Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tornado Summit 2015

Today at the Tornado Summit I listened to a number of good talks. The Emergency Management community was well represented by the National Guard, the Healthcare industry, among many others.

The national guard panel (KS, OK, MO were represented) early this morning was great. They told us about their role as both law enforcement and responders (title 10 and 32 I think). They highlighted what they could and could not do. They spoke highly of local communities and stressed that the NG was not in charge. Their role was to provide capabilities that were no longer functional. You need trucks? We got some, here you go. Hospital? Here.

They discussed their role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Greensburg KS, Joplin MO, Newcastle-Moore-OKC tornadoes. "They say the aftermath of a tornado looks like a war zone. I haven't seen a war zone that looked like that. Moore looked worse."

I heard about the Mississippi tornadoes on 28 April 2014. How a state of emergency was declared a day prior and at 7am on the 28th they had a room full of people ready for action on a day that produced so many tornadoes and devastated communities. One community had their healthcare industry taken out. They called and had a mobile hospital delivered. 48 hours after a tornado, 122 truckloads (or so) were removed from a damaged site (clean concrete slab) to install a hospital. 19 days later, two volunteer squads from North Carolina and it was operational. And its still operating in Lousiville, MS.

I then listened to a lively discussion on Public Tornado Shelters. The issues were palpable. Are these buildings really shelters? Is it safe to even have them? Should people be driving to them? Should anyone be relying on them?  What happens if: 1. a sex offender shows up? 2. dogs bite people? 3. that boa constrictor eats your child? 4. people steal things? 5. people are hungry? 6. IT GETS HIT?

It took the city of Norman who "always used these buildings as shelters" 3 years to acknowledge the liability and vulnerability of shelters and then to remove public shelters. meanwhile OU is building shelters for its 6000+ resident students. So all the campus buildings were evaluated for sheltering options for the building occupants. Are these buildings public shelters? Nope. As a last resort? maybe but certainly not for large numbers of people. After all May 2013 brought more then 7000+ people to campus buildings including the National Weather Center! 

Other cities like Guthrie are dealing with these issues. And Hospitals too. Whats different than 5 years ago? Hospitals have megaphones for crowd control! crowd control because people flooded hospitals. Sometimes without their meds or medical supplies. Sometimes abandoning their cars in the streets and emergency entrances/exits preventing ambulances from getting in/out. Sneaking in through employee entrances. It sounded like madness. Is everyone like this, certainly not. But its enough of an issue to be influencing people in all kinds of ways.

I heard the Moore and Joplin Medical Centers discussing what they had learned as they recalled all the things that can go wrong unaccounted for in Emergency Plans. I mean, who would think that you have to turn the generator off to the hospital to help get it right again? Because live power wires are a bad thing when doing rescue ops. Or what about working across state lines as medical professionals rushing to help, but no agreements are in place for disasters/emergencies?

And I didnt think I would get the feels when watching the Moore medical pictures of cars literally piled up against the building. As if a GIANT came through sweeping up cars out of his parking lot. And the story of the miracle baby. Mom on an epidural, doctors and nurses covering her up in the middle of childbirth as a tornado rips out walls.

So I am glad that when it was our turn to speak at this conference, it represented a voice of the people who have to deal with things we call disasters. Those people who were out protecting their kids and parents, trying to be together, afraid and responding to things that always seem surreal. Looking for safety and finding traffic or no public shelters. Running to buildings which dont offer much safety but might offer common purpose or belonging.  And this speaks to a disconnect (no matter how small) between us.

In the health community they talk about taking control of your health. And as one speaker pointed out "We also need to take control of our safety".  I guess I offer that it sounds simple. But the stories of real people offer a contrast. It's exactly like the hospital problem: Can you really plan for all contingencies? Our resilience depends on our ability to adapt. Under uncertainty. Under pressure. Under fear. Under hardship. And in those circumstances the only way to learn is to learn the hard way. Its terrible that making an error can cost your life. But it does, and learning from each other is the way through the madness.