Bylund

There are very few researchers who document the positive effects of disasters. But a very few do note that a disaster also injects a lot of new money into a region. Tough way to get a little economic activity going, but the imperative is to repair.
Per L. Bylund is one of the rare birds who explores this in his book The Seen, the Unseen, and the Unrealized. The subtitle is How Regulations Affect Our Everyday Lives. I think the book is about much more than regulation, but subtitles are sometimes the product of the publisher, not the author.
The book is a readable account of the economic decisions entrepreneurs make when deciding to go into a business, sell their product, or consume a product. We “produce in order to consume.” If I eat an apple, I am forgoing the eating of a pear and also forgo trading that apple for something else. That’s opportunity cost. Bylund sustains this “Dick and Jane” analogy for 173 pages without getting pedantic. He shows how nothing is free. We see the apple, we don’t see the hypothetical pear, and we can’t see what would have happened if we’d done something else all together—the unrealized. This is his case against government subsidy, because the government took the money out of the economic system to put it somewhere and that creates a whole bunch of unintended consequences.
But back to disasters, which are a dramatic case of scarcity and supply and demand theory. If your city is wiped out, you need food, clothing, and shelter far more than shopping for a winter vacation. The clothing is anything you can get, rather than the latest Brooks Brothers’ jacket. A disaster creates a “different consumption pattern.” A disaster is different than “other radical change” because it may not be anticipated and it affects “most or all goods across the board.”
Who cares about opportunity cost, comparative shopping or anything else in a disaster? You need what you need. Even if you (collectively) have no money, you obtain necessities with charity, volunteerism, debt, or any way you can.
Bylund is right, as a professor of entrepreneurship and free enterprise might be. Since he’s at Oklahoma State, he must also have seen a few severe weather events.
But my interest is in prevention, not just analysis. I’d like to build on the author’s sound analysis, to get to a solution.
If a disaster wipes out a lot of inventory, that scarce or non-existent inventory has a higher value with more dollars chasing fewer goods. If the inventory is the necessities of life, the chase takes on an urgency unparalleled in normal times.
What shall be done? It seems axiomatic to me that we maintain inventory levels, remove scarcity, and slow down the chase. Walmart did this. Bylund documents that it closed “2 of its distribution centers and 126 of its stores” after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Half had no power, some flooded and 89 had damage. Within ten days “121 of those stores were open again” after Herculean work by the retail chain. I bet their prices didn’t change much, if at all.
Does Walmart have some secret way of reacting to a disaster? Can municipal employees not learn this or ask? Cities can require businesses, buildings, and sports facilities to maintain inventories of food, medical supplies, and other necessities, including even cheap, disposable paper jump suits. There can be cheap foam to sleep on, and co-management agreements with other cities to get supplies and responders on site quickly.
It seems to me that this would reduce the scarcity, lower prices, decrease the time getting back to normal.
How about trying to get this going in your city?

Research Design Issues

 

I have many concerns about the quality of research conducted in political campaigns, by those governing and by industrialists.  I even see those in the not-for-profit sector spending precious money on unproductive research. 

“Original” research in universities is often only conducted at the doctoral level.  Research that is done often involves relatively unproductive statistical tables or questionnaires that purport to be” scientific”.  Many students find searching through microfilm, microfiche and original texts in libraries to be passé, if they are aware of the technique at all.  This constricted research in universities translates into marginally beneficial or even irrelevant techniques and results in industry and government.      

 

How is it that the best educated generation the world has ever seen is relying on research techniques that would not achieve a pass in a second year social science course in a reputable university?  In government, and in the political campaigns designed to lead to governing, senior managers are making decisions based on flawed methodology.

 

But we are in unstable times when we need excellent public policy and politics.  America is polarized domestically and the European Union is beginning to show signs of eventually having similar economic and political clout in some parts of the world.

 

For those who look to the private sector for leadership and use the refrain of “running the government like a business”—please don’t.  Fully 82% of all mergers and acquisitions in private industry fail to produce new value.  There is a crisis of competence in all sectors, in part because of poor research.

