Thursday, March 23, 2006

Final 296C Class

So this will be my last post on the Emergency Management Class. Unless I go to the way back machine and pull out some other writings about it that I haven’t yet posted. As I said, I wrote after every class so that I could remember what I learned. Too much information to take serious notes… Sometimes it was also better to just listen.

I finally gave my presentation at tonight’s class. It was on Transportation as the Cause and the Glendale Train Crash as an example of that. Truthfully, I am so glad that it’s over. I am very tired of reading about it. It’s interesting to know about, but it just seems to speak to our human conditions – good and bad, you decide.
There was a guy writing “I heart my family” in blood on the pavement. Fat investigators. No it is not like Hollywood… These guys sit around and wait for something to happen. The press, looking for the story… The press and the detectives alike have slow days. People dying, people injured; lawyers sniffing around.

One thing I do know is that I could’ve done a much better job with my paper and presentation. I started working on it too early I think. I had my spiel and most of my slide show done two or three weeks ago. I spent the last few days doing my paper. But I don’t think it was entirely effective. If you read about the event – please read it briefly before reading this next part - some of the problems/solutions I described and some of the places I failed are as follows:
1. The location of the event being both good and bad. While the trains collided at a unique place, it occurred near an early morning weekday empty Costco parking lot so accessibility was excellent and allowed command and triage centers to be established quickly. The local businesses also provided help and food/goods – Costco Pizza, Starbucks Coffee, Topanga Lumber. What I forgot to say or think about, however, was that this whole thing probably had a negative effect on local businesses – no business at all or business shut down for 3 days.
2. I overlooked the impact to people’s lives as the train line was shut down for a week, but I did describe the drop in ridership.
3. Did I understand if the event was SEMS compliant, or was an ICS structure used? No, I am bad at understanding that part of the events. This event was handled very well however.
4. I did point out that I think mitigations would be best put to redesigning grade crossings and educating people about them; and that, emphatically, this fellow Juan Alvarez could’ve been caught and helped ahead of time if it weren’t for our shitty social safety net. Again, it’s interesting to know about, but it just seems to speak to our human conditions – good and bad, you decide.
5. I think the metrolink railroad should be able to continue with their push-pull configuration despite litigation. I think they should be shielded from any lawsuits in that regard.

To make things challenging, the whole videoconference system that we use, as the class is state wide, was down. They thought the schedule for the class was done so we were not programmed to drop in. Despite all my efforts in PowerPoint (I had a semi-animation of the crash) I was not able to show my show. I had to read off on the phone – we were all on phone conference only at that point. They did have my printed pages though on the other end. Side note: next time I take a class at this place I am going to attend remote sites, Oakland, Monterey… Why not. I may soon also have to be taught a class from a remote sight anyway. Eventually, half way through the Pentagon attack presentation which was shared by two students who were as nearly as distant as possible (LA/Redding), the communications system finally came on. (These technical problems hounded us all night).

Yes, the next topic – 911 at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center presentations came along and overshadowed my presentation of course.

Everywhere I looked online about the pentagon attack; all I got was the conspiracy sites. Here, however, are people taking this very seriously. Unfortunately as the communications system was down the gal in LA didn’t get to speak much – but she was talking about how the perps got on the plane even after failing the metal detectors. Then the communications system finally came on and we got the second half of the pentagon slide show with the American flag background by the dude up north and his discussion of incipient Islamo-fascism that apparently none are immune to...

I guess the emergency response at the Pentagon wasn’t so good. A common command system was ignored. Many reported immediately without checking in and many units responded without being asked to respond. This is my fear of this event and ones like it. Too many people trying to show how patriotic they are, arrive and don’t pay attention. They want to be heroes. Chaos was the rule. Something crazy happened there that day – regardless of conspiracy or whatever.

Our professor closed the class by describing the World Trade Center Attacks. I saw a lot of pictures and diagrams that I’ll probably never see again. I still don’t know what I think about this event. All I truly know is that it is an emotionally powerful event that can be seen and used in various ways. I saw one of my classmates wiping tears from their eyes. I watched the slides intently this time as I remember I tried not to watch any TV of it at the time it happened. In fact, the first time I saw the thing collapse was at the Asti in Santa Cruz the following weekend, through a very thick haze of Saturday night alcohol. They seemed to play it over and over again and again on the TVs above the bar. Many “bros” were going to kick some serious terrorist ass. They were going to drive home drunk, in their excessive contractor trucks and wonder why anyone would be pissed at them in the first place.

Here is this event that is ingrained in our national psyche now and forever and a long time. Where were you when it happened? Did you feel nationalistic? Well, then, why not?

