Category — Critical Infrastructure

Derecho? Dangerous Weather Phenomena or New “End of Times” Disaster Screenplay?

This past week saw charring wildfires consume thousands of acres and hundreds of homes outside of Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs Colorado forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands of families. Thursday however saw the development of a rare weather phenomena just south of the Chicago area that formed a destructive line of vicious deadly storms that raced across the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean sometimes at speeds of 80 miles per hour. Derecho

On Friday, here in the mid-Atlantic region, daytime temperatures were over 100 degrees with high humidity with little relief at night. Friday evening saw the skies turn to a wicked boiling caldron of foreboding clouds. The skies roiled with dark hues of gray, oranges and black making one think of movie special effects, but this was no movie. Lightning bolts angrily scratched across the sky only to strike the ground in an awesome display of nature’s fury. Lights flickered several times and then there were none. No streetlights, no traffic signals. Just headlights from cars driven by startled motorists – many trying to get to the safety of home. But some found no safety at home…

High, hot winds ripped trees from the ground and toppled power lines with hurricane strength. The drive home was surreal with debris swirling everywhere. On two occasions we narrowly missed tree’s falling across the road. As millions of homes were relentlessly plunged into darkness the derecho pummeled communities with storm bands that cut a swath of destruction across three Mid-Atlantic States.

Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia have declared states of emergency as down trees and power lines lay strewn seemingly everywhere. There is no electricity for millions of area residents, hundreds of grocery stores or gas stations. With no air conditioning, refrigeration and, in many areas, no telephone there is an air of “concern”. In addition to Internet being mostly inaccessible, VOIP users also lost use of their voice telephones. Elderly residents and those with disabilities living alone are particularly vulnerable at this time. Power companies are scrambling to repair damage typically associated with a hurricane making landfall and expect that repairs make take up to a week and perhaps longer. The buzz from local county officials is that emergency plans have fallen well short of the current crisis. Local agencies are scrambling to locate facilities to stage large-scale water distribution – that is once they have secured the actual supply of water of course. How much worse can it get?


We are among the fortunate. We opted to be prepared and not paranoid about emergency preparedness. Our All Hazards NOAA Weather Radio did not fail us! Storm tracking and local news gave us a good view of what was going on before we ventured outside of our “safehaven” Saturday morning. After clearing fallen trees from our driveway and road with recently maintained chain saws and fresh two-cycle oil and gas, we were able to get mobile. Debris was everywhere and we had to be watchful for downed power lines.

A quick recon of our neighbors found them to be a bit scared but ok. A couple neighbors have portable generators that are running small air conditioning units, fans and refrigerators. The generators are outside and power cords snake their way thru windows and doors slightly ajar. Water for personal sanitation seems to be the big issue at present, but fuel is key now. It’s hard to safely keep any quantity of gas at hand for emergencies safely. A number of local gas stations did not have power so their pumps were down. Long lines at gas stations that do have power; though, this is to be expected.  We’ve heard reports of communities that have water supply issues as their water purification and pump stations are without power. We have a well and are thankful. We planned for power outages with a backup generator and underground LP storage and think we’ll be good to go for several days until we can arrange for a re-supply of LP.

We are now two days into the aftermath of the derecho, temperatures remain cozily close to if not over 100 degrees. Still no power and over breakfast we’ve just been alerted to NOAA storm watch #442 more storms are possible, the heat index is 100 to 107 and conditions are changing and not for the better… The pets have been brought in to protect them from the sweltering heat. In many communities people are not doing well…  As local county officials and relief agencies to whom so many are desperately turning for resources and assistance struggle with the mere logistics of delivering critically needed water and stumble in shock at the shortfall of their emergency plans, we pray for relief from the heat… We are now at event +3 days…

Derecho. Not a screenplay, just reality….

Facta non Verba

July 2, 2012   1 Comment

Your Community in Dialogue: Dangers of Living Near Nuclear Power Plants

On April 13th, the U.S. Department of State canceled it’s travel advisory to Japan which had been active in one form or another for over a year since the Japan 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear power plant disaster.  There is no doubt that Japan has made remarkable progress in its recovery, but how did the country fare in the immediate days and weeks during their nuclear evacuation?  That evacuation may have saved lives, but to one demographic it was rather brutal – the elderly.  Dozens of senior citizens died as a result of the evacuation itself.

So what has been done to resolve such evacuation difficulties in the future?  According to one recent article, not much.  “We have set a terrible precedent for the rest of the nation and for any town in the world where nuclear plants are located,” said Katsutaka Idokawa, the mayor of Futaba, a town near the devastated Fukushima facility. “I see this disaster as a meltdown of Japan itself.”  Local community leaders in Japan fear that were the event to repeat today near their own communities, they would fair no better than the two towns surrounding Fukushima Diiachi did over a year ago.

Is the United States better prepared to meet the needs of its elderly and disabled population in the event of a nuclear disaster?  Are we even adequately prepared to meet the emergency needs of our general population during such an event?  Japan is extending its evacuation plans from a 10-mile radius immediately surrounding a nuclear power plant to 18 miles – in particular to mitigate the exact problems they found as they tried to evacuate their handicapped and elderly from the area of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.  So how about the United States of America?

