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Disaster Resilience

2013-01-11 17:01:12.753976+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

Okay, attempting to return blog discussions to the days when we cross-pollinated:

Dave Alden had a look at disaster resilience and urban planning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. My response:

On the issue of under-investment for resilience, this is something I've been struggling with ever since I took a CERT class: What's a reasonable amount to spend on a once-in-a-hundred year chance? If I, as an individual, keep a fully stocked disaster stash, rotating materials through as they expire, that can cost a lot of time and money, and I could very well get through the rest of my life without having to use it.

A bureaucrat planning for disaster could very well get through their entire career, certainly their stint in a particular post, without having to use disaster preparations, at which point those preparations are money that could have been spent on resources that will be otherwise used.

And what if the maintenance and preparedness creates a system that's further invested in an obsolete technology track, so that when the disaster comes sunk costs force you to rebuild in an out-of-date way?

There are definitely no easy answers here. The Sandy scenario was definitely predicted and planned for, it's hard to fault anyone with the response to it, but it's also the case that entities that spend on investments that have shorter-term returns, rather than on resilience, get a leg up. Slow-and-steady only wins the race when the race is longer than the sprint, in this case longer than a human career span, if not life span.

And I think that this sort of discussion has immediate application to municipal governance. We have very few structure fires any more, and our fire departments are now being dispatched to medical situations that, 50 years ago, wouldn't even have elicited a doctor's visit. There is probably a better structure for that particular sort of emergency preparedness, I haven't looked at the numbers but I could imagine that the costs of retrofitting wiring and sprinklers in to older houses are less than keeping a firehouse in every neighborhood, but the human inability to accurate assess and respond to risk means we're unlikely to do any such optimizations any time soon...

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comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2013-01-13 21:45:58.803026+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, we've got a backpacking filter which can turn pretty much anything into drinkable, and we find the Trader Joe's indian food foil pouch meals are reasonable "I don't feel like cooking" alternatives, so we try to keep a bunch of those around as spare.

But I think there's a big challenge between being able to offer services more efficiently en-masse, and asking people to take responsibility for their own survival, that we're not treading very well.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-01-13 21:33:17.082833+00 by: TheSHAD0W

A few minor lifestyle changes can increase your potential disaster resilience and may actually *save* you money. Canned food is cheap and if you increase your normal consumption of it, whatever's on the shelf can count as a disaster reserve. A couple extra weeks worth won't cost much and rotating through it isn't difficult either.

Water is a bigger problem, but if you don't trust tap water for drinking then you probably already have bottled water, and a few extra jugs don't cost very much. Otherwise, there are inexpensive ceramic filters which can turn sewage into potable water. A bottle or two of purification tablets can also come in handy.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-01-12 19:13:24.998266+00 by: Dan Lyke

My now deceased grandfather, a volunteer fireman with a career in public safety, remarked back in the early naughties that in the course of his involvement with his town's fire department, "emergency" medical calls had increased something like two orders of magnitude from the '50s, to the '90s and '00s. The town's population numbers hadn't changed all that much, what changed was the attitudes about performing your own first aid vs calling someone else to put the band-aid on the owie.

And going from a call or two a month to three calls a night was putting a serious stress on the ability of the town to keep the volunteer force interested, and meant they were probably going to have to break down and go to a professional "firefighting" force. At tremendous cost to the town.

This is a problem all over.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-01-12 10:11:43.005604+00 by: stevesh

I like your last paragraph. I read the other day that in 2011, 2% of the runs made by the Los Angeles County Fire Department were for actual fires. Squad 51 was busy, Engine 51 not so much.