuate high risk areas. They list the previous hurricanes that the current storm is like (Camille is being mentioned a lot), they show you the churning waves on the beach, they encourage you to not do exactly what they are doing (stand in the storm), and so on. But with Katrina's winds at 160 mph, the field meteorologists have gone beyond the usual words of discouragement. Stephanie Abrahms is twitching nervously, incredibly eager to leave her pearch on the coast and move inland. A local news crew in Biloxi asked Jim Cantori if he was going to ride out the storm at the beach because they were thinking of doing so. "What are you, crazy?" he replied. I'm waiting for them to turn to the people walking on the beach behind them and scream, "WHAT are you people DOING here? Run! Flee! Category 5! 160 mph! 40 foot storm surge! Total devastation! Do you understand? This stormly isn't just dectructive, it's DEADLY! GO!" Then pick up their gear, sprint to their van, and burn rubber speeding out of there.

The one saving grace here may be that the storm will probably hit at low tide, thus reducing the amount of damage the storm surge could do. We can also hope that it will be in the middle of an eyewall replacement cycle when it finally reaches land, which will weaken it (though probably only to cat 4). However, at the moment, it is still getting stronger. And it's moving into warmer waters.

As of the 11 o'clock update:
Central pressure: 907 mb
Maximum sustained winds: 175 mph
Wind gusts up to 215 mph