Tag: Disaster/Accident

Oh, OK Then. Help People If You Must

I had trouble believing this story when it came out over the weekend but didn’t see any explanation. I think this may be the closest we get:

A transport truck carrying relief items for victims of the deadly tornadoes in Moore Oklahoma, has been given the approval to cross into the United States.

The 52-foot long truck carrying the goods was stopped at customs after crossing the Ambassador Bridge Wednesday night.

It was carrying 20,000 kilograms of goods, including diapers, blankets, food and locally grown produce.

“We had all the items we wanted to ship listed with the proper documentation for the border. We couldn’t figure out why we were being detained,” says Pastor Howard Mulder of Windsor Lifeline Outreach.

A U.S. customs broker says because President Barack Obama didn’t declare Moore a ‘disaster area,’ the shipment is seen as commercial.

Therefore, all items must be listed with proper documentation and country of origin.
Organizers say it would have been impossible to complete before the food spoils.

I understand the Border Patrol’s position here but you’d think someone would have declared Moore enough of a disaster area to allow this sort of thing to go through. It’s yet another one of the innumerable instances in which government doesn’t quite ruin our lives — the shipment went through in the end — but throws up so many roadblocks, so much paperwork and so much aggravation that you eventually start wondering why you bother to do anything that isn’t mandated.

Oklahoma got whacked again a few days ago and is starting yet more storms this week. Hopefully, we won’t see any more foolish stories like this.

Paying for Sandy

Back when he was still awesome, Rush Limbaugh use to say that the most dangerous place in America was between Chuck Schumer and a camera. And you just knew he was going to say something stupid about Hurricane Sandy:

Sen. Charles Schumer called the fallout from Hurricane Sandy a “national disaster” and called on a federal government to cover at least 90% of the costs.

“This is one of the biggest disasters to have ever struck this state and even this country,” Schumer said at an afternoon briefing with Gov. Cuomo. “The federal response has to measure that scope and be equal to that that scope.”

“We cannot cut corners. We cannot count nickels and dimes. This isn’t a New York disaster, a Connecticut disaster, a Jersey disaster. It is national disaster. It needs to be treated that way by every member of Congress, by all the members of the executive branch.”

But Mr. Schumer did say that any added money will be tacked onto the deficit, which already is expected to reach about $1 trillion in fiscal 2013. He rejected the suggestion that other programs should be cut in order to pay for any new budget needs, saying Democrats won that fight on previous emergency spending bills, too.

I have a very slight portion of agreement here in that the Feds should bear some of the pain for regional disasters that can overwhelm local and state governments. But the key word there is “some”. We are talking about some of the wealthier regions of the country. I don’t see why New York should not pick up the cost of, say, repairing the subway system or New Jersey should not pick up, say, the cost of fixing the electricity. There is not a part of this country that is not at risk of some natural disaster. Repairs, replacements, relief have to be part of the existing budget for state and local governments: a really rainy day fund. But … the Feds have picked up the tab for everything else and it would seem odd to suddenly change now.

That being said …

The idea that we should not cut other spending or raise taxes or make some kind budget room for disaster relief is ridiculous. This is precisely the kind of thinking that has gotten us $16 trillion in debt: never allowing for the inevitable “unexpected” expenses that find their way into the budget. Be it wars, “stimulus” or disaster relief, we just throw out the fiscal responsibility when the bill comes due. And then we wonder why we’re so far in debt.

Maybe you could do this if our finances were in good shape with the idea that we’d pay it off over the next year or two. But when we’re under a growing mountain of debt, every new expense has to be accommodated. That’s the whole idea behind PAYGO, no?

The research on bankruptcies has shown that most are the result of some catastrophe that hits a family: medical expense, job loss, etc. Bankruptcy is especially likely if the family has not squirreled away some money to anticipate a disaster. My wife and I only got our finances in order when we started to allow some budget room for unexpected expenses: car repairs, doctor bills, travel. I just found out a friend lost his job two months ago. But his family hasn’t suffered because they cut expenses and had a rainy day fund. I’m dubious of translating lessons about family budgets to the federal budget, but in this case I think it’s apt. Everyone has to budget for the unexpected.

Our federal budget does not, for obvious reasons, have a rainy day fund. But the reason we need to get the deficit under control is precisely to deal with unexpected huge expense that might hit us out of the blue (like a hurricane; or a war). And that means that, given the current budget situation, any disaster relief for Sandy has to be balanced by tax hikes or budgets cuts. We simply don’t have the flexibility, when we’re fighting over a few hundred million here and there, to say, “Oh yeah, here’s $50 billion. Don’t worry about it.” And we don’t have the leeway to keep thinking of the government as a bottomless piggy bank.

