Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Wrath of Mother Nature

There are a lot of "shoulds" today. I should be cleaning. I should be organizing. I should be writing that confirmation letter for my neice. I should get my stuff together for a visit to my parents this weekend. I should put my Sweet Dreams Stocking aside and start a scissor fob for exchange. I should be doing a lot today...but it's rainy and gloomy and dark and all I want to do is hike up the heater as high as it can go, curl up with a blankie and watch TV. It's just past noon and I've already watched a little bit of Bones, a little bit of Monk and watched the original 'Hairspray' and I'm listening to the commentary as I type. I did manage to take a couple of pictures for a progress post that will follow soon.

Frankly, I'm still trying to recover from yesterday. The Bay Area was hit by such an awful storm! One that, I think, rivaled the winter storms of 1995. In the past, I'd just battle my way to work, if it happened to be a workday, and just plug away at what had to be done. If a storm landed on a weekend, I'd hunker down and stay indoors but I think this was the first major storm that I've worked in a position of public safety support. We fielded so many calls seeking help yesterday that I was amazed and distressed. People called with problems such as downed wires, fallen trees, trees into houses, minor fires, power outages, flooding and broken sump pumps. When you get a call or two, it's ok. But when you get tons of calls and you know that your resources are already so stretched and the pumps you had on hand are already loaned out, all you can do is apologize and put them on the list and offer other suggestions.

I was amazed at the people who would call the fire department asking when the power would come on and then get irritated that I didn't have an answer. Last time I looked, PG&E was in charge of power and the fire department was in charge of putting out fires, providing medical aid, pumping out water from flooded areas, helping at traffic scenes, etc. When I explained that they had to call PG&E for status on power, the response was that they couldn't get through to anyone. No offense but that does not change my answer. I don't know when the power will be back but be patient, PG&E is out in the rain working as hard and as fast as they can to restore power to everyone just like the firefighters are out in the elements helping everyone who needed it.

When you come down to it, on the level of disasters, a winter storm does not compare to an earthquake (this is earthquake territory), blizzards, tornadoes or hurricanes. And despite how much we tell people and the news tell people to prepare, people are NOT prepared. I wish the public would be more prepared because the situation could be so much worse. Get sandbags and keep them in the garage if you're in low-lying areas. Put the sandbags out BEFORE the rain starts to minimize the amount of water to enter your house or business. Always have bottled water and canned food on hand. Have flashlights, candles, matches and batteries stocked. If your house gets flooded and you have a pump, have a small emergency generator in case of a long-time outage during a storm AND check it periodically.

In a true disaster, resources are stretched everywhere. An eye-opening example is that for the small town I work in, we have 100 firefighters to 100,000 residents. In San Francisco, I estimate 1,000 firefighters for 1.5 million residents. I can't find the exact number anywhere but that's a pretty decent guess, I think. If your community offers a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class...take it. It's free and the lessons you learn from it can be truly irreplacable and priceless one day. All you would need to devote is time. I know that time is hard to come by but if the knowledge and skills that you acquire in a 25 hour class can help make you, your family, your neighborhood or your block safe and comfortable until emergency resources are available...isn't that completely worth it?

At the end of the day, I was truly thankful to work with a hard-working group of guys, to have been indoors most of the day and to be able to go home at the end of the workday to a lovely yet messy apartment that had power. And I curiously await my own first CERT class so I can be more prepared than I already am.

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