View Full Version : Imagining a quake disaster in the US

01-20-2010, 01:30 PM
It's an interesting comparison: We're a huge country, so it's usual for people to expect aid and relief to come quickly and easily from those places not effected by a disaster.

But what if they were? What would you do? Where would "help" (and WHEN would it) get to you? If you were already just barely at a subsistance level of living - with no resources to stockpile food or build emergency shelters for yourself or your family - what would happen to you?

Imagining a quake disaster in the U.S.
Readers don’t get why Haiti relief effort is going so slowly
By John W. Schoen
Senior producer
updated 7:43 a.m. ET, Tues., Jan. 19, 2010

As the people of Haiti grow more desperate, it’s difficult to understand why the outpouring of aid — from individuals, relief agencies, corporations and governments around the world — is apparently working so slowly.

We seem to have supplies, food, water, personnel and such on the ground. So why it is that no one appears to be in charge?
- James H.

Where is the Red Cross? I have heard about all the money that has been contributed by Americans but I have yet to see any Red Cross help from news crews who haven't seemed to have any trouble getting in.
- Mark R.

The chaos in Haiti has been described by those on the ground as “unimaginable.” But let’s try to imagine what the equivalent devastation might look like in the U.S.

Here’s (roughly) what our country might be dealing in the first week of an equivalent scale of destruction:

The White House and the Capitol have been destroyed. Congress and critical government agencies overseeing finance, health and other domestic services have been critically impaired. Many of the government employees who used to work in those offices are dead.

There is no Pentagon (because there is no Haitian military).

With the risk of aftershocks and doubts about the safety of government buildings still standing, President Barack Obama holds his cabinet meeting outside in a circle of white plastic chairs.

There is no “situation room” set up to coordinate the government’s response. There is no FEMA. The well-financed network of local “first responders” that Americans take for granted is gone. There is no well-supplied National Guard to call up. (Haiti’s limited first response infrastructure was heavily damaged by the quake; many of its trained professionals were killed.)

The U.S. Interstate highway system has been destroyed (there never was one in Haiti), and travel by road is arduous.

The entire air traffic control system has been destroyed. Days after the disaster, it has been replaced by a small makeshift system that includes handheld radios. There is one functioning runway in the entire country at a facility about the size of a small regional U.S. airport. (Before the quake, Haiti’s airport handled about three flights a day. Since the quake, that’s up to 90 flights a day. But cargo planes filled with relief supplies circle for hours waiting their turn.)

The infrastructure to handle marine cargo has been destroyed at the major seaports — New York, Los Angeles, Houston. The only port left operable to serve the entire country is in Charleston, S.C., and it’s not set up to handle large volumes of cargo.

Police and foreign troops are trying to maintain order on the streets, but looting and fires have broken out. The FBI building (in Haiti's case, the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission) has been destroyed, and hundreds of people, including the man in charge, have been killed.

As much as one third of the population (in the U.S., roughly 100 million people) are without food, water or shelter and limited means of acquiring it.

The death toll can only be guessed. In a country of 9 million, the loss of 100,000 souls in a single disaster is a little more than 1 percent of the Haitian population, or the equivalent of 3.3 million Americans.

Millions of survivors are in need of urgent medical attention; many simply won’t receive it — even if relief efforts proceed flawlessly. Most local hospitals have been destroyed. The ones that remain have no supplies. Doctors have resorted to using hacksaws and vodka in place of surgical instruments and alcohol.

You probably don't have a savings account or credit card to tap to go live in a hotel for awhile — even if there were enough hotels left standing to get a room. You might try to stay with friends or relatives in the countryside (where, in Haiti, most people live on less than $2 a day). Or you might decide to flee across the border to Canada or Mexico, but you’ll likely be turned back. If you do make it out, you’ll need to find a friend or relative to take you in. You’ll also have to figure out how to get there.

You are powerless to help your friends and family. Even though the world has responded to the horror by sending money, equipment, trained rescue and medical teams, there are massive logistical bottlenecks preventing people and cargo — food, water and medical supplies — from getting to those in need.

