January 25, 2017

Do or Do Not There Is No Try

The air force pilots I’ve worked with have two good expressions.  One is that they don’t see the point of jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft.  This means the pilot should be capable of bring that craft down safely and not ejecting.  The other expression involves a definition of ejecting out of an aircraft.  It’s called, “committing suicide to avoid getting killed.”

Civilians might refer to being damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  The issue of being double-damned comes up in Washington, DC’s emergency plan.  First comes the controversy about having a public plan to combat unusual events, including terrorism, in the capital of the free world.  Folks in Washington may have reason to keep some of their plans secret.  

But then, how do you keep a secret in Washington?  Take the semi-secret exercise undertaken to simulate evacuation in case of a dirty bomb or other nuclear event.  The folks in Frederick County found out that the Great Frederick Fair Grounds was an evacuation centre for people fleeing Washington.  Not so fast.  County officials don’t want contaminated people on their fairgrounds.  And they don’t want the people hosed down because then contaminated water will be in their sewer system.  

Not only are there insufficient mutual aid agreement among towns and cities in the area, but there’s not even coordination.

One transit official has noted “nobody’s in charge at the regional level.”  If you put people on buses and trains, they’re targets.  If you don’t, there’s gridlock.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

But, that may be the least of Washington’s troubles.  When I did my research I found that the emergency plan was 12 years old and minor revisions were made 8 years ago.  Some of the plan is unavailable and other portions print off the page.  There’s at least one blank map with no streets or other features.  There’s a lot of small print that will be hard for many people to read.    

There’s no such thing as no risk, and every approach has more or less danger than the alternative.  Brisbane Australia rightly notes there should be “suitable staging areas” in an effort to manage traffic in an emergency, but they do not indicate where these might be.  This will cause delay.  But naming staging areas makes them a target for terrorism or mischief.  They might just be a target for hot dog vendors who clog up the roads.  Packing bright orange garbage bags in your emergency “go bag” means you’ll be able to signal for help.  But you’ll also be vulnerable to people without supplies who might want yours.  

If we know a storm is coming it might be a good idea to let schools and offices out early.  But, as Boston notes in its plan, this can create “super rush hours” and perhaps more danger.  And what about all those kids arriving at empty homes because their parents can’t work farther away?  How about kids going home to locked homes?  

Tampa wisely notes that there will be more goods donated than can be handled.  It’s nice that people will be generous, but some will dump off what is essentially garbage.  Even the nice people will dump off food that they don’t want to eat and clothes they don’t want to wear.  What else would they donate—prized possessions?

If victims need clothing, it doesn’t matter if it’s junk to someone else.  If the clothing contains disease or skin irritant, a sick person or terrorist has a little victory.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  

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