06 September 2013

You Have Been Warned...or Maybe Not

     Have you ever been in a disaster or kept up with one on television or the internet, and wonder why the people weren't warned in time, or even why the people who were warned didn't do anything? I think what happens is that a lot of the time, official warnings either come too early or too late.

     A warning that comes too early is one that there is plenty of evidence to support and the people or organization that issued it decided they would rather be safe than sorry. ...then nothing happens. When a warning is "official," people trust it. If it comes from the government or from some scientific agency, we tell ourselves that they know better than we do, so we'd better listen, right? In a lot of situations, they may know better, or at least have more information. If the radio tells you that a dam has broken upstream of where you live and you'd better get out of there, then you'd probably better get out of there.
     Now let's say it's not a dam breaking, but some other disaster, like a tornado. What if you get the warning, and nothing happens. Where I live, that has happened a few times already this year. I'm not sure if it was a tornado warning, which means one has been spotted or the Doppler says one will appear, or a tornado watch, which means one could happen because the conditions are just right. In roughly the last 60 years, we have had 196 tornadoes. I know that sounds like a lot if you're like me and don't know any different, but almost all of them were rated zero on the Fujita scale with none reaching more than a 2, and only 11 people were injured the whole time with none killed. In contrast, in a little more than the same amount of time, Oklahoma has had 3,472 tornadoes, with 7,388 people injured and 462 people killed, with 252 tornadoes rating F-3 or higher. (www.tornadohistoryproject.com)  Honestly, when a tornado warning happens, I look around at the sky, then go about my business. If a tornado happened, I'm not sure I would even be aware of it unless it was right outside. I'm not saying they shouldn't issue the warnings if they feel like they need to, but it does kind of become a "boy who cried wolf" situation, but they want to send it out just in case. I hear the warning, but I don't really take it that seriously. It's not that I don't believe that there could be a tornado, I do, I just remember that I don't live in Oklahoma. I'm not sure how many warnings they get in Oklahoma that don't result in anything, but I suspect they take it a little more seriously out there because they have seen what can happen. Official warnings coming too early are those that are said but nothing happens. This can result in a complacent population. It still may be better, though, than a warning that comes too late.
     In order for a warning to be official, it has to be...well, official. It has to come from the right people and have the right authority. Those people have to walk a fine line, especially when it comes to things like evacuation orders. If they issue it too early, then people react, but nothing happens, will they react as swiftly or at all next time? If they issue it too late, the people won't be able to take the proper precautions in time. Those are times when they want to know for certain in order to avoid issuing a false alarm, but sometimes there is just too much to do or too many people to move before disaster strikes.
     Let's say you're going about your business one day and it starts to rain, then it keeps raining, then rains some more. Let's say you look outside and see your sidewalk becoming a stream

Photo: Pamela Sue Hay
 ...or your road becoming a river.

Photo: Ashley Cornett
...or maybe a parking lot becoming a pond.

Photo: Matt Norda
     You might wonder what just happened. "What are storm drains for anyway?" The didn't seem to help here:

Photo: Sylvia Lora

      "Don't they plan for this kind of thing? Why didn't they warn us? Well, I'm sure we all learned some valuable lessons, right? We'll be ready next time!"
     One week later, a similar storm pattern appears. An official warning goes out, so you prepare for a flash flood. The city hands out sandbags and asks for volunteers to help fill them. They ask people to turn off their sprinklers and not to flush their toilets. You're ready, right?

     So what do you do if nothing happens? Was this warning issued because of the intensity of what happened so recently? Was it wrong to issue it? I don't think it was. Did people react a little more because of what just happened? I'm sure they did. Are people going to listen next time even though an official warning was issued with little happening after it? I sure hope so.
     You see, it doesn't matter much what they say, does it? There are the immediate warnings that everyone will listen to; dam breaking, tornado headed your way, your house is on fire, there's a nuclear meltdown at the plant. Then there are things that are a little more vague; there may or may not be a flood, there may or may not be a thunderstorm, the sale on cold cereal at the grocery store only goes on while supplies last...but how long will they last? The important thing to remember is that nobody knows better about you than you. When you get information that concerns you, take it into consideration. If the information is about impending doom, or its about something that can only be told to you by someone who has more insight into the situation, then pay close attention.
     For most situations, you can be pretty well prepared by having a simple plan. Also, by being aware of your surroundings and paying attention to what's going on, you will be able to make more informed decisions. Do not ignore official warnings, but listen carefully to what they are saying. The type of language used will tell you how urgent it is. Having a plan is key. You need to be able to depend on yourself. Those who make decisions for the general public try to weigh the present issues against the future repercussions, attempting to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. When you make decisions for yourself and your family, that's about as far as the impact goes. If you decide it is safest to leave town, but nothing happens, the only thing that has happened is that you and your family went on a nice drive. If you decide to take shelter from a possible tornado, but it never hits, you and your family had a little camp-out in the basement. If you decide to get out of your burning house before the fire department shows up, you have chosen wisely. Your planning and action are what matter most. If you pay attention and act using your best judgment, you will probably make the right choice. Remember to err on the side of caution, which is basically "better safe than sorry."
     Take some time with your family and think about what possible emergencies could happen. Decide where you will meet if you cannot be in the home and what you will do for specific situations. It doesn't take long, and you can be prepared for those times that you make the decision to act, and also for those times when you are told you need to act. Make a game of it. Try doing the 5-Minute Challenge and have each member of the family try to grab all the things they would need in an emergency. Practice your family evacuation or fire drill. It's September, and that means it is National Preparedness Month. This isn't the only time you can be prepared, but it since it's now, it sure is a good time to start.

(All flood pictures above are from a flash flood in Pocatello, Idaho on August 23, 2013)

1 comment :

  1. If nothing else, it makes for a good drill when the real deal doesn't happen. I appreciate your points of view on these issues. We had a 'drill' here a weekend ago. For a couple of weeks prior the authorities sent out word, written and over the air, that they would be testing the emergency alarm systems throughout the area. This covers a number of possible disasters that could happen in this area. From Nuclear to tsunamis, tornadoes, or fires, we've been made aware any of these things could happen...and are reminded of how we need to be prepared. These sirens sit atop poles taller than a power pole along side roads and highways. We were forewarned and knew the time they would go off and how long it would last. As it was happening I couldn't help but wonder about the tourists. What was going on in their minds? Were the locals informing all to stay calm and realize it was only a test? How were the highways going out of town? Did they fill up with panicked drivers who didn't know what was happening? This only furthered my list of things we need to be aware of and plan for if there were ever a true need to be ready to evacuate. Then I thought of your blogs and how diligent you've been in informing people far and wide and knew there has been much I've learned about preparedness just from reading them. For this, I'd like to thank you and encourage you to keep them coming! You may never know the depth or width of the ripple effect you'll have in helping others be ready...just in case.