Author: Joshua Patterson
Date: February 9, 2013
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, one victim was political scientist Daniel Aldrich. He had just moved to New Orleans. Late one August night, there was a knock on the door.
“It was a neighbor who knew that we had no idea of the realities of the Gulf Coast life,” said Aldrich, who is now a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. He “knocked on our door very late at night, around midnight on Saturday night, and said, ‘Look, you’ve got small kids — you should really leave.’ ”
The knock on the door was to prove prophetic. It changed the course of Aldrich’s research and, in turn, is changing the way many experts now think about disaster preparedness.
Officials in New Orleans that Saturday night had not yet ordered an evacuation, but Aldrich trusted the neighbor who knocked on his door. He bundled his family into a car and drove to Houston.
“Without that information we never would’ve left,” Aldrich said. I think we would’ve been trapped.”
In fact, by the time people were told to leave, it was too late and thousands of people got stuck.
Social Connections And Survival: Neighbors Matter
Because of his own experience in Katrina, Aldrich started thinking about how neighbors help one another during disasters. He decided to visit disaster sites around the world, looking for data.
Aldrich’s findings show that ambulances and firetrucks and government aid are not the principal ways most people survive during — and recover after — a disaster. His data suggest that while official help is useful — in clearing the water and getting the power back on in a place such as New Orleans after Katrina, for example — government interventions cannot bring neighborhoods back, and most emergency responders take far too long to get to the scene of a disaster to save many lives. Rather, it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath.
When Aldrich visited villages in India hit by the giant 2004 tsunami, he found that villagers who fared best after the disaster weren’t those with the most money, or the most power. They were people who knew lots of other people — the most socially connected individuals. In other words, if you want to predict who will do well after a disaster, you look for faces that keep showing up at all the weddings and funerals.
“Those individuals who had been more involved in local festivals, funerals and weddings, those were individuals who were tied into the community, they knew who to go to, they knew how to find someone who could help them get aid,” Aldrich says.
The Japan Example: ‘I Was Just Running Around And Talking To People’
In Japan, Aldrich found that firetrucks and ambulances didn’t save the most lives after earthquakes. Neighbors did.
“In Kobe in 1995, if you knew where your neighbors slept, because the earthquake was very early in the morning, you knew where to dig in the rubble to find them early enough in the process for them to survive,” he says.
Because of his research, when a powerful earthquake struck Japan this March, Aldrich was certain that good neighbors would play a decisive role. Michinori Watanabe of Miyagi prefecture, about 100 miles from Fukushima in northern Japan, said the same thing.
Watanabe’s father is paralyzed, and he needs a machine to breathe. When the earthquake struck and the power went out, the machine stopped working. Watanabe ran outside. He begged strangers: “Do you have a generator? Do you? Do you?”
“I was running around and talking to people, and after I talked to several people, a person who I just met — actually, I knew him from before — and he said, ‘I got one,’ so I told him, ‘Please bring that in,’ ” said Watanabe, 43, a truck driver. “So I got that and I went back to my house and connected the equipment to the generator.”
Watanabe’s father survived, but it was a close call. But why not just call the Japanese equivalent of 911?
“At that time all the electricity was down, and the telephone land lines were down and my mobile was not working, so there was no other way than I myself go out running around, asking people,” Watanabe said.
Local Knowledge Is Key
Not only did no professionals come to help Watanabe those first few minutes, there was no sign of them the first day.
Watanabe emptied his house of water and blankets and started helping neighbors who were homeless and shivering. They were still without help days later. And Watanabe did what good neighbors do when friends are in trouble: He improvised.
“I went on the street and stopped any car from outside, which has the number from outside the prefecture — I stopped them,” said Watanabe. “I think it is not the proper way to do it, but I kind of pretended I was giving directions — and I found out who are they and what they have and then I asked them, “if you have anything, please leave it with us.”
It’s this passion for a local community and granular knowledge about who needs what that makes large-scale government interventions ineffective by comparison. It’s even true when it comes to long-term recovery.
Beloit College economist Emily Chamlee-Wright has studied why some communities in New Orleans came back more quickly than others.
“One of the communities that in the post-Katrina context was the most successful was the Mary Queen of Vietnam community in New Orleans East,” said Chamlee-Wright. “It’s important to recognize that one of the reasons why they were so successful is that they ignored government warnings not to come back and start rebuilding too soon.”
