• Peru?

    by  • August 17, 2007 • Hexayurt • 3 Comments

    Matthew suggests sending me to Peru. I replied on Treehugger:

    Oh, I’d be up for it but we need these tested – I mean **really** tested – before we start putting other people’s lives on the line.

    Give us a year or two of well-funded practice runs, then we’ll talk about *really* being able to go out to a place like Peru with a smooth, well-oiled team and actually crank out housing for 50,000 people in a long weekend.

    And it’s not that government has no role here. It’s a question of math.

    Say you’ve got a disaster like the potential Bay Quake. That’s something like 7 million people in the area. I don’t know what percentage of people would need to be rehoused in a disaster, but I’m going to say 20% – 1.2 million people.

    Now, you’re the government. You rally everybody you can find, and you turn up with 100,000 first responders. That’s about half the size of the force in Iraq right now – a flat-out, everything-we’ve-got effort.

    So you have one first responder for every 12 people who need a new place to live. That’s hardly enough to make the phone calls, never mind build a structure.

    You have one first responder per every 70 people in the area. Injured people take a lot of time to treat and transport, and frequently need the help of an entire team. Infrastructure issues, like shutting down gas lines or dealing with power issues or trying to manage things like broken sewer pipes all take focus.

    I mean, just think about this step-by-step… if you were a first responder, and had 12 people to find housing for, and 70 people to help in all the other ways they need, including medical…

    how would you cope?

    So that’s what government can’t do: it can’t put enough uniforms into the situation to take care of people. There’s just no government on earth large enough to manage that in really big disasters.

    So what’s your plan B? Person-to-person help. But that requires all kinds of changes to the way we do things. I think we should be thinking about measures like making basic first aid training a part of high school and driver’s ed. I think that CPR and higher level first aid skills should get you a tax credit every year that you carry that skill, even if it’s only a few hundred bucks, with retesting every 10 years or so. Maybe even extend that kind of approach to other useful skills.

    Then we start thinking about disaster planning and equipment. Just open that puppy right up: publish the response plans, hold open workshops where they are discussed and refined and disseminated. Carry the awareness.

    Imagine how much less horrible Katerina would have been if people had done really serious thinking **in partnership** with the government ahead of time, thinking through the details.

    Now, that was a disaster we could foresee: we knew *what could happen* – “water is coming.” We knew roughly when – there was a little notice, a few days. But still we wound up with the Superdome fiasco, and tragic scenes like the fifty parked school busses six feet deep in water, unable to move anybody, because nobody had figured out they would be needed and driven them to high ground.

    The Bay Quake (and other earthquake risk areas, like the New Madrid fault line that’s near Memphis) are like this. If those pop, then the general pattern of the situation is well understood.

    This is also true for terrorism. We know the general shape of what might be out there: nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, and various kinds of bioweapons. Chemical weapons are extremely nasty, but the area of effect is typically more confined. So pretty much every adult American should know what to do if one of these things happens in their nearest major city.

    Think about that.

    Just, take a moment, and think about it.

    That means you have to understand a bit of science about radiation and disease agents. Maybe you need some N95 nurse masks in your house. Maybe you need a two week supply of food and water, and a way to make a toilet if your regular one stops working. Maybe a lot of things.

    This knowledge lives with the government. They have the real experts in knowing what to do. The problem is that actually talking through these risks scares people really, really badly and as a result, the government tends not to do it. There’s all kinds of information out there – Ready.gov for example.

    Anybody doing everything that Ready.gov recommends?

    So this is the core: we have to start getting realistic about the manpower limits of government, and we have to start transferring accurate information about what to do in worst case scenarios to the people in a way which is organized, realistic, and frankly, pretty terrifying.

    That’s basically how I see it. The government figures out what to do, and builds some of the technology. First responders like firefighters and the national guard do the hardest stuff – dealing with the very injured, managing critical parts of evacuation or response – and the people, with better training and a realistic perspective, do as much as possible to prepare ahead of time, based on accurate and realistic scenario modeling.

    I think this kind of resilience building approach would make us all feel much less powerless in the face of all of the kinds of events which might give us reason to leave our homes or feel endangered in them, from bird flu to terrorism.


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    3 Responses to Peru?

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