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What can I do? - Peter Hentges

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September 3rd, 2005

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04:32 am - What can I do?
I look at all the coverage of Katrina's wrath and the fallout from it and I wonder, "What can I do?" Sure, donations to the Red Cross or other agencies are a place to start. Right now, as relief efforts seem to just barely be getting started, I'm not sure how much good pumping money into the system will be. In a week, I think it may be more helpful. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know.

What I do know, is that I will write letters to my mayor, city council person and state government representatives and ask them what plans my city and state has in place for when our natural disaster hits. Sure, we're not likely to get a big flood in the Twin Cities proper (even with the Mississippi flowing through them), but the Minnesota river floods pretty regularly and the Red River floods are a nearly annual occurrence. A tornado, or series of tornadoes, could strike anywhere in our state or those neighboring at any time. Horrific winter storms are certainly possible. As many have pointed out, there's not a place in this country that's completely safe from some sort of natural disaster.

I want to know that the poor, homeless and otherwise disenfranchised in my city will not suffer the way those in New Orleans have. I want to know that there are people who are trained to respond to emergencies and that they have plans in place just waiting for that disaster to happen. I want there to be disaster geeks who get off on thinking up all the interesting ways Mother Nature or other humans can sock it to us and coming up with plans to deal with it. And if those things don't exist, I want to know why.
Current Mood: determineddetermined

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 3rd, 2005 12:41 pm (UTC)

If you look at . . .

. . . what happened in '97 in Grand Forks, I think you'll be a bit reassured. It wasn't as bad as Katrina, of course, and the warning that massive relief/rescue/rebuilding was going to be necessary was weeks, rather than either days or hours.

But, in my own opinion, around here we're ready to deal with the sorts of localized disasters you're talking, within limits. (There's always limits, alas.) Tornadoes do horrible damage, of course, but that damage is always limited to a very small area, compared to hurricanes. And while the Red River floods frequently -- I spent my early years living in the Red River Valley, and, hell, I was born in Winnipeg.

Or look at 1993. Remember 1993? It was kind of a "perfect storm" for flooding in the Midwest -- $15B dollars in damage (a domestic record, at the time) levee failures -- more than a thousand -- along both the Mississippi and the Missouri. Hundreds of thousands of square miles flooded. Towns -- at least 75 -- quite literally wiped off the map.

Death toll? 50.

While it wasn't as bad as Katrina, obviously -- the damage took place over a greater area, but also over a greater time -- it does suggest that physical and particularly social infrastructures up this way are a lot more resilient than they were in LA.

Understandable, really -- there's lots of ways in which New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf are, by nature, much more vulnerable to a big hit than we are here, and some of those are physical, and some are demographic. (I'm not knocking the poor, I hope, when I say that in a disaster -- natural or manmade, like a terrorist attack -- somebody without personal transportation or other economic resources will, statistically, require a lot more help, both immediately and in the long run, than somebody who can get his or her self and family out of the immediate danger zone, and take care of them.)

As to pumping money into the system, that is a big need right now. There are millions of gallons of water and tons and tons of food in the pipeline, and Congress has appropriated more than $10B, just for right now, but the direct economic damage of Katrina, I'm guessing, is going to top $100B before it's all over.

It's the big cities that are horribly vulnerable, and that's true all over the country. How many days' worth of food and water is there, right now, in LA, NYC, Atlanta? If transport is shut down into (let's forget about out of, just for a second) any one of those, how quickly will, even absent civil disorder, the supplies last? (And as the local supplies run out, absent relief and recovery, how long will it be until there's serious civil disorder?) How much food and water should be stored locally -- and where?

[User Picture]
Date:September 3rd, 2005 12:54 pm (UTC)

Re: If you look at . . .

I agree that we're unlikely to have a Katrina-level event here. But I want to make sure that when our event of the century happens to us, that we're ready to respond to it. I'm thinking of something as unlikely but possible as a major tornado hitting Minneapolis proper, taking out some major power, water and transportation infrastructure (maybe being followed by a freak blizzard). Thousands of people without water, electricity, heat. No way to get out and no way for help to get in: how do we cope?

Do I think it likely to happen? No. Do I want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars stockpiling things that will go bad long before it does happen? No.

I do want to know that someone at the proper level of government is thinking about these kinds of things and has some kind of plan to cope. I read through parts of http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/emergency/ but some of it doesn't look like it's been updated since 2002.

So, I'll be writing letters and making calls.
[User Picture]
Date:September 3rd, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)

Re: If you look at . . .

This is just what I've been thinking of, and my "to do" list for today has, "WHAT'S our plan HERE for disasters?" on it. Want to get together for the letter-writing, and to pool info?
[User Picture]
Date:September 3rd, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC)

Re: If you look at . . .

Happy to do so. I'm sleeping just now (all evidence to the contrary....) but later would be cool.
[User Picture]
Date:September 4th, 2005 12:44 pm (UTC)

Re: If you look at . . .

Well, while I'm all in favor of preparation -- and forethought -- that's the sort of thing that a single-party government (like, say, that of Minneapolis has been for all the time I've lived here) is the least capable of, for all the obvious and subtle political reasons, and I think that the plan you point to shows that pretty clearly. (Just among the minor things, there's no public recommendation that residents have enough food, water, and medicine onhand for five days that I can find, and certainly I've never heard a Minneapolis Mayor argue that there should be, and the one Mayoral candidate who has been arguing that is, at best, a fringe candidate.)

But maybe you can urge some useful action.

My own thought is that distributed threats require distributed preparation, and that the more unspecific the threat it is, the more distributed and individual preparations should be.

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