 

Here are the top ten issues and comments on research techniques and challenges faced both in campaigns and then in governing:

 

 

The population is much more sophisticated than they were when the random sample telephone survey was invented.  A telephone call is now an intrusion, especially during dinner time.  Pollsters are experiencing up to 70% refuse rates.  I tell my clients that often the biggest message they are getting is that their constituents refuse to speak to them at all.

 

Compounding the problem is caller ID which tips people off that it’s a pollster calling.  The moment of silence before the questioner begins speaking is a further tip off, as is the robotic reading of questions from a computer screen.

 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that up to 10% of the population has just one hand-held device or phone—higher in the crucial 18-24 age group.  Many will not participant in phone surveys because they have to pay the air time.

 

People miss-remember dates, events and attitudes—what researchers call “backward and forward telescoping”.   They also tell researchers what they wish had happened, or use answers to researchers’ questions as surrogates for other messages.  The classic example is that far more Americans reported that they voted for President Kennedy after his assassination than could have done so in the closest election the US had had to that date.

 

Social science is too imprecise to determine that 22.3% of people think or do anything—often referred to as “spurious accuracy”.

 

Citizens reserve the right to lie to pollsters and reserve the right to park their votes in the undecided category or tell pollsters they will vote for a party or candidate when they have no intention of doing so, in order to temporarily reward or punish candidates.

 

One joke about polls goes like this:  “If an election were held today, everybody would be really surprised because it’s scheduled for November 4”.  That kind of captures some of the unreality of polls these days.

 

  • Focus Groups.

 

Robert K. Merton is the inventor of focus groups.  He also coined the terms “role model” and “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  He disassociated himself from the way practitioners implemented his ideas about focus groups.

 

The dirty little secret about focus groups is the number of times companies rely on semi-professional attendees whom they know will show up on short notice to fulfill a client’s needs.  Students, the disadvantaged and others who need an honorarium or have time on their hands are often overrepresented.

 

There are ways to make focus groups more reliable.  What the Harvard Business Review calls “empathic testing” involves using a product or discussing an issue in real life conditions.  Putting respondents around a board table and having a formal focus group leader ask questions is not a normal life experience or venue and the results will thus be forced and false.

 

Anamatics is similar and involves making the experience realistic and having participants focus on the element to be tested.  Realism in the venue can be addressed by driving respondents around in a van while they listen to radio ads a politician wants tested.  This is closer to how voters would listen to an ad than sitting at a board table.

 

For TV ads, we have stripped rough cut ads into tapes of the actual TV show in which they will appear.  Testing can occur in shopping malls where hundreds or even thousands of people can view the potential ads and react to them.

 

For print ads and even editorial content, we have mocked up the copy and inserted it into real newspapers to see how respondents react.  We don’t tell them what we want them to react to, we first want to know if they care to look at the ad or story at all.  That’s the so-called “unaided” response.  If they don’t look or read, we have some valuable information.  Then we asked them to review the ad and get more valuable information in their “aided” response.

 

Campaigns and sitting politicians use lots of mail.  Direct mail raises money and mobilizes troops.  Newsletters and political “householders” let constituents know what their representative is doing.  But nobody opens the mail or reads a householder while sitting around a boardroom table.  These items should be thrown on the floor in a pile of other mail and magazines to see if anybody bothers to stoop down and pick it up.  If someone does, the next question is whether the political piece is interesting enough to cull out of the pile and read.  If not, that’s a valuable answer in itself.

While on the campaign literature theme, there’s always somebody in political meetings showing a mock up of a brochure or householder who points out that the candidate’s picture or name or other important information is off on the right-hand side “where the eye naturally goes”.  By this time in the meeting, I’m too exhausted from trivia and nonsensical issues to point out that we read from left to right in English, Spanish, French and most other languages prevalent in North America, and only read right to left in Arabic, Persian, and some other languages.  (I wonder where these perceived and received pieces of communication wisdom come from?)

 

With regard to video and TV production, audiences are very sophisticated.  Most people own video cameras and watch TV dozens of hours per week.  Research has shown that focus group attendees will review the production qualities of ads, rather than the content.  To counter this, advertisements can be mocked-up by a graphic artist and one can then test the voice-over or content separately.

 

Candidates can test debate one-liners, still pictures for brochures, slogans and any other communication element, without layers of clutter or testing of extraneous elements.

