Many personal coaches and therapists try to get their clients to stop using the “woulda, shoulda, coulda…” terminology. We can all get a little down by focussing on what we would have done, should have done, and could have done, had life unfolded differently.
We need a version of this advice in our urban emergency plans. Most plans feature aspirational statements with little reference to actual implementation. Some actually list dozens of pages of goals, plans and projects, which end with the sad notation that funding is not available or they are awaiting funding.
New Orleans, which knows better after Hurricane Katrina, states that “disabled vehicles and debris will be removed from highways.” How? By having tow trucks drive over top of the vehicles which are using all lanes and the shoulders of the road?
Contraflow, with all roads leading away from the disaster, have been called life threatening. On-ramps and off-ramps aren’t built to be reversed, and neither is signage. All roads leading out means emergency vehicles can’t get in. New Orleans experienced this mess years before Hurricane Katrina. After an expenditure of $7 million the roadways still didn’t work well for evacuation during Katrina.
The other fantasies include the hope there will be services — water, toilets, and food along the way. In fact, there may not even be gasoline in a power outage. So, we shouldn’t keep hopes up for the fantasy tow-trucks coming to the rescue. It will be good ol’ boys, with rifles in their pickups that take matters into their own hands.
Instead of wishing or hoping for the best, Winnipeg has taken some concrete action. It has snow plans that change bus routes, and designate certain roads open, depending on the conditions. It’s not just a good idea, it’s apparently an idea they’ve actually implemented. Those who have lived with lots of snow know that planning for these annual events makes sense.
Albuquerque has reduced one hazard by installing a lightning detector alarm on their soccer field and notes that roofs and electric systems can be evaluated for vulnerability. They’re also saving water by using treated effluent for watering golf courses and parks. The city fire department saves hundreds of thousands of gallons of water when testing fire hydrants in a more environmentally friendly way. Many of our older cities feature aging pipes, with homes fed by cracked clay pipes. This wastes water and can also lead to water backing up into basements. Fixing these old pipes is a good idea. Many older cities lose up to 25% of their fresh water out of leaky pipes.
Albuquerque also has advice on earthquake proofing homes. This activity is a low-cost, no-brainer too. Bolting bookshelves to the wall, bolting wood frames to the foundation, and stiffening up the house can help the structure withstand both earthquakes and windstorms. Strapping that strengthens the home can also be part of a retro-fitted insulation project — double the payback.
Brisbane, Australia, notes that “it is critical to have an animal management plan in place…” They’re probably right, but why not actually have a plan rather than note how critical it is to have one? The folks in Brisbane should read Kansas City’s pet plan that covers shelters and even disposal of pets who die in urban emergencies.
While many cities make sunny assumptions, Auckland, New Zealand, notes that only 7% of residents are fully prepared. That city also notes that some emergencies, such as volcanic eruption, could reduce the city’s GDP by almost 50%. That is 14% of the whole country’s GDP, and twice the hit that New Zealand took in the Great Depression.
Auckland has given us all a wakeup call about the value of urban emergency planning.