Profiles in Cowardice

It’s the must-listen audio of the day as the “captain” of the Costa Concordia refuses to obey the Coast Guard’s increasingly angry demands that he return to his sinking ship:

I ran this by a few native Italian speakers and they have told me the translation doesn’t quite capture the color of the Coast Guard’s language. At one point, he calls Schettino an Italian slang word for penis, the equivalent of calling him a little shit. But you don’t have to be a native speaker to catch the outrage in the call.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Schettino deserves what’s coming to him. It’s bad enough to damage your ship and then run it aground and roll it over. That’s incompetence. But abandoning drowning passengers and crew while you speed off in a taxi? Passengers panic in danger situations. But boat crews are trained for these situations.

I listen to to this recording and I can’t help but think of the brave crew of United 232, who saved 2/3 of the passengers in a fireball crash. I think of Arland Williams on Air Florida 90, passing the rescue line to other before his strength gave out. I think of the band aboard the Titanic playing until the ship went under the waves. And then I think of Schettino, comfortable in a taxi while his charges died. He’s now claiming he tripped and fell into a lifeboat — wasn’t that an episode of The Love Boat or something? I’m sure it will be space aliens next.

Fuck him. His name is already a byword for cowardice. Let’s focus our attention on the heroes. By the time we get the full story, it will turn out there were a lot more people on that ship like James Thomas than there were like Schettino.

Reporting The Obvious

I always get a chuckle out of folks that seem surprised at the stupidity of some people. Instead of trying to analyze the disconnect in the the thinking process, a more seasoned anthropologist would just sit back and enjoy the comedy.

This poor reporter can’t understand the behavior of some locals when confronted with Irene:

Alcohol does lessen the impact of calamity, but why is this guy speechless? With the power out in your house, there is not much to do, fornicate maybe, but how long does that take? Any excuse for a party, what’s not to understand?

I’m struck by all articles of late claiming that Irene was overhyped. First off, anything that can get Obama to cut his vacation short, sounds like the real deal to me. But this sentiment flies in the face of some rather obvious precepts:
Who can accurately predict the path of hurricanes, or any natural disasters? How many times have we seen tornadoes jump about randomly, uprooting one farm and leaving the next door neighbor unscathed, I guess that guy could ask ,”What’s the big deal?”.
Isn’t it always better, when warning the public of a possible impending disaster, better to be safe then sorry? Yes, it’s great that Irene lost some intensity and got downgraded, all the way from a level 3 hurricane to a tropical storm, but this was fortuitous, not foreseen.
News is all about ratings and the more calamitous the predictions the more eyes and ears you will get. Sweeping histrionic predictions will get people’s attention, and who to say they were wrong?

Irene Causes Worst Floods in 100 Yrs.

Many in Vermont, Penn., and NY, know they pretty much got their ass kicked, don’t tell them Irene was “overblown”.

It will probably be at least a week before anyone gets a handle on what the damages will be. Total deaths, so far is 28.

Any of you East Coasters affected?

Collapse in Indiana

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the horrific footage of the stage collapsing at the Indiana State Fair yesterday. Five people were crushed to death.

What’s remarkable about the video, however, is how everyone responded. You can see, before the collapse, people trying to get out of the way. It’s not a stampede. Afterward, there’s plenty of screaming, but not a Hollywood-style panic. Instead, there is a surge of people forward to try to help: to lift the collapsed stage, pull survivors free and tend to the wounded. There are people who will survive this tragedy because of the heroic and smart actions of people they don’t even know.

We are far better than anyone gives us credit for.

The China Crash

With everything on this weekend, a huge story got missed. I saw it on Twitter but forgot about it. Here we go:

With all the other horrible events of the weekend, China’s high speed rail crash sort of faded into the background. But the toll is horrific: 43 dead, and hundreds more injured after one high speed train ran into another. Critics are now arguing that this is the result of cut corners in the construction process:

China’s decision to build a $400 billion, 16,000 km high speed rail network in the space of a few years was initially greeted with awe at their committment to winning the future, and laments from the usual suspects that America could never do something this fantabulous. Then the network was forced to slow the average speed of its bullet trains down due to safety concerns; lower-than-projected ridership caused big deficits; and the head of the rail ministry was removed in a tawdry corruption scandal.