 

  • Graduated Questionnaires.

 

Self-administered questionnaires are not used much anymore, but are a valid technique.  One of the best examples of these is the old Bureau of Broadcast Measurement diaries that were mailed to households to survey radio listening and TV viewing.  People often put down their favourite station, not the one they actually watched most.

 

With telephone or in person surveys, respondents become easily and quickly fatigued with having to choose among:  strongly agree, mildly agree, somewhat agree, agree, mildly disagree, strongly disagree.  What does mildly agree mean, other than the fact that it’s stronger than just agreeing and weaker than strongly agreeing?  How does one compare one person’s strong agreement with another person’s?

 

The best model to determine the weight to put on a respondent’s report is to see if that person actually changes behaviour as a result.  People often report that they will change voting habits, but actually do not.  This makes their threat to do so a surrogate for other matters that should be probed.

 

In industry, it’s the same.  I have a telecommunications client which conducts quarterly research to determine how much its customers like them.  The results show that up to 30% of respondents say they are “agree”, “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the notion of switching service to a new company.  Yet for years the so-called “churn rate”—the rate at which customers actually change telecommunications providers (phones, hand-helds, internet, etc.) is under 3%.

 

It is vital to distinguish between what people actually do and what they say they might do.

 

  • Elite Interviews.

 

It may not sound egalitarian these days, but elites are good respondents because of how they became elites—they know their demographic well.  These one-on-one, in-depth interviews can augment focus groups, polling and other techniques.

 

Who’s an elite?  That’s easy.  Ratepayer groups, condominium boards, religious groups, union leaders and even book club busy bodies all rose to the top of their little heap, in part through knowing what their demographic is like.  They can be a great source of information.

 

 

The term, taken from navigation, stands for gathering data from several different sources, or with numerous methodologies.  Where data intersect, results are more reliable.   

 

Researchers have identified several types of triangulation including:  within-method, between-method, data, investigator, theory and methodological triangulation.  Within-method means two separate polls, perhaps by different companies that say the same thing.  Between method might be a poll and a focus group that produce similar results.  Data triangulation might involve qualitative or quantitative results that are much the same.  If several investigators find out the same thing, that’s triangulation.  Theory triangulation might involve a psychological and sociological explanation of behavior.  Finally, these days, using mixed methods—both qualitative and quantitative—is increasingly the norm to avoid the errors that each alone can produce.

 

  • Mixed methods.

 

The distinction between qualitative and quantitative data has been blurred for at least fifty years.  Few branches of any science have the predictability of Newtonian physics.  Current thinking is to engage in a mixture of methodologies, mentioned above.  So, a reproducible poll with a large sample that claims to be “scientifically” accurate might be cross referenced with qualitative focus groups, elite interviews and such that plumb small samples more deeply.          

 

  • Question formulation.

 

Average People don’t speak the way telephone researchers do, or the way those who write questions think they should.    It’s hard to imagine anyone constructing a questionnaire where a response could be “some good” which is a common expression in the Canadian Maritimes, or “awesome” as is currently popular.  The California “Valley Girl” response of “gag me with a spoon” was probably not used, even in its hay-day.

 

  • Telephone interviewers.

 

In addition to the long pause, script reading and intrusion, some companies balk at long distance charges, skewing data to urban respondents.  For decades, first year social scientists have been warned that telephone surveys obviously only gather information from those with telephones.  Triangulation is the antidote.

 

 

Social scientists are supposed to keep notes, tapes and a reflexive diary to examine themselves as a scientific instrument while they are examining other people or issues.  Commercial researchers would rarely do this.  

 

  • The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

 

The use of a particular research instrument has an effect on the outcome of the research.  Heisenberg stated, “[o]n the level of molecular research, the presence of the experimenter is certain to affect the results in a way which cannot be measured”.

 

The mere fact that a pollster calls up respondents has such affect.  Asking about certain topics that the respondent might not be concerned with, puts that matter on the public agenda.  Moreover, researchers cannot control for the myriad other variables in that respondent’s life.

