I’m ready for the big one—even if I don’t know when or what that is.  Maybe I should explain.  Last week, I qualified to be a disaster relief worker in California after a number of training classes held over a few weeks.    Because of my day job, this was compulsory for me, but at the same time, I was interested in taking part.  When unusual offers fall in my lap, I want to learn more.  The course covered basic fire suppression, first-aid, search and rescue and running a shelter.  The classes were taught by firefighters, the Red Cross, rescue workers and nurses.  It was a little overwhelming.  I feel we only scratched the surface, but at least I have an idea of what to do now.
I think most of the people taking the course (me included) had a lot of preconceived notions.  These were dispelled very quickly.  It ain’t like a Hollywood movie.  Nobody runs into burning buildings without a moment’s thought for themselves and others.  There is a method—a whole bunch of it.  It was surprising how callous the decision-making has to be when it comes to search and rescue and first-aid.  Save those who can be saved and do what you can for those who can’t.  Save yourself first.  These were all tricky pills to swallow.  In the simulations, it was surprising how many people forgot that it was all make-believe.  People did what they could for their fellow man and ignored the training.  It was quite reaffirming to see people react this way, although it wasn’t the right thing to do.  I, myself, was blown away by the situation.  I forgot some of the key things told to us and what to look for.  The situation dictated that we had under one minute to diagnose someone’s condition and react accordingly.  With a dozen or so people all screaming at you at once, it’s easy to get swept away.  The simulation helped a lot.  I’d certainly be stronger next time around.  I found I could make a decision about someone and move on to someone else.  I just needed to be better at diagnosing someone’s condition.
No wonder there was a part on therapy for the rescue worker.  Although unlikely, I and others could be faced with some very difficult decisions.  There could be a time where the rescuer will have to walk away leaving people behind.  Survivor guilt is a big killer.  It was surprising to learn how many of the people involved in Timothy McVeigh’s arrest and prosecution committed suicide shortly after.   
Seeing as my home has been rocked by four small but very noticeable earthquakes over the last three months and there is a prediction of the “big one” in the next eighteen months, I’ve starting viewing things with a worried eye.  Should disaster hit, what is my preparedness?  It doesn’t look too good.  The things recommended seem like overkill—but my preparedness doesn’t even cover the basics.  I have to admit the paranoia has hit and I will be putting together an earthquake kit should we be without power, water and TV.  A hand crank DVD player is essential.
It’s been quite a sobering experience and will continue to be.  My training won’t stop here.  There are a number of other areas of disaster training still ahead.  My disaster worker pack sits in a secure location.
Regardless of the scenes witnessed in New Orleans, a lot of smart people have put together a well-thought out plan that will save lives and keep the world turning for us.  My only hope is that my training never needs to go into practice.
Yours cautiously,
Simon Wood

11 thoughts on “Prepared

  1. JT Ellison

    Simon, how fabulous that you’ve experienced this training. Maybe sometime today you can give a listing of what’s needed in an emergency kit? I know I don’t have one and should.

    I participated in a simluation when I was a kid, a bus crash. They painted us all with fake blood and scattered us around the tipped over bus, fifty boneless dolls bent into every conceivable position. I had nightmares for weeks, imagining what it would be like for real.

    We need more people willing to put themselves in danger for others. It’s a scary world we live in.

  2. pari

    As I was reading the post, I kept thinking of all the good information you’re going to get for future books and stories . . .

    In NM, we have such low population density that we get lazy. Your post is another wake-up call.

    What SHOULD go in that disaster kit?

  3. Naomi

    When we were going through our Big One and subsequent aftershocks in L.A. in the 1970s, my Japanese grandmother who was staying with us told me to pack a small bag of treasures (photos, etc.) and keep it by the door. I guess with digital photos, scanning, and all that, you can have Web-based alternatives now.

  4. Louise Ure

    Funny that we rarely see the “proper” approach to triage in crime fiction. In our stories, the hero always stays with/saves the injured or dying person, no matter how wrong that decision might be in real life. I’d love to see you use some of this information in a book, Simon.

    But a crank up DVD player? If you’ve got one, I want you as my next door emergency response guy!

  5. simon

    Alex: Yes, the next 18months. I’ve just invested in a bubble wrap survival suit.

    JT: Our next test is a full-on simulation with dozens of people mocked-up.

    Pari: I’ll get you the list of things for the survival kits.

    Louise: I was keen to do this because of research reasons.

  6. spyscribbler

    Wow! They don’t have anything like that around here. (Big surprise.) It sounds ridiculous, but I feel like saying that California should be proud of itself. I’m really impressed.

    Louise, I loved how they dealt with triage in the last Pearl Harbor movie with Ben Affleck. Heart-wrenching, to be sure.

  7. simon

    I Think Katrina was a big wake-up call. The town I work in has a fault line, unstable hillsides, undergound gas lines, and flood issues. In the words of the Stingray show…anything could happen in the next 30 minutes…

  8. Fran

    My partner and her son and I are actively building survival backpacks for Just In Case, since here in Seattle we’re prone not only to earthquakes but volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, along with fire and flood. You pay a price for living in beauty. But it’s too easy to play ostrich, pretend it’s not gonna happen. It takes time to prepare, it’s expensive and it’s terrifying, but being without this stuff if it’s necessary would be much worse.

    We did disaster drills when I was in high school, chem lab blowing up, stuff like that. It’s stayed with me all along, and you’re right, JT, it was the stuff of nightmares.

    Pari, coming from NM as I do, find a way to store water, and get a portable filtration system to clean the nasty stuff. It’s not all you’ll need, but it’s a beginning.

    Good post, Simon. Thanks!


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