It was an amazingly tragic thing that happened. But, it felt real. It felt like life. Not knowing what would happen, who/where would be next. Everybody was nice to one another – well except to a few Muslims that got harassed or even killed. But, remember for that brief time when this wasn’t politicized and everybody loved one another and everybody made sure they told one another how much they loved one another for fear that they may never see them again.

It’s interesting to know about, but it just seems to speak to our human conditions – good and bad, you decide.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Even More 296C

Class # 9: More Transportation as the Victim

The presentations given tonight were:
1.) The London Train Bombings of last summer (July 2005), and, 2.) Two hours devoted to Katrina and some of Rita – you know those gals… of course you do! Stars of the big screen – creating the phenomenon known as disaster fatigue, making us forget about the Tsunami, making us not care about the Earthquakes in Pakistan.

My god, what a year!

To tell you the truth, the emergency management class is causing considerable disaster fatigue for me too. Especially now, with these recent, high profile events and their high casualties; and that they could happen now because they’ve happened within the last year. There is a certain denial.

Next week’s class – and the final class: Transportation as the Cause.
This is when I give my little talk. My presentation deals with a car/train collision – and some are now saying the Train was the cause too. But it is relatively minor compared to the events that we have covered in the last few sessions. More on that next time though - as I work the presentation thing myself next week. I tried to go tonight actually, but glad I didn’t. I’ll do much better as learned the answer to the Zen question, what is the sound of one hand clapping? – a slap in the face!

The London Train Bombings of July 7th and July 21st were interesting topic for us. Again the certain denial caused me to radically day dream (or night school dream if you will), but I was also surfing the web about the event. Needless to say, my account may suck, but I’ll try to describe the things I thought were interesting about it and the other events that we discussed.

On July 7th 2005 four suicide bombers attacked three subways and one bus. 56 people died including the bombers and 700 or so were injured. The subway explosions happened in the London Underground (the “tube”) and apparently this confined space increased the effect of the explosions. It also made it harder to get to in response. It got very hot down there because of the resulting fires. Some chaos ensued, but I guess the Brits are rather orderly about these sorts of things and so it was minimal. Some discussion was made of their attitudes being forged by the Nazi bombings during WWII, and the IRA bombings of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Funny thing was that many people distributed real-time information via their cell phones. Yes, camera-phone pictures of the event as it were happening. (Meta-society. Jet Blue?) Blogs were used and more reliable than other media sources it turns out. This is how people communicated that they were alright to their families. You’d think they were Greg or something… ITS was used too, as far as road signs telling people to not used the subways or avoid parts of town, but the public/commercial information sources out-performed the government’s systems of communication. We learned this would have a bad effect on a closed site criminal investigation.

Later that day a fourth suicide bomb went off. One of our readings was of the descriptions of this dude’s last minutes/hours. “He tried to call the three others – repeatedly. He ate at McDonalds. He went to a drug store. And then boarded a double-decker bus and blew the top of it off – ‘like a sardine can’.”

The investigation was eventually successful, and the suspects and other accomplices were described via cameras installed at the subway terminals capturing them on their test run. But it was flawed. The bombers motives are funky. Al-Qaeda cells are transient. Scotland Yard was used to IRA bomb threats that were rather friendly by comparison:
“Hello, yes we’d like to blow your train up, but, want to make sure no one is on it. It will happen here and at this time. Ok, thanks.”

Instead, these guys are 18 year olds, who spent less than 5,000 bucks for the whole thing. However, their tracks are weird. They paid up parking for the whole day; they bought long-term/round-trip tickets…

Unfortunately, the investigation and frenzied state following yet another attack on July 21st (by another entirely different population (though not as effective)), caused considerable panic. Again the Brits didn’t waver at riding the subway after July 7th, but the bombing on the 21st caused rider-ship to drop comparatively.

On July 22nd a perceived suspect was shot on site after failing to heed police commands. Read about it. Turns out he had nothing to do with any of it. But suicide bombing suspects are sniped because they are assumed to have switches to detonate upon death or pursuit. Not shot in the torso as it used to be, but in the head as the chest is the assumed place for explosive devices.

I don’t know – read more about it at the hyper-links.

The rest of the class focused on Katrina mostly. Everything you’d want to know and then some. The whole thing that Kanye West said about Bush. He said what he said and didn’t care what the implications would be – he spoke. Poor Mike Myers though. Such a Cheeky Monkey. If you could see the look on his face! At least he laughed about it later.

Again, you know mostly what happened. The storm that everyone feared finally came. I’ll discuss, as I usually try to, what I thought was interesting, but it is so much that did happen.
First of all, the guy who gave the presentation was in New Orleans at the time. His daughter was a freshman at Tulane, so he was actually there helping her move in. He also lived there for some time and worked on the city’s public transit system.