 

In the end, perhaps my premise is flawed.  Perhaps we are not the best educated generation the world has ever seen.  We have more degrees and a multiplicity of choices in methods, but may lack the clarity and professionalism of previous generations.  Pity, we need that clarity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Line At New York

Outside the Helen Hayes Theatre, waiting for the doors to open, a very agitated male teenager passed on the sidewalk.  He was walking briskly and talking in a loud voice with himself.  He was also gesticulating, and in so-doing was using up all the free airspace in all directions.

“What’s the matter with him?” asked the woman on the line ahead of me.

“’T’s an angry young man.  What can I tell you?” replied her husband, as indulgent as he could sound.

This was my introduction to blasé New Yorkers.

Slowly the line shortened and I was up at the wicket at Lincoln Center.  I was mostly interested in seeing the spectacular setting and inside of the 16 acre site—home of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet.  I was ready to listen or watch.  As it became my turn at the wicket, I asked:

“What’s playing?”  

Wicket keeper:  “Joo-lee-us Cee-ah.”

I guess I paused for a New York beat too long, so wicket man added:

“’Ts an Apra”

I bought a ticket and achieved all my goals.  

I would regularly walk on near the Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of the old David Letterman Show.  I watched the show on hundreds of occasions, and was in the studio audience several times.  I’d  occasionally stop in to chat with Rupert Gee, the deli-operator who was also a regular guest on Letterman.  Rupert is as he appears on TV—a little startled with the attention, but sincere.

On one occasion there was a big crowd extending down the block.  I thought perhaps Rupert was having a sale of special deli sandwiches.

No, it was a lineup to see someone coming in or leaving the stage door of the theatre.  This is where the guests came and went.  This time I was the talkative New York street performer:

“Who’s all this for?”

“Wa-keen Phoenix” said my fellow street performer.

This was early in Mr Phoenix’s career.  I guess after all my trips to New York I still paused a New York moment too long, because an older woman in the crowd showed some empathy:

“Ever since Frank Sinatra died, I don’t know any of them.

Way out in the Rockaways, I ran out of gas.  My GPS told me there was a gas station close by and so I locked my wife in the car and began walking.  The GPS was wrong and the gas station had closed.  I thought of lining up at a bus stop, but didn’t know how often busses came or where they went.  I lined up at a red light and thought I’d hitch hike.  Up came a convertible Thunderbird.  I could see inside and the driver could see me.  I explained my situation and asked for a ride.

“Sure” he said as he started moving a mountain of stuff off his passenger seat to the small spaces in the back of the car and between the seats.

“Oh, don’t worry, if you see my gun, I’m a cop.”

I pointed to a spot of blood on my shirt, and said:

“Great, and if you notice the blood on my shirt, I’m not an axe murderer, I just reached into my shaving kit this morning and cut my finger on my razor.”

“No problem.  Get in.”

Unlike so many New York stories, this man was a cop, seconded to the Triborough Bridge, and I wasn’t an axe murderer.  Many people go to the Big Apple to reinvent themselves.  Others remain who they actually are.      

Stirred, not Shaken

 

Every now and then the topic of earthquakes comes up in Vancouver.  The most recent event was the 4.8 quake on 29 December, 2015.  I have worked on the topic of earthquakes for federal authorities for some years and continue to follow the issue.

Vancouver’s emergency planning documents put the risk of an earthquake in perspective.  They note that 60% of Vancouver’s building stock was built before seismic building codes.   There’s been no damaging earthquake in modern times and so all these buildings are vulnerable. 

Interestingly, my father was partly responsible for construction of one of the first earthquake resistant buildings in Vancouver — 200 Granville Square.  I remember first hearing about earthquakes when I lived in Burnaby in the late 1960s.  I was a young teenager and my father was General Manager of “Project 200”, an early attempt to revamp the waterfront.  Nobody played nicely, not even consortium members Woodwords, Canadian Pacific, Grosvenor Lang, or Sears.  City planners didn’t react quickly or lead the discussion, and neither the federal nor provincial government seemed interested.  Project 200 is another story—a missed opportunity.  But the earthquake resistant building is highly relevant today.

 

There was a lot made about Granville Square.  It was among the first density transfers of its kind in North America with my father having to help obtain a mortgage for the air above the CP railway tracks.  Usually mortgages are for land and buildings, but this building was built on stilts above the CP railway tracks. 

