Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hurricane Gustav: My Lessons Learned

I'm pretty sure everyone on this end of Acadiana is already way-past-tired of Hurricane Gustav coverage, much less bracing for the possibility of Hurricane Ike, but I just can't resist one last post about Gustav. Any good professional will tell you that a good professional (Hmm... circular argument!) will debrief after a major operation to find out what went right...and what went wrong. So without further ado, some points about surviving the (latest) tropical system.

(1) Communication from the government was fantastic! Well, almost...

Unlike the farce that was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana finally got themselves into some semblance of order in terms of information dissemination. Governor Bobby Jindal's daily press conferences were incredibly long-winded and seemed almost off-the-cuff on a couple of occasions, but they were rich in concrete information. Compared to the "Oh gee, I'm so bad off! Look at my sad face!" that was the typical press conference by my duck-hunting buddy, El Jefe gets kudos from me.

Who doesn't get kudos from me is St. Mary parish in general and the city of Franklin in particular. It was quite discomforting to see parish-after-parishs' OHSEPs report on their respective infrastructures on the news, only to hear nothing about where I live. I'll give the parish government and OHSEP a pass to a limited extent that the parish was smacked pretty hard by the storm, so an immediate report would be difficult to get out. It is, however, completely unacceptable to hear no news from media outlets almost 96 hours after Gustav's landfall about when I could return to my home. The sad truth is that I only found out when I could return home from my principal, who told me it had been OK since early on Wednesday. If I was waiting for an all clear from my city government to be broadcast on local media, I'd still be stuck at my parents' home. During states of emergency, communication of facts to the general population is paramount to mitigate damage and hasten recovery, and the city of Franklin did very little of that.

(2) I need to work on my evacuation skills.

I must admit that I generally don't heed mandatory evacuation orders. Part of this is because my parents generally don't heed them, and being their child meant I had to follow their lead. This all changed back in 2005 when I was volunteered by my grandmother to work for our town's OHSEP. This of course threw me into the maelstrom that was Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and gave me some experiences that I wouldn't have experienced otherwise. This of course meant that when storms were contemplating which section of the Gulf of Mexico to maraud, I had to stay put. It never got too bad (The worst we got with Rita was 90 mph+ sustained winds) and I never lost anything from a storm, so I guess it was all OK. This time I decided to bail since I was planning on spending Labor Day weekend with my parents, and Gustav was headed for southeast instead of southwest Louisiana. I thought I had packed only my essential/irreplaceable stuff, but that left my car completely full. At least I had my essential things (Identification, lease, school data, etc.), but I still brought too much fluff with me.

I think it would be a wise investment for me to get some heavy-duty storage containers (Some oilfield-surplus storage boxes would suffice) and just pack stuff in them. They're sturdy enough to withstand heavy-duty winds, watertight, and heavy enough to not float away in a worst-case scenario of a large storm surge. Though with that said I just don't have the space at my current location to store them. So I guess for the rest of this hurricane season I'll stick to tossing stuff in my car.

(3) I need to bite the bullet and get my amateur radio license.

Yeah, so my nerd quotient would hit the ionosphere, but getting my technician's license along with a good dual-band 2-meter/10 cm set has been a goal of mine for quite a while. In case you don't know, Ham Radio operators provide invaluable communication services during times of emergency through ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service). I met a couple of local ARES folks after Hurricane Katrina and I was so impressed with the work they were capable of doing I told myself I would bite the bullet and become a Ham operator myself. Hurricane Rita threw a spanner in the works for diving right in, and it's been three years and now two (possibly three by this time next week) hurricanes and I'm still not there. It'll take some cash to get going, but at least I'll be of some use in times of emergency to someone.

(4) I need to get back into the OHSEP volunteer business.

If volunteering for Gueydan's OHSEP taught me one thing, it was that being in the thick of things in a time of emergency is far better than sitting in a house with nothing to do but watch the newscasters go over the same six bits of information for days at at time. So I'm in a new town with slightly bigger ambitions than our setup (It was the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, and myself sitting in the basement of the city hall with a couple of TVs, two office PCs and my laptop, and two telephones), but it's a chance to do something really important in times of real need. I've considered going ahead and diving in, but it seems Hurricane Ike wants me to wait until after he passes. Oh well, who am I to argue with a tropical cyclone?

One last thing, in my LiveBlog of Gustav I hinted at a quick and dirty summary of Gustav based on my experiences with riding out tropical systems in the past. Well, I was at my grandmother's old house on Wednesday washing clothes and I got tired of playing Hearts and Freecell on my laptop, so I put my laptop to good use. If you're in the mood for some boring weather talk, you can check out my
Quick and Dirty Summary of Hurricane Gustav based on my personal observations. If anything, if you're not interested in papers talking about the weather, it's dry enough to put an insomniac to sleep.

Check back in tomorrow for hopefully some fun and frivolity!

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