As a result, many relief workers and their supplies have to fly into Canada or Mexico, and then try to find a truck and drive across country — dodging impassable roads and bridges. They also need to bring their own fuel. Most gas stations across the country are out of gas; many of those with remaining supplies have no power to pump it out of the ground. (And they can’t go to Home Depot and buy a generator.)

Foreign troops have arrived to help, but they are coordinating their efforts with dozens of other governments. There is no global “command center” to help things run smoothly.

If you're lucky, your house wasn't destroyed — but it may be in danger of collapsing. So you're probably huddled with friends and relatives in a makeshift “tent” city with little more than a blanket to shield you from the sun and rain.

If you’re lucky enough to get food, water or medical attention, it will likely be from one of the rescue or relief workers who just arrived from dozens of countries from around the world. These workers are also trying to cope with the chaos. They probably haven’t slept for days. Like you, they have limited access to information about what’s going on.

You may or may not be able to use your cell phone — though that will probably be one of the first services restored. When it is, expect it to be overwhelmed again by millions of people from outside the country trying to find out if their loved ones are dead or alive. Because many of those lost have been buried in mass graves, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers may never know how their loved ones perished. (A few may learn the horrific details by seeing a photograph or video clip of an identifiable body on a foreign news report).

With all of the money, people and supplies flooding in, you might expect the chaos to subside in a matter of weeks or months as things begin getting “back to normal.” That’s not going to happen in Haiti. For one thing, “normal” before the quake was a country just beginning to try to emerge from decades of dysfunctional government and abject poverty.

The greatest risk to Haiti’s long-term survival (if not revival) is that the world’s 24-hour news cycle turns its attention to the next disaster, and the opportunity is lost to rebuild Haiti as a viable state. In a wealthy, industrialized nation like the U.S., it’s hard to imagine the world turning its back after a disaster of such epic proportions. (Though readers in New Orleans might take issue with that statement.)

The past week’s outpouring of money and aid is a good start. But rebuilding Haiti will take years. Once the dead are buried, the wounded attended to and food and water supplies restored, the real work will begin. That will be the truest test of the world’s response to this horrific disaster.


01-20-2010, 03:27 PM
Among the problems facing the US is the "It can't happen here" mentality. People in St Louis, for example, barely have a clue that the New Madrid fault is just to the south. Last time that went the Mississippi River flowed BACKWARD for several days, flooding towns and killing hundreds. St Louis is also susceptible to a tornado.

Despite the havoc Katrina caused, New Orleans could be victim the the Mississippi shifting its banks: it nearly happened in 1996 despite the Army Corps of Engineers best efforts. If it does shift, the banks will change as far north as Baton Rogue, and the water that is now the Mississippi will flow through the channel for the Atchafalaya River, causing untold amounts of devastation.

If global warming is real (avoiding that argument and taking the Dante approach) and sea levels rise, we will lose most of Florida (The highest point in St Pete is 33 feet above sea level)- which includes at least Miami, Ft Lauderdale, St Pete, Tampa, Jax; and possibly parts of Talli, Orlando and Ocala. Gainesville might be spared, but it might also not be. The Keys will vanish, and outside Florida, serious damage will occur along the East Coast especially- Washington, New York, Boston, New Orleans again... you get the picture...

Yellowstone National Park is our largest active volcano. The pretty ones on Hawaii are damaging enough, but they, at least, have some measure of predictability. The Yellowstone one, not so much. If it were to blow- well, Mexico would be turning away Americans at the border, and we would be faced with the futility of our own fence trying to keep us out! Doomsday movies have this one covered.

These scenarios are just a few. That does not include hurricanes, a major tornado in a major city, regular flooding, Solar Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs which can paralyze our electronic infrastructure, including phones, satellite and heaven for fend you're on an airplane when one hits! One that struck in 1882- yes, 1882 - wiped out telegraph lines strung across the US and caused prairie fires in several states. An EMP from aurorae caused blackouts from Quebec to New York in 1989) asteroid strikes (another movie plot device), or an epidemic.