While this deal was being done and the building designed, my father would regale us at the dinner table about his day at work.  One day it was the promotional copy that told of the “giant pedestrian mall” that would abut Granville Square.  “And where will you find the giant pedestrians?” I asked.  Another night my father toyed with some promotional copy that would tell the story of Granville Square being the only building left standing after a major earthquake.  He thought it would be fun to tell potential tenants that they’d be able to work in peace, quiet, and safety, if only they could climb over the rubble of all the other buildings in the city.

 

In those days, earthquake-proofing a building meant constructing sockets, lined with neoprene on which concrete pillars stood, which in turn held up the building.  My father said he had no idea what neoprene ended up like after he’d put a building weighing many hundreds of tonnes on top of it.  He certainly had no idea how to perform maintenance on the assembly after construction.

 

Now, Vancouver’s plan goes well beyond building materials. Memoranda of Understanding with other Canadian cities are now part of the plan in order to ensure rapid deployment of resources after a disaster.  Similarly, the Vancouverites are recommended to reduce dependency on electricity and natural gas grids and develop back-up power sources. Even if buildings are still standing after an earthquake, supply lines and energy infrastructure might be severely damaged or destroyed.

 

Even the best-designed earthquake-proof building might need to be evacuated in case of fire or other emergency. This is why Vancouver’s plan requires buildings’ structural drawings and fire plans to be copied and stored centrally in order to speed-up assessment of complex and high occupancy dwellings.

There’s more to be done in Vancouver and neighbouring cities.  Some have designated disaster routes (DDRs) and others don’t.  Some link to useful provincial government preparedness documents, and others don’t. We’ve never sure how many individual citizens are well prepared and would rather not find out after an earthquake.   

Houston Has Solved a Problem

 

The communications component of a crisis is often as much of a challenge as is the crisis itself.

Former Exxon Chair, the late Larry Rawl, was famously told in a congressional hearing that if the Valdez oil spill had happened in Japan the entire management team would resign to let others take over.

Mr. Rawl snapped back that the Japanese also kill themselves and he refused to do that. BP’s Tony Hayward, trying to manage the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and fire in the Gulf of Mexico ironically said he wanted his life back. This was a thoughtless comment given that eleven of his colleagues had actually disappeared in the disaster and were never seen again.

These unfortunate remarks happened on the international stage, but the same insensitivity can sink response to a local event too. Although there’s little advice on public communication in most of 100 urban emergency plans that I’ve studied, but Houston’s plan sets a very good tone.

“Be courteous and don’t play favorites…” is a solid start. Newsmakers say the darndest things to reporters, calling them left or right wing, saying their questions are stupid, or that they’ve asked the wrong question. This kind of abrasive behaviour would get you ostracized at a dinner party, and why some newsmakers think it will help the relationship with reporters is unfathomable.

Courtesy doesn’t cost anything and takes less time than discourtesy. The advice not to play favourites doesn’t work.  A newsmaker does have to deal with reporters on deadline ahead of feature writers whose magazine will publish a month later. But with all reporters on the same deadline, they should all be treated much the same.  One confusing matter these days is that most media also have websites with print, audio and video on them—so determining deadlines is tough.

Houston’s plan goes on: “avoid ‘off the record’ remarks…Never say anything you would not want to see printed or broadcast…” This sounds obvious, like not volunteering to a traffic cop what’s in your glove compartment if it’s inappropriate.

Many newsmakers think they will ingratiate themselves with a few juicy “off the record” remarks. But this raises a question.  What does it mean to have a remark “off the record…on background…on deep background…not for attribution…”? There’s no consistent definition among reporters, news outlets or spokespeople. Oh…except that what’s off the record is what you didn’t say.

“Listen to the reporter’s questions” is good advice in an emergency because if reporters have to make a public point of repeating the same question, it sounds as if you’re being evasive.

“Don’t accept the reporter’s definitions of what happened…Pause, think; take more time if you need it…” is logical advice from Houston’s plan writers, because by definition you, the expert, know what happened, what the issue is, and what can be discussed better than a reporter who has just arrived on the scene. If you don’t know, say so and also say when you might know.  You can also say that one of your colleagues might know.  Or you can say that no one may ever know.  What’s the truth?