The Indian Point Energy Center located in Buchanan, New York is just 38 miles north of New York City, well within the 50 mile radius which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission indicates may have contaminated food and water in the aftermath of a nuclear power plant disaster. In March 2012, Bronx Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera wrote, “Recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied a request for the operators of Indian Point Energy Center to provide an emergency preparedness and evacuation plan for the surrounding communities which are home to 20 million Americans in a tri-state area. In addition, there are serious questions as to the ability of local, state and federal government agencies to communicate and react to a nuclear emergency.”

In our last post we identified an ongoing initiative to promote community dialogue through this blog series.  In consideration of living in proximity to a nuclear power plant, we would suggest you ask the following questions of yourself, nuclear power plant representatives and of your own elected local officials:

  1. Do you know if you live in a 50-mile radius of a nuclear power plant?   With 104 nuclear reactors spread across the U.S., you might be surprised.  Find out here.
  2. Are you upwind or downwind of the nuclear power plant and what are the prevailing winds in your area? What is the evacuation plan for your community (read neighboorhood) in the event of a nuclear discharge or release?
  3. What plans have been established for elderly residents, nursing homes and the  handicapped during an evacuation?
  4. What plans have been established for infant day care facilites and schools?
  5. Considering the U.S. government warned Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima Daiichi to evacuate last March, why are our own local officials still stuck on the 10-mile radius evacuation plan? What do your local elected officials think of this fact?
  6. If such a nuclear disaster occurred, what local hospital is prepared to provide you emergency radiation exposure care?  Considering the very troubling results of a study performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2009, a better question might be – how can you even know that hospital personnel will even be present to provide that emergency care?  (give you a hint – 39% of those responding in the aforementioned survey were not even willing to show up to work in case of a nuclear event)

If you live within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor, go ask your elected officials, city council, board of supervisors, Town Hall or other local leaders these very important questions!  Remember – don’t take no for an answer and don’t let this very important issue be marginalized.

Community leaders answer to YOU as members of the community!  You are important and you have a voice! Use that voice to be an instrument for change and progress.

After you get (or perhaps don’t get) those answers, come back to this blog and share “the answers” with emergency-minded citizens just like yourself and engage Your Community in Dialogue! Now it’s your turn!

Facta non Verba


April 19, 2012   No Comments

Your Community in Dialogue: Promoting Public Discussions on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response

This past December, FEMA released its Whole Community Approach to Disaster Management.  The theme of this program advocates a different approach to how the U.S. Government responds to disasters – now when things go disastrously bad, you simply cannot count on the government to solve all your problems.  Successful emergency response and disaster recovery really boils down to the emergency preparedness and disaster response capability of the individual and, by extension, an individual community. This could be a mind bender for some to understand.

The first question which must be asked – have you reviewed the Whole Community Approach to Disaster Management?  If so, do you agree with its premise?  If you don’t agree, we encourage you to make your voice heard amongst your elected officials.  If you do agree, then we strongly encourage you to become an emergency preparedness activist for your family, community, and amongst your civic leaders.

Before deciding which way you come down on FEMA’s new approach, we might suggest a few additional questions to ask yourself and pose to elected officials:

  • Where does the funding come from to facilitate this new “whole community” approach?
  • Who has the funding and equipment resources needed to implement the program locally?
  • Is there training for individual communities to actually learn the process of becoming independently resilient?
  • At what point will the Federal Government step in during a crisis when local resources fail?

We believe one of the very first steps in becoming a resilient community and individually accepting the role of “emergency preparedness activist” is to open up the channels of communication with public officials to become educated and learn what you can do and, more importantly, what your community can do with inspired leadership by local officials. We are launching a new blog series entitled Your Community in Dialogue to actively promote dialogue in public meetings. In each post we will share thought-provoking insights, and key questions for active members of communities to engage their community leaders.

We then ask you to share the results of your community conversations with other readers of this blog.  Frankly speaking, unless active members of the public fully engage community leaders tasked with emergency preparedness and disaster response, most will never know if, or even how their community plans to deal with common extreme weather emergencies or, heaven forbid, the unthinkable catastrophic disaster scenario.

When you attend upcoming meetings with your child’s Parent Teacher Association, or elected officials, City Council, Board of Supervisors, Town Hall or Neighborhood Watch ensure that emergency preparedness and disaster response conversations makes it onto the agenda. In the midst of a general election year, elected officials typically are more focused on the needs of their constituents. Take advantage of this opportunity. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let this very important issue be marginalized. Community leaders answer to YOU as members of the community!  You are important and you have a voice! Use that voice to be an instrument for change and progress.

We would then like to know – did you get a substantive answer to your questions?  Or do you feel you were simply blown off?  By sharing your experiences (the good and the bad) as you engage in these dialogues, it will be of great help to all of our readership and truly promote an open, effective dialogue.

This blog series also just might prove once and for all that Social Media is good for more than idle “chit chat”. Let’s challenge social media to bring emergency preparedness to the fore front of community discussions. “Inquiring minds want to know?”

Watch for the first of Your Community in Dialogue blogs coming soon: Nuclear Power Plant Safety in Your Community. We look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts!

Facta Non Verba

April 3, 2012   No Comments