Of the ones I listed, epidemic, believe it or not, is the more likely; people don't finish taking their drugs when they're sick ("But doc, I fell better already! And the erythromycin makes my stomache hurt!" well just one cholera, plague, or whatever molecule that becomes resistant to that drug, and survives, breeds millions that are resistant to that drug. Which is why TB is on its way back. And some cholera strains have become resistant to chlorinated water. WE, the US, could have a cholera outbreak that would kill thousands before it subsides. If memory serves, Canada had a mini outbreak in 2002)

I guess what I'm saying is it CAN happen here. Be prepared; some things you can do to make sure your family is safe is to do simple things like take CPR, First aid and defibrillator lessons. Become a ham radio operator and volunteer/ do disaster relief drills to coordinate communications. The license is easy, and if anyone wants to learn more about amateur radio, I would be happy to teach them. Morse code is no longer a requirement! If you have kids, send them to Scouts: girl and Boy scouts learn great skills like making fire - well, girlscouts do, the boys often resort to gasoline because they don't know how to do fire the right way- handle an axe, a knife, tie a knot. If you live in a hurricane or tornado prone area, keep an emergency kit with blankets, water, flashlights, batteries, first aid kit, etc. where it is available to you and your family in your safe spot. Do drills with your family, so they know where to go in a fire, a flood, an earthquake, a landslide... Last but not least: Volunteer! You don't have to work at a hospital- even volunteering at your library or parks and rec dept gets your name, and your face, out there! You will learn things you never knew were possible, and the lives you save could be those of people you care about.

01-20-2010, 04:23 PM
I'd caution against that blanket "Scouts R Great!" statement. Troupes are only as good as their leaders. We've got two in the local scouting troupe and the most "outdoor camping" skills they have involve sleeping in hard-side shelters at local state parks for the night. the adults do the "fire building", and the kids wouldn't know the sharp end of an axe until it cut their arm off.

it is a source of continual and enraging frustration with me. so i do what i can at home, and try to teach them the "basics" on my own.

And the reason why I posted this is not so much to warn against the "It Cant Happen Here" mentality, but to try and help people wrap their heads around what is going on in Haiti. We're largely indifferent to disasters - studies show that the more people involved in a tradedy, the less sympathy people are inclined to show. We're also isolated here in the US - as much as we'd like to think we're not. We live WELL, even in our worst slums - it's better than a Good Day in places like Haiti. It's tempting to say "well, i have shit on my plate here, and wtf is $5 going to do????" in the face of all that devastation. And yes, there are other places in the world that need help - people are still dying for want of vaccines, basic medical care, or even a plate full of rice.

But it's not for me to say what my $5 or $10 can or can't do. I send it to global organizations like the Int'l Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders and trust that they are able to put it to good use when the need arises - and hope like hell that there are other people in the world who feel the same, should the need ever arise here in the US. I give to domestic charities too, for the same reasons. Having been dependent on some of them, I can only return the generosity I was so fortunate to recieve.

We are USED to having support networks from the government and friends/family/churches on which we can lean when shit hits the fan. We are USED to the prompt and life-saving efforts of the RedCross and the National Guard. We are USED to having the basic resources to make it through things, or being provided with places to go (schools and churches become evac centers, for example) when things go bendy on us. Does it all work smoothly? HELL NO. Do we still think it'll "be there when/if we really need it.".....ask yourself - do you? What would happen if it *weren't*?

01-20-2010, 05:03 PM
Wasn't saying to not send money to Haiti. Maybe I should have phrased it better- I mean we should prepare at home IN ADDITION to keeping an eye out for the needs of others.

This Cracked article explains a lot. http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html The word "monkeysphere" is a bit off- putting, but the article (which does contain swear words, so probably NSFKs) explains much

And sometimes I do get a little tired of people feeling entitled. And short-sighted. (We're not allowed to put up a decent-sized antenna for our radio, for example, yet we're expected to run said radio as communication in case of disaster?) And know what you mean on the Scouts; you're right, some groups are better than others: just because I know how to pee outdoors doesn't mean everyone does (did you know the rules for peeing outdoors are different east and west of the 100th meridian? Weird) Even so, being prepared is not such a bad thing. Just don't let it seep into paranoia

01-20-2010, 09:57 PM
Even so, being prepared is not such a bad thing. Just don't let it seep into paranoia

No, no, i wasn't saying you felt we shouldnt give to Haiti or other nations that are in dire need!!......I enjoy the part about the radio antenna. that's pretty classic red-tape fail, right there.