Author: Joshua Patterson
Date: February 9, 2013
A 9.0+ earthquake could affect the entire subduction zone, as we saw in Japan, this means in a worst case situation quakes happening from Vancouver BC to Brookings OR. One Mega quake is a super disaster we struggle to get people to understand, now try and imagine 2 or 3 maybe even 4 large quakes very close together possibly affecting the Portland Area and the Seattle Area at the same or very close time. Federal and world aid will be on the way but it will take a great deal of time.
Modern society has not seen a disaster like the potential disaster that is held in the subduction zone. And most have no idea how to prepare. We are grateful that you keep posting articles like this because it does help raise awareness. Now we only need folks to listen, certainly in the more rural areas. Many people assume that bridges will separate the city west to east and cut us off from Vancouver. This is very probable, imagine the runways at PDX damaged and unusable, the port of portland wiped out, rail lines eliminated… How will we get help?
If you live in rural areas and think you will be better off.. Most of our states infrastructure is not capable of surviving a mega quake. Over passes under passes all blocked, even those country roads that have small bridges, creeks, streams, are likely to become impassable. We tell people to prepare for the worst, hope for the best and be ready for anything. Because the kind of damage we can expect is almost unimaginable. What about food, toiletries, gas where will it all come from? Most of it will come from what you can store before a potential emergency happens. But most will not store what they need. This could lead to lawlessness and looting. We need to plan to remain civil, and continue to help each other. The first step in preparing to help your community it to plan to help yourself. When you have what you need to protect yourself and your family you are one step closer to being ready to protect your community. -Joshua Portland Preparedness Center
on February 08, 2013 at 5:11 PM, updated February 09, 2013 at 2:12 PM
Previews of disasters read like so many movies. Are they really real?
Since the 1980s, Northwest scientists have built a persuasive case that two opposing geologic plates beneath the ocean off Oregon’s coast will fully rupture, unleashing a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami. A report out this week by advisers to the governor says that in such an event hundreds and possibly thousands of Oregonians would die and that the crippling damage to homes and public infrastructure would be so great as to crater the state’s economy by more than $30 billion. The report recommends five decades’ worth of seismic improvements and other public investments, attaching no dollar figure — because who could?
It is unrealistic to think the Legislature will hop-to in the face of even this grave warning. Incremental steps, sure. But big, lasting commitments? Money’s short. Worse, the enormity of the seismic threat is so large as to overwhelm and trigger in many an Oh, well response. Remember the widely circulated reports long before Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans’ levee system would fail? Or that low-lying residential areas off New York and New Jersey would, in an extreme storm such as Sandy, be submerged? Protective actions were meager, late, doomed.
It’s human nature. But that, too, is the subject of study. Estimates of preparedness by citizens for natural disaster run as low as 6 percent nationwide. Federal Emergency Management Administration chief Craig Fugate showed up at a 2012 workshop titled Awareness to Action: Motivating the Public to Prepare, sponsored by FEMA and the American Red Cross, and made plain that folks continue to go unprepared despite all the scary reports.
This throws a weird challenge. We take seriously the findings of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, obtained by The Oregonian’s Richard Read. Most striking among them is a new situation described by Read as infrastructure gridlock: devastation from the coast through the Willamette Valley in which emergency crews are stalled by the absence of electrical power and scarcity of fuels. While fires burn and survivors clamber for food and water, the pain and panic would last longer than ever. The report, Read found, upsets the long-held assumption that 72 hours of preparedness are enough.
Author: Joshua Patterson
Date: February 6, 2013
“The last time there was a 9.0 earthquake was actually in January of 1700,” said Sue Wu, lead earth science educator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. “So the worry is that energy is going to be released in a large earthquake.”
After the devastating earthquake that hit Japan in 2011, the Oregon state legislature ordered a comprehensive study from the Oregon earthquake safety commission.
“This study is very different from other studies we have done in the past,” said chairman Kent Yu, who led a group of about 150 people from various agencies. He said the commission spent 14 months examining how Oregon’s infrastructure would handle a massive quake, and the results are troubling.
Author: Joshua Patterson
Date: February 5, 2013
Richard Read/The Oregonian The next great Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake will kill thousands in Oregon and cause at least $32 billion in economic losses unless preparations are radically overhauled, a state panel says.
When, not if, the magnitude-9.0 quake strikes — let alone an accompanying tsunami — Oregon will face the greatest challenge in its history, the state earthquake commission said in a 290-page draft report released Monday to The Oregonian.
Buildings will be so severely damaged that restoring full utility service will take three months to a year in western valleys and far longer on the coast, the commission found. Businesses tend to move or fail if utilities aren’t up in a month.
“So Oregon faces a very real threat of permanent population loss and long-term economic decline,” said the report, which recommends 50 years of seismic upgrades and other investments — price tag incalculable.
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