“Respond only to the question you’ve been asked. Don’t speculate. Stick to the core message” is even more powerful advice if you recognize that the reporter might not be on the right track and adding safe, rehearsed, powerful information can be a good upgrade. But this can’t be done on the spur of the moment.

All cities need pre-written messages, policies and fact sheets to give reporters the ammunition they need to fill pages and newscasts in an emergency.

No urban emergency plan is perfect, but Houston’s sets a high standard for communication policy.

The Witty Professor

My witty high school teacher used to ask questions in class.  How many here want a particular lesson—raise your hands.  How many here will be attending the event Friday afternoon—raise your hands, and so on.  Then came the wit.  “If anyone is not here, please raise your hand.”

Equally nutty is the use of devices which need power to notify people that they have no power.   

But reputable, big cities do it.  Waterloo, Ontario, in the heart of Canada’s technology triangle does it.  Nova Scotia Power has a website (viewable from plugged in computers) which has a map showing exactly where the power is off.  The fact that if you have no power you can’t see this is perhaps lost on NS Power.   

I have made this point via Tweets and Toronto Hydro has responded. They understood my point, but that many of their stakeholders preferred social media alerts. One assumes this is a preference even if those who prefer it can’t get it.  Get it?

I suspect you think I’m being cranky because hand held devices are everywhere and many users prefer to receive all communication and notifications on them.  More than 50% of all Google searches are now via handheld devices.  And you’re probably thinking that batteries will hold up until the power is back on.  Perhaps, but probably not.  Power outages last longer on average, than the life of smart-phone batteries, according to some studies.  Most young people sleep with their hand-helds on so that the alarm will wake them in the morning. That means they start the day with limited battery life.  

They seem to recognize the danger in Baltimore—sort of.  The power company does provide an “Outage Map” which tells citizens in real time what areas have no power.  But that’s on the power company’s website, so it may be of no use.  It also encourages citizens to report outages.  So, for all those without power who cannot use their computers, please report to us on devices which require power.  

But Baltimore also notes that 25% of power outages last more than four hours—perhaps the battery life left after a hand-held has been on all night, or has been used for music or streaming for a bit.  

“They’ll charge up when the power comes back on,” you say?  Perhaps, but probably not.  The power coming back on will cause a stampede to the few available plugs in shopping centres and the subway system.  But if people can charge up, they may be able to see where the power was off when they had no power to determine exactly where the power was off, but now on.    

Calgary appears to be hoping to use radio to communicate with the public, even though a radio station’s transmitter burned down in Fort McMurray recently.

Emergency response should not be a fad.  The current lingo of “I Tweeted it out…it’s on the web…I blogged it…I sent an Instagram…” does not mean that any communication of any sort occurred.  Communication is two-way.  There must be a sender and a receiver.  A receiver is not a person who doesn’t know s/he should look at a transmission, or can’t because there’s no power.  A receiver is someone who gets a message, understands it, and in the context of emergency response, takes some action.

There are best practices in urban emergency communication.  These include lawn signs, LED signs on trucks, loud speakers, door knob hangers, door-to-door visits, auto-dialing, and, for the disabled, setting off strobe lights and turning on radios powered by batteries.

Good, modern emergency response has to be both low tech, and high tech.  But most of all it has to make sense.  

What to Wear

 

In 1967 Singer/Songwriter Scott MacKenzie (Philip Wallach Blondheim) gave some advice that may still hold.  “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear/Some flowers in your hair.”  I did go, several times.  I dined at the Cliff House, Fisherman’s Wharf, and put a quarter in the human jukebox.  The human jukebox occupied a very tall cardboard box and would raise the cardboard flap and blow a tune on his trumpet when called upon.    

MacKenzie sang his advice after being a member of the Journeymen during the folk era, the group that included his mum’s friend John Phillips.  Phillips wrote and co-produced San Francisco before moving on to The Mamas and the Papas.  MacKenzie wrote for Anne Murray.  Phillips and MacKenzie reunited in the 1980s in a new Mamas and Papas and to write and produce Kokomo for the Beach Boys.   

