Personal and government emergency preparedness

This week, the northern half of Georgia is enduring the effects of an unusually heavy snow/ice storm. Practically all of the precipitation fell Sunday night/pre-dawn Monday morning, but continuous sub-freezing temperatures have prolonged its effects, causing, for example, widespread school closures for three or more consecutive days – unprecedented in my memory.  One might characterize this as a “once in a decade” winter storm for Georgia, though it is the second significant winter storm in the span of a month…in a state that often goes an entire winter without a significant snow/ice storm.

I grew up during the Cold War, and I saw how personal disaster preparedness became deemphasized for most people with the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it, the freedom from the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Of course, our nation was shaken from its complacency a decade later, and since then, there has been a renewed emphasis at all levels of government in encouraging us to be prepared and equipped to deal with disasters, natural or man-made. The federal government has been doing an outstanding job of communicating to individuals and local governments that, in the event of a catastrophe, we may need to survive on our own for several days before outside help reaches us. The rule of thumb for individuals and families is to maintain the resources to sustain themselves, while either evacuating or sheltering-in-place, for three days.

Though physical disability limits my evacuation options, I am fortunate that, because of my background (growing up in the Cold War, a former Boy Scout, a veteran, an outdoorsman, work experience in public safety/emergency management, etc.) my life required no changes in order to attain that level of preparedness and much more.  The only long-term survival need outside of my control is my reliance on prescription medications, a few of which are absolutely vital and, since they are tightly-controlled narcotics, would be difficult to obtain in the event of a prolonged breakdown of social services.

While I’m confident in my ability to weather a disaster and help others do so, an event occurred this week which shook my confidence in my local government to do the same, even at the level of essential services. This ice storm, while heavier than initially predicted, did not occur without warning. On Monday morning, after the precipitation itself, I had a medical emergency that I believed might be imminently life-threatening and could not be treated outside of a hospital. I dialed 911, and a fire/rescue truck and an ambulance were immediately dispatched. I live about 3 miles from the nearest fire station. About 15 minutes later, the dispatcher called to inform me that help was on the way, but the rescue truck and ambulance were having trouble getting to me due to road conditions. Another 20 or so minutes passed, and the dispatcher called to tell me that they could not get into my apartment complex due to the ice and asked if I could walk (several hundred yards) to the entrance of the apartment complex to meet the ambulance. Since my manual wheelchair lacks all-terrain tires, I told her that was not possible.  I began to think about whether a LifeFlight helicopter would have enough room to land safely in the parking lot in front of my apartment. Help finally arrived, well over an hour after my initial call, in the form of a fire department paramedic’s personal pickup truck equipped with snow chains. The paramedics assessed me and transported me to the waiting ambulance.  Fortunately, though there was no way to know without going to the hospital, I did not need to be admitted.  (On the ride home, though the temperature had remained well below freezing and road conditions inside my apartment complex had not changed, the cab had little difficulty taking me all the way to my door.) Last night, my home blood pressure monitor (faulty, as it turns out) provided a reading that indicated that heart damage or a heart attack was imminent. I called 911, and rescue and an ambulance arrived within 15 minutes. It only took the fire department and ambulance service 3 days to discover the invention of snow chains and to use this discovery to their advantage.

My life may depend on how well I prepare for every conceivable contingency as I stock my disaster kit. Many lives depend on how well our city and county governments prepare. YOU NEED NOT WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE DISASTER to find out how prepared your first-responders are. Every local government should have a written disaster plan, and you should be able to view it. In Georgia, you can probably obtain a copy at nominal cost, pursuant to the Open Records Act. Ask your elected officials what the local government’s plans and capabilities are in the event of X. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer, get your county and state emergency management agency involved. Get involved yourself, if you have the time and the skills (this is very common among HAM radio operators).

Don’t wait until AFTER it hits the fan to find out whether your community is prepared for it!

More information about preparing for various types of disasters can be found at Ready.gov and The National Weather Service StormReady Communities Program.

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Published in: on 2011 01 13 at 08:23:47  Leave a Comment  

Memories from the San Joaquin Valley

A bit of background: On December 7, 1988, I reported to my first U.S. Navy fleet duty station: Attack Squadron 22 (VA-22), “The Fighting Redcocks,”  based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California. The squadron has since been redesignated as Strike Fighter Squadron 22 (VFA-22), but the Fighting Redcocks remain based at NAS Lemoore, the Navy’s west coast premier air station and home to Strike Fighter Wing (formerly Light Attack Wing) – Pacific. The Naval Air Station is located on California Hwy 198, a few miles west of the town of Lemoore in Kings County. It is approximately a 30-minute drive to Fresno, in the heart of California’s central valley. Each winter (at that time) a thick blanket of fog would settle into the valley, probably due to a reaction between the relatively mild winter temperatures and the colder air blowing in from the Pacific: San Francisco on an enormous scale.

At that time, almost all of the squadrons at NAS Lemoore flew the same type of aircraft: the A-7E Corsair II, a carrier-based light bomber. Although the A-7E was capable of flying missions in all weather, the extremely poor visibility at Lemoore was deemed an unnecessary risk for training flights. As a result, we spent 4 or 5 months out of the year playing cards. As I had arrived near the beginning of a particularly long foggy season, I literally did not know what my base looked like for the first 6 months I was there. I could not see a person standing three feet away from me. A shuttle bus ran between the administrative area of the base, where our barracks was located, to the more restricted operations area a few miles away. My new shipmates helped me by making sure I knew which direction the bus stop was and how many paces as I walked out of the barracks. They did the same for the enlisted club, the operations mess hall, and the brightly-lit, but still invisible, McDonald’s directly across the street from Barracks 12, which our squadron called home. I could get to work, food, and alcohol. The necessities having been taken care of, the rest would have to wait for spring.

I have always loved the beauty of the outdoors. The following is a post about some of my memories (caveat: from 21 years ago, but still as vivid as yesterday) about my first spring after the fog finally lifted. It was previously posted on my Facebook page, and it meant enough to me that I wanted to preserve it. It has been edited slightly from the original post for contextual reasons.

I still remember working nights, and the sun coming up directly in my eyes on the way home as it rose over the Sierra Nevada around 9am, an hour or more after “sunrise” and the first time I ever saw the peaks of the area of Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks from Visalia. I had arrived at Lemoore in the middle of the fog, and after it finally lifted, I just assumed they were clouds for weeks afterwards. Nothing east of the Mississippi is that high in the sky except clouds or aircraft vapor trails.One day something made me just stand there and watch them – always in the same place and never drifting.

That’s one of the (few) things I loved about NAS Lemoore in summer – I could see from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, over the Coalinga Hills to the Coast Ranges. That and the friggin jackrabbits. We used to have to hop into trucks and chase the jackrabbits and coyotes off the runways and taxiways so that we could conduct flight ops. You’d think a big, loud A-7 or F/A-18 coming toward them would have been as much of a clue as a grey truck. Of course WE had 54mm flare guns. I don’t advocate setting coyotes on fire with red flares, but this was the Cold War, and as exhilarating as it was to be the tip of the spear, we knew who the adversary was, and he had a spear, too. Although if we were “on the beach,” we were training, rather than in an operational role, but we took our jobs no less seriously than those who maintained and flew the B-52s with the white undersides or the Air Force Strategic Air Command tankers that supported them. If you’ve lived long enough to remember the Berlin Wall, hopefully you can understand that there was no such thing as a “just practicing” mentality at that point in the history or our Armed Forces. Nor should there ever be.

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