By Peter Sells
The always thought-provoking Peter Sells wonders how prepared fire departments are for the likes of Ike.
By Peter Sells
I recently watched Anderson Cooper on CNN,
broadcasting from Houston, 24
hours in advance of the anticipated landfall of Hurricane Ike. The joke in our
house is that if the Earth were about to be destroyed by a massive cosmic
event, Anderson Cooper would be on the air from ground zero saying “The comet
is now immediately above my head and just seconds from impact.” The bizarre
tendency of the media to put themselves in harm’s way to get the big story
makes me shake my head, but at the same time I realize why they do it. They got
me to watch, didn’t they?
What I don’t understand is why there were traffic
jams leading out of the Houston-Galveston area on the night I was watching. All
those people should have left days earlier. We all hope for the best of course,
but the warnings on Ike contain language like “people in single family one- or
two-storey homes face certain death.” Certain death. Wow. What more motivation
do you need?
Quick geography briefing: Galveston is a
town of 57,000 people on a barrier island between the Gulf
of Mexico and Galveston Bay. Located
just inland from the bay is Houston, the
fourth largest American city, with 2.2 million people and a metro population of
about 6 million, so about 80 per cent the size of Toronto and
the Greater Toronto Area respectively. Galveston has an
average elevation of about seven feet above sea level. The seawall is 15 feet
high. Ike had an expected storm surge of 22 feet. Do the math.
Quick history briefing: Galveston was
pretty much cleaned off the map by a category three hurricane in 1900, then
again by a category four in 1915. Ike was expected to be somewhere between a
strong two and a weak four. In 2005, Hurricane Rita followed an almost
identical track as the 1900 and 1915 storms, and then turned north at the last
minute to strike less populated centres. Ike was on the same track. So you gotta ask yourself one question, “Do I
feel lucky?” (“Well, do ya, punk?”).
The point? Are you ready for the events of your
next shift? Do you realize that bad stuff can happen to you? All those memos
and guidelines coming from headquarters are as boring as toast. Why should you
care about traffic calming measures, SCBA facepiece fit testing or cracks in
radio antennae if they are carried improperly? By the time you read this, the
outcome of Hurricane Ike will be known, but your next call is ahead of you. Sure,
that last call to this building sounded serious, but when you got there it was
nothing (we’ll call this a “Rita”). So this call, which sounds exactly the
same, is probably nothing as well. So just take your time, mosey along into the
lobby and check it out.
You sure that’s a good idea? You might not like