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And the Walls Came Tumbling Down
Author: BobR    Date: 03/03/2010 13:50:33

We have seen two large earthquakes rock our hemisphere in the last couple months. The destruction was very different in the two countries, based on their building preparedness. But in both cases, the human preparedness seems to be lacking. Just how well prepared are we as a nation - and as a worldwide people - for these kinds of disasters?

With the enormous quake in Chile, and the need for normalcy in our lives, the problems of Haiti have fled from most people's minds. However, a yearly problem has already been shown to be much worse as that country grapples with its attempts to recover - flooding.

The rainy season is coming, and a recent rainstorm shows that they will be having a rough time of it. It will get a lot worse as tent cities in open fields get flooded by the torrential rains that WILL come.

While Chile was much better prepared (in terms of building codes, and response preparedness), their current situation shows that even the best laid plans aren't enough. When people are used to having running water, food, and electricity available to them at all times, a sudden unplanned event like an earthquake will leave them needing basic essentials almost immediately. Even though ramping up and delivering supplies within 2 days seems pretty impressive, it can feel like an eternity to those at ground zero.

This results in looting and lawlessness, which is starting to overtake cities in Chile. I don't know anyone (other than FOX News) that would begrudge a hungry person trapped in the rubble breaking into a store to get at food and water. However, greed and selfishness are basic human emotions, so you have the people stealing TVs and they're the ones that get splashed across the news.

On top of that, criminals have taken advantage of the chaos, and turned the coastal cities of Chile into a Thunderdome-esque post-apocalyptic nightmare.

We won't soon forget our own lack of preparedness for a category 5 hurricane, that we knew was coming. When Katrina slammed the gulf coast and wiped out large chunks of New Orleans, Marcia watched helplessly as the head of FEMA - clearly drowning in his position - dithered while fellow Americans died in or on their homes waiting for help.

Heckuvajob-Brownie is long gone, and the current person in that position - W. Craig Fugate - seems to have the real-world experience you would want for that position. He guided the Florida division of FEMA through 4 hurricanes. But what about other natural disasters? The science of predicting earthquakes doesn't really exist (not like weather), so the best science can do is say what the probability is for any given fault line. As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are some areas that are likely to get hit with a huge earthquake, mostly the entire west coast.

Are we prepared for that? I know that building codes have adjusted so that the buildings have a better chance of surviving an earthquake. At least - the newer ones have a better chance; the older ones will crumble like most of Port au Prince. What about post-earthquake? Do we have the earthmoving equipment available on a moment's notice?

Any disaster requires food, water, medicine, and temporary shelter to be available, as well as the logistics support to deliver it. There is also the need to maintain order, and the ability to use common sense while maintaining it. One would hope we have that ready to go. The temporary housing in the form of trailers for Katrina victims, though, shows how government cronyism can result in contracts given to favored businesses that deliver shoddy goods (in that case - formaldehyde-ridden trailers).

How prepared are we really? It's never too early to reassess our preparedness, both as a nation and as individuals.

68 comments (Latest Comment: 03/04/2010 03:42:35 by livingonli)
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