Unlike many of the other parts of the gulf, particularly Biloxi where the hurricane and storm surge caused damage, it was the flooding and breaking of the levees in New Orleans that caused the damage there. I’ll talk about Mississippi, later, but want to describe what happened with the levee system. Two, or three, ways the levees broke was the spill over the top of the levees and the falling water scouring out the base on the dry side until they eventually collapsed; and the depth of the levees concrete walls being weakened by moisture and then toppled by wing and waves – they weren’t deep enough. The third way a levee broke was a barge slamming into and breaking a levee wall.

We all know about the chaos ensuing there too. You saw it all on the news – people at their best and Geraldo Rivera reporting on it. People fired guns at FEMA cars… “You loot, we shoot!” was spray painted on plywood boards…

You also know about brownie, chertoff and bush; about ray nagin and kathleen blanco.

Are you prepared for what may happen here with a gnarly earthquake? Some have said that we’re not physically ready, but more importantly, not emotionally ready.

The whole thing fell apart. The city is screwed as 1 and ½ million people have left the area and many are never coming back. The region’s tax revenue will suffer – especially once the recovery crews leave (they are propping up the local economy). New Orleans gets 40% of its tax base from tourism. This last years Mardi Gras was two-thirds or ½ what it normally was.

In Mississippi, the already devastated economy had turned to legalized gambling boats – which of course got destroyed. The region now suffers from drug-use and a massive meth epidemic is brewing. Apparently the same thing that sprung up in Japan after our Atomic bomb attacks.

The local oil economy was disrupted too. There are plants there that turn oil (hydrocarbon) products into plastics – like the water bottles, coke and milk bottles. The milk industry has reverted to cartons and the idea of using less safe plastics is being agreed upon. To enlighten how integrated oil is in our society, read on Katrina and Rita’s effect on the Oil Industry.

I don’t know what else to say. Except turn you on to the links: (especially the google images search)

Katrina Pictures

Friday, March 10, 2006

More 296C Notes

Class # 8: Transportation as the Victim

Tonight’s class had student presentations about each of the following events:

Pan Am 103 Plane Crash

Madrid Train Bombing

(Each item in the bullet list is a link to their Wikipedia entries.)

The student presentations were good. I especially liked one student’s description of the Kobe Earthquake, “it looked like a bunch of models being kicked around.”
I have my laptop, and the classroom is wireless so I look online at a Google search of the event as they’re talking about it. 21st century! I could look at those pictures and yes, he was right. All the Godzilla movies… (I’ve heard it said that Godzilla was a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) The port at Kobe was damaged and closed it long enough for Yokahama to take its place as second next to Tokyo.
Kobe (Hanshin) has a bunch of filled islands (like that airport in Hong Kong) and they got pretty wrecked. There are some similarities to the Bay Area for sure, the topography is alot alike.

Although Wikipedia has been very helpful here in this class (a nice compendium), it still doesn’t refrain from what you’d expect. For example, the entry that describes the Madrid Train Bombings by saying, “… the “dumb ass mutha fuckin” attacks came exactly 30 months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.” (See that entry under the “Responsibility” section – it may not last long (as of Friday March 10th it was gone).

And, yes there is more coincidence going on here. When talking about Kobe Earthquake, for example, it happened one year to the day following the Northridge quake. Or, the sportswriter’s (where I first learned the meaning of the word hyperbole) prediction that the Giant’s and A’s world-series would result in an earthquake before game 3 and could therefore never be completed.

There is also an alternative entry about the other reasons for Pan Am 103 to be taken down and that site has a picture of Oliver North at it.
Pan Am 103 had some famous folk who would’ve been on the flight. The Four Tops (or, the Four Tops of that time), Johnny Rotten too... Another story talks about some dude who checked in for the flight, also checking his bag, so he went to the bar, but stayed a little too late. Fortunately he missed the flight, but he became a suspect because he wasn’t on board while his bag had been loaded on the plane. Ironically, PanAm charged passengers an extra $5.00 to "carefully screen baggage" prior to this event taking place.

Yes, these events have complexities beyond just Transportation as the victim. Obviously, yet, that’s our focus… For example, Hwy 17 was closed for a month after Loma Prieta – one way to keep the valley from surfing! This earthquake news inspired each of us to ask, “How many bridges do we cross everyday?” Another one is waiting to happen...
Just yesterday, for example, a Google Earth Tour of the Hayward Fault was released.
More on the bay fill - both SFO and Oakland Airports are on bay fill, so they aren't expected to last... San Jose, however, is allegedly more stable.
In the coming months we here in the bay area will get creamed with stories about San Francisco 1906.

Again, check out the Wikipedia links, especially the links that come from them…