Monday, May 19, 2008

This Is an Emergency Broadcast

For all the disaster planning and recent events around the world - from hurricanes in Burma to earthquakes in China - the US is no better prepared than ever in its history. According to numbers reported in the Washington Post, 93% of us don't have a clue about what to do in a natural disaster. As hurricane season approaches, perhaps it's a timely subject.

I will say that Texas has made some strides, although mainly in the field of top-down command control and how to work the evacuation highways. Incredulously, the Department of Homeland Security insists upon customs inspections not only at the check stations such as Sarita and Falfurrias, but the evacuation centers, buses, and collection areas as well. What a bunch of proverbial turds.

There is some good advice out there, although most of the effort is on policing. The typical response (and no offense intended to Clifford) is to motivate people to leave ... or make them put on a toe tags "so we can ID your crab infested body." I think we can do better than that.

In general we're talking about two types of tropical cyclones and hurricanes. The first is the type that is tracked for days if not weeks before a storm gets within 500 miles. This gives you lots of time to make arrangements, pack those special things that could be lost, and beat the traffic. A single mention of a hurricane in the Gulf can empty about SPI tourists in a heartbeat, with some locals to follow. Hurricane Dean is a classic example.

The second type are very fast, compact hurricanes that can blow up within a space of 24 hours. Humberto was such an example of a storm that was never predicted (well, I did but who cares). For this the strategy is what's called a "ditch bag" just like a survival kits when you go out to sea on a boat. You grab the ditch bag that has all your important papers, medications, and some useful stuff like Granola bars and Charmin, throw it in the car, and boogie.

Now I've been around the Island long enough to know that even in small storms like Emily (2005, just after moving down here permanently), Islanders will wait until the wind actually starts blowing hard before putting up shutters and plywood ... and maybe hitting the liquor store, get some groceries, and the going to the bank as an afterthought. If the storm looks like Category 2-3 or less, or a likely miss, this Island is known for some outrageous hurricane parties. Jimmy Buffet music blares and the margarita machine is fired up. Some bars have been known to have a "keg emptying party" for the locals to celebrate the event. I have to say that mooning the Weather Channel TV crew was a high point of my life (take THIS, Jim Cantore!).

I know, that sends the wrong message but I think the Islanders know the drill fairly well and just need to be reminded about that "ditch bag" and some simple precautions. I hope some public friendly gatherings can help drive the point home ... one idea was to have a party and hand out or sell waterproof bags with a waterproof zipper with maybe an advertisement on one side and a checklist of things to do on the other. Make it some cool events and opposed to the usual smack talk by burly cops and frightening weather weenies.

And folks, if we get a one of the rare storms that form only 100 miles offshore, just forget the computer stuff and Aunt May's tea set. Grab the bag and go!

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