And now 43 people are dead. Yeah, it’s one accident. It’s one accident in only the fourth year of service. The system should be as good now as it’s going to be. What’s going to happen as it starts to fall apart?

Here’s a question for the floor: Think about the nitwits who have expressed admiration for China’s system, who have wished we were more like China, who have proclaimed China’s high-speed rail system the model for the hyper-expensive pork projects they want this country. Will any of them back down?

You don’t really have to answer that.

The Paralysis Of Liability

Here is another one of those posts, like the Charity one I wrote a couple of weeks back, where the rightness of the position lies in how well it is articulated, either side can be right.

Last week a mentally ill man calmly walked into the ocean and in front of a number of people including both police and fire personal, slowly drowned himself, with no one lifting a finger to stop him:

We can glean a little bit of background from this:

Depressed and despondent, Raymond Zack stepped into the water off Robert Crown Memorial State Beach on Memorial Day and let the cold and tide slowly end his life as police and firefighters watched from the shore.

His stepmother — who rushed to the beach searching for Zack because she feared for his safety — said she cannot understand why no officer or firefighter waded into the water to save the 52-year-old man.

“They were there two hours,” Dolores Berry, 84, said about the emergency personnel. “Two long hours. There were kids playing and police and firefighters standing around. Nobody did a thing.”

In this morning’s paper they had a time line of the events. From the time of the first call, by the step mom who was on the beach, until when the police arrived was 5 minutes, at that point Raymond was out up to his waist in the surf. The fire crew arrived 5 minutes after that. Essentially, the emergency people at the scene got all the particulars from the step mom, that this was a suicide attempt from a mentally unstable man.

Before we go farther, my position on suicide is basically that people should be allowed to do whatever they want with themselves. I would install a diving board on the Golden Gate Bridge to facilitate the process. Compassion dictates that we have programs in place and trained folks available for those that need help, mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness, but I don’t buy the notion that all suicide victims are mentally ill. Some people just live crappy lives and if they want to end their miserable existence, that is their business, who am I to demand that they continue unabated in their misery?

But back to Raymond, the police excuse for doing nothing was this, Raymond was attempting to kill himself and was mentally ill, they did know if he was on medication so any attempt at rescue could have been met with both hostility and combat, rescuing someone who did not want to be rescued would have resulted in a fighting match in the water.

The fire guys’ excuse for not effecting a rescue was that they were not trained in this area, I guess no fire guy knows how to swim.

They called the Coast Guard, the agency who is directly responsible for water safety (as an aside, when a jumper swan dives off the Golden Gate, the Coast Guard, which has boats docked directly under neath the bridge, is the agency that responds) replied that the water in that area was too shallow for their boats.

So what ultimately transpired was a PR nightmare, capable safety officers standing by on the beach, doing nothing, while a distressed man slowly succumbs to the waves and drowns. And even then, after Raymond was face down in the water, apparently dead, it took a a civilian passerby to go into the surf and retrieve the lifeless body, how embarrassing.

Some other things to consider, the fire agency did have a water rescue program in place in the passed but, due to budget cuts, had to discontinue the program. Other liability factors, if a police of fire guy went in to effect a rescue and got hurt, a civil case good be made that since they were not adequately trained in this area, the state would be liable.

Part of being a good safety officer (good anything, really) is being able to think outside the box. What immediately came to mind to me was that I would have called the local animal control officer, there is always one on duty and they all carry tranq. rifles. I would have waded out there in to the surf and shot this guy with a tranq. dart, once he went woozy I would have secured him (if it took more than one officer, so be it) then dragged him back to shore.

But risks are part of the job:

What is a typical rescue? Each rescue is unique, and whether a person is trying to commit suicide should not be the criterion for doing whatever is necessary to stop it from happening. Police and firefighters face similar
situations every day. Risks are involved. Police and firefighters are paid to ensure our safety and, as they remind the public regularly, they must take risks to do their jobs.


You can bet that the city of Alameda will have to pay the step mom some big bucks from the civil suit that will ultimately ensue.

When I worked with safety officers in the passed, a good tenet to live by was this ,”It is always better to get sued over doing something, then doing nothing”, and these guys basically did nothing.

So there you are, is the city liable? Were these officers (both police and fire) derelict? Could there have been a better outcome to this? And does society as a whole have an obligation to prevent suicides?