Friday, September 23, 2005

Weekend Plans: Hurricane Rita Edition

Warning: Long and Ranty

For once I was going to have something exciting and new to write here, albeit mostly against my will. I was going to spend more time out of my apartment than in it. I was going to get a life, if only for three days. But . . .

M was supposed to fly into Houston yesterday and drive to Austin. We started rethinking her plans on Wednesday, mostly out of concern that she wouldn’t be able to fly back out of Houston on Monday---or possibly at all next week. We were also starting to hear reports about major gridlock on the roads out of Houston. My media training (I worked in PR before becoming an editor and thought about becoming a journalist), however, has made me skeptical of such reports. You only hear the very worst stories. Yes, it would probably take M longer to drive than usual, but she could still make it in a reasonable amount of time.

Then, Thursday morning, we realized that the reports weren’t exaggerated. Friends and coworkers were getting calls from family members who weren’t able to get out of Houston because of the gridlock and gas shortages. People were on the road for more than 10 hours just to get a few miles outside the city limits.

Added to that, the car rental companies had no cars left; those that hadn’t been rented by evacuees were being requisitioned for emergency services. So had M come, she would have been trapped in Houston. And that’s if she even made it. Airlines were canceling flights, and airport workers weren’t reporting to work. Not that I can blame them. The evacuation orders were given two days ago, but the airport wasn’t scheduled to close until noon today, which doesn’t give those working at the airport a lot of leeway for getting themselves and their families out of the area.

Here’s a clue to FEMA: Before you order an evacuation, have a plan for transportation employees. Work with the airlines (and bus and train systems, if applicable) to create disaster plans for cities with high air traffic or major hubs so that the airlines are able to redirect resources to get the most passengers out in the shortest amount of time (yeah, it sucks for the people stuck in Chicago because their plane or crew got sent to the emergency site, but they aren’t fleeing an oncoming hurricane). Then, within 24 hours of the evacuation order, shut down the airports entirely, take federal control of the airport and staff it with national guardsmen and FEMA workers, or have planes standing by with guaranteed transport for employees and their dependent family members.

Anyway, back to our story, given that M may not have been able to get to Houston and wouldn’t have gotten out of Houston had she gotten that far, we decided that it was best if she rescheduled her trip. Which means that my plans for the weekend are null and void. And still partly up in the air, because we still aren’t sure what Rita will do. Right now, it seems most likely that Austin will get a few rain showers on Saturday, with some light wind. If Rita swings further east (and I pray to God and all the saints that it won’t, both for the sake of New Orleans and because we need the rain here), Austin may not get anything. If the hurricane pulls a total surprise move to the west or if it (as some have suggested) spins off into several storm systems once it gets inland, we could get more rain and slightly higher winds. For all our fancy satellites and computer models and what not, we still don’t control nature.

So, it seems I have a whole weekend to bitch about the incompetence of the government. Another clue: If you order an evacuation of an area with nearly 2 million people, you should be able to predict that there will be major gridlock and shortages of such necessities as water and gas. Again, once you decide you need to order an evacuation, have a plan. Get ahead of the problem. Start sending convoys of military fuel tanks in a constant stream, pulling from other areas of the country if necessary (yeah, it sucks if people in Oklahoma have some shortages, but they aren’t fleeing an oncoming hurricane) to ensure that gas stations along the route have a sufficient supply (and to monitor price gouging). Set up portable toilets along the roadside. No, they won’t be pretty after a while, but its better than developing toxicity from holding your bladder for too long or having to crap in the median. Also set up roadside assistance areas to distribute water, oranges, and cracker packs, as well as basic medical care. Need a model: Look at any major marathon.

And, yeah, I know that it is easy for me to say this after the fact and from a comfortable position outside the situation. But, then again, I’m not an expert getting paid to figure this stuff out, either.

And I don’t think the problem is entirely with the government. There are better evacuation methods---pre-assigning people by zip code (with first preference for the elderly and sick) to bus convoys with staggered departure times and varied routes going to tent shelters set up at nearby military bases, for example---but we in the general populace would never accept these methods. We want to take our own cars and our families (or friends) and as much of our material possessions as we can pack and go to a place of our own choosing at a time of our choosing. We’re more worried about ourselves than the big picture. Even if it means that we sit for hours in gridlocked traffic and that some people can’t get to safety. As long as those people aren’t us.

So this turned into yet another long rant. But, hey, isn’t that what blogs are for? Maybe if you are really (un)lucky, I’ll repost my suggestions for getting through power outages.

Back to the topic of this post, my plans are loosely as follows:

* Yoga. I went last week after almost two months off, and, well, I have newfound appreciation for Bearette24. It hurt more than running.
* DVDs and knitting. Thinking that we were going to have a rainy weekend, I stocked up on DVD rentals: the last two discs of Alias: Season 2; The Upside of Anger; Oz, Season 1, Disc 1; Buffy, Season 5, Disc 3; Gunner Palace; and The Fire Next Time (which I'm interested in because I've been reading Collapse and the author writes about how Montana is dealing with all sorts of environmental, economic, and social changes). Half of the DVDs are from Netflix, so they may get bumped to next weekend.

I, once again, have hours to make up at work. Then . . .

If it rains: I’ll be curled up in my chair, with my DVDs, the pile of library books, and some craft projects. I also have more GRE studying to do, and I should start on the actual applications and get together the recommendation forms and envelopes to send off to the people writing those for me (so far, I have two who have said yes!). In the late afternoon, I’ll go see a movie with Lopez! (if she still wants to) and maybe get some dinner or hang out at the book store.

If it doesn’t rain: I’ll do mostly the same, except that I’ll take Rowen to the dog park and maybe find someplace outside to study/read.

* Running in the very early morning.
* Church a little later in the morning.
* Taking Rowen for a walk or to the dog park, depending on the temperature outside.
* Writing some very overdue thank you notes.
* Books, crafts, and DVDs.


At 8:52 AM , Blogger Liz said...

I'm too intimidated to try yoga. I fear I'll be ashamed by my lack of flexibility. I'm pretty sure I'll never be one of those women who can put both of their legs around their neck!

At 8:57 AM , Blogger bdogg_mcgee said...

I started doing yoga by checking out videos from the library. The Yoga Zone for Beginners tape is really helpful--that's what turned me on to yoga in the first place. That way you can go at your own pace and not feel intimidated by others and their otherworldly flexibility.

Speaking of the hurricane stuff, I had friends who evacuated to Austin (14-hour trip) and others who are coming up to Dallas and I still haven't heard from them, and they left nearly 24 hours parents decided to ride out the storm, thank goodness.

At 12:16 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

I'm sorry it hurt!


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