I have a feeling, however that a wench stocked doomsday commune would have killer supplies of alcohol and chocolate....

01-21-2010, 12:57 AM
I have a feeling, however that a wench stocked doomsday commune would have killer supplies of alcohol and chocolate....


Isabelle Warwicke
01-21-2010, 01:44 AM
I have a feeling, however that a wench stocked doomsday commune would have killer supplies of alcohol and chocolate....

What are you doing in my basement? My "Apocalypse Kit" has small bottles of vodka and M&Ms. A

And yes, I really do have an Apocalypse Kit. I'm only missing a battery/solar/windup radio/flashlight.

01-21-2010, 02:21 AM
What are you doing in my basement? My "Apocalypse Kit" has small bottles of vodka and M&Ms. A

And yes, I really do have an Apocalypse Kit. I'm only missing a battery/solar/windup radio/flashlight.

I am veddy...veddy...sneeeeeeaky.....

01-21-2010, 04:11 PM
I live in California. I was living in the So. part of the state where most of them are. We used to have earthquakes drills and atom bombs drills at school in the 50's.The San Andreas Fault runs right thur the middle of the state. I could have ocean front proprty in an instant if we had a hard enough one.
In 1971 we had one that was 6.6. I also went thru both the Whittier Narrows in '87 that was 5.9 and the Northiridge in '94 6.7 magnatude. I am sure that Sorcha and Morigianna remember the Landers that was 7.3 in '92. Since they both live out that way. While nothing as devastating as Haiti, the damage was millions of $$ with hundreds of death. It isn't always the magniturde but how long it lasts. 1 minute is an eternity if your standing in the middle of one.You might all remember the freeway that fell on a lower level and what that caused. The feeling of an earthquake is the strangest feeling in the world. Sometimes is is just a mild rolling feel. Other times a huge jolt. Kind of like riding a roller coaster. I have also seen the ground crack and actually roll. That is freaky! The one in 1971 actually scooted my bed across the room and I watched dishes fly out of my cupboards. There are thousands here each year and sometimes you can't even feel them. I always carry a backpack in my car with H2O, MRE's, shoes,socks,flashlight, sunglasses, raincoat etc. also a bottle of Jack Daniels (that can get you thru anything). I also have a bag in my house...just in case

01-21-2010, 04:14 PM
When I lived in upstate NY (which is famous for its snow amounts) I kept a change of clothes, a blanket and a candle with matches in the car. If you get stranded, a candle will keep the car warm enough for you to survive without the threat of exhaust fumes filling the car. A snack or two didn't hurt either.

Mistress Morigianna
01-21-2010, 08:54 PM
Earthquakes= FOOT MASSAGE! (if I wake up)

yeah i sleep through most of them how ever the bigger ones do get me riled up. I worry more about the stupid seasonal wildfires. I KNOW they will happen. Right now we are under tons of rain which is washing the bushes and shrubs away along with hills and such so we will have mud and mess.
(hint- don't buy a house at the bottom of a huge mud hill and think a tinky 4 foot wall will stop it....)

in our basement and the car we have emergency supplies. We also have some at our shop. I have a coubard of canned goods and such all the time. As my BF has proven time again- he will eat cold chili, ravioli or soup out of the can.... We even have the huge barral of water in the basement.

My BF is big on the survival stuff. He is part of a huge group that teaches how to live in any situation plus how to make your own blades, shelters, track game & food etc. I really like the cooking in a dutch oven and how to cook wild game videos (um if you are a vegan-not the video for you).

I reccommend the web site- they have videos/dvd and such you can buy. I like watching the videos so when i see the guy on the stupid wilderness show do something stupid I can poke fun at him too! I didn't realize how much I had learned until we had a huge storm at a faire and I was fine. Matt loves playing with his fire bow and forge.

here is the web site http://www.survival.com/
If you go on the forum- my BF is Sage Blackthorn

Roberto Phoenix
01-21-2010, 11:33 PM
The only reason I'm glad I live in the U.P. of Michigan is it takes at least 20 years for anything to show up here. Plenty of warning I'd say!