That was a while ago. But today I’d wear red if I were going to Kansas City, Missouri.  The reason is their START program.  This stands for Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment.  Volunteers will be conducting triage at the scene of an urban emergency using a color-coded system.  From the bottom up, Green stands for a minor injury, Yellow means attention can be delayed, Red requires immediate attention and Black is for Deceased.  

I say volunteers because in an emergency, as in war, everybody gets promoted one rank.  It will no doubt be someone’s intention to have trained medical personnel conduct triage, but they will end up providing actual medical treatment, not assessment.  A range of volunteers, medical students, yoga instructors and others will be doing triage—believe me.

Will they know what a dead person looks like?  Do you?  I am not sure I can distinguish a dead person from someone in extreme shock or a coma.  Years ago I saw people in catatonic trances before medication all but made the condition disappear.  They looked dead, but weren’t.  I don’t want to bet my life that a well-meaning volunteer with no medical training in Kansas City can.  So, I’ll wear red, signalling I need immediate attention and am not dead.  

In Houston they too have a triage guideline that I don’t want to be part of.  Black is also the category you don’t want to be in.  But in Houston there are several levels of dead—cardiac arrest, obviously deceased, and severe multiple blunt trauma non-survivable. That last category is probably more accurately termed ‘almost’ dead to be precise.  By deceased, Houston plan writers also mean “Non-Urgent.”  What an ‘urgent’ death might be is not stated.     

Speaking of the color black, as in the Black Death, San Francisco uses this color to signify the worst kind of emergency needing immediate attention.  So if this city is in the category “black” it’s a clue to send all possible assistance.  If a person in Houston or Kansas City is the category “black” that means give them no assistance—there’s no point.  

Perhaps on second thought I’ll wear a sign that says, “I’m not dead…really.”

Birmingham seems almost alone among urban emergency plans studied in its reference to the need for an emergency mortuary.  But that’s a reality check for urban emergency planners and the people who will have to use the plans they write.

There will be death–death of pets, livestock, and people.  Traumatic as this will be, the public health implications and logistical challenges will be an equal or greater challenge.  Some have talked about pre-arranged agreements with undertakers.  Others think of using hockey and curling rinks to store bodies.  Kansas City’s pet-plan is about the most comprehensive and speaks of incinerators and crematoriums.  

This is not pleasant.  But not planning for the unpleasant is worse.      

Today in History: July 1st

2002: A Russian passenger plane with 69 passengers and crew collides in the air over Germany with cargo plane with a crew of two, killing all 71 people on both planes. As they approached each other, an automated system told one pilot to go up, and the other to go down. However, a Swiss air-traffic controller ordered both pilots to descend.

1958:  CBC starts nationwide TV broadcasting as new Trans-Canada microwave relay system goes into operation.

1867: The British North America Act creates the Dominion of Canada, uniting the British colonies of the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), the Province of New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Political Conventions – Happy 43rd Birthday, America

Today in History: June 14th

1967: Mariner 5 in launched towards Venus. Arriving near the surface of Venus in October, Mariner 5 showed that it was clear that Venus had a very hot surface and an atmosphere even denser than expected. Mariner 5 continues to send back data until November 1967.

1922:  President Warren Harding becomes the first president to have his voice transmitted by radio. He was speaking at a dedication of a memorial site for Francis Scott Key, the composer of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Harding was also the first president to own a radio and was the first to have one installed in the White House.

1903: A flash flood in Oregon leaves 324 people dead and caused millions of dollars in damage. A third of the town of Heppner is destroyed. The rainstorm lasts only one hour, but it overflows small streams of the area and causes a 20-foot wave of water to gush through the town, sweeping away the victims.

Today in History: June 9th

1979:  A fire destroys and amusement ride in Sydney Australia, killing six children and one adult. Inadequate fire-fighting measures and low staffing meant the fire destroyed the ride.

1972:  A flash flood in Rapid City, South Dakota, kills more than 200 people after 15 inches of rain to come down in only six hours. Damages reached $160 million. As a result, it was decided that the floodplain should no longer be used as a residential area. It is now a golf course and a park with several ponds.

1968: Canada’s political party leaders – Pierre Trudeau, Robert Stanfield, Tommy Douglas and Réal Caouette – hold the first policy debate on television.