Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Home Front: Location, location, location

Stepping off my previous post about "Where will you be when -it- happens" I thought I might take some time to discuss my thoughts on the places I find myself, and perhaps this might give you some insights and starting points to your own disaster preparedness regime. As I mentioned previously, I find myself in several different locations in the course of my everyday life; home, my commutes, work, the foothills where Triceratops Girl lives. Whenever I go somewhere, I tend to assess things like entrances and exits, pinch and bottleneck points. High ground, low ground and secured areas also seem to trickle into my subconscious assessments. So, here we go.

Home: I live in what we call "the shittiest house in the street", in what is easily one of Melbourne's top suburbs. Our house is a fairly dilapidated '50's design with brick walls, and a tiled roof. Wooden picket fencing around the front yard, standard (but decrepit) wooden fence along side and back corner and a brick wall along the other. A large metal rolling gate gives access to the backyard and a wooden gate at the front side runs to an outside corridor between front and back yards. We have a street-side window with wooden shutters off the side bedroom and shutterless sliding sash windows at the front two rooms. All in all I feel our house is really indefensible and disaster-vulnerable in its current state. We live in quite a low-lying suburb, close to the bay, often in a weather-front. We have good relations with our neighbors and I've certainly cased -their- properties for survival options. We have food, water and livestock, not to mention my own supply of kit, and enough steel and steel-competent people to make use of it, and ensure

it stays where we need it to.

There are several properties with high blue-stone walls and metal gates, several with solar power and hot water installed and most have water-tanks. One thing we have plenty of in our street is 4WD options, several may have even seen dirt.In the event of a local or widespread environmental disaster, I'm not sure how well our house would hold up, we could tape up the windows, board up the frames with planks from the fence, and the scrap timber I keep around, but it's certainly not ideal. Images of Japan's 2011 tsunami and the 2010-2011 Queensland Floods  strike home the risks rising waters have to homes. I've lived in hurricane regions before, storm damage is something
I'm familiar with, if not experienced in.

Work: I've previously mentioned I work in a health care facility, with a large research capacity. Our facility is heavily regulated and as such is designed to reflect that. It does however suffer from something that many older hospitals do, in that over the years, it has subsumed neighboring buildings, so is a little piecemeal in organization. We have fail-over generators, full steam and compressed gasses facility. Full kitchens and sterilization facilities and fire-fighting, alarming and evacuation processes exist as well as many of the other perks of being a facility of our nature. Being close in to the city we are on the CBD power grid, which has during the peak of summer heatwaves lead to some issues, as has the rare electrical storm, protest and manhunt. The nature of our work also poses its own risks, with radiological treatment being offered, we have those agents to contend with. Our patient cohort are not acute, emergency care, so we are not a point-of-call for outbreak situations, but we do have a fair proportion of immuno-compromised individuals who are very susceptible to infection.We have an animal house for research purposes, and extensive research facilities. There are a lot of resources at hand in the event of catastrophic events, but at the same time, are in the line of fire if they occur. We also boarder with a large hotel, and large government facilities which each presents it own interesting complexity. One thing hospitals are good at though, are operational security. Few entrances, and somewhat regulated movement. Being operationally self-sufficient to some stage mean that in the event of local or regional emergency, they will continue to function at some level longer than most other forms of workplace.

Foothills: I've also previously mentioned the property where my little Triceratops Girl spends most of her time, which is situated in a somewhat mountainous, heavily forested region of the Dangenong ranges, on a dirt road, off a dirt road. Its is still fairly heavily populated, you can see all the neighbors houses, even being over an hour's drive or train from the city it is still very much suburban in nature, even embedded in the trees and mountains such as it is. Torrential rainfall in the wet months and steaming bushland in the dry, the area has its shortfalls, but is otherwise tranquil and doesn't get a lot of non-local traffic. The scenic vintage railway runs through the area, and features both a coal powered and diesel powered means of transport out further from the city, which is independent of local electrical power, which can be spotty in the weather-affected seasons.The risks of bushfires such as the 2009 Black Saturday Fires where there were 173 deaths and 2,030 houses destroyed are an ever-present specter in the hot months. During storms the area is susceptible
to flooding, roads being cut or washed out and the risk of the tall Eucalyptus trees falling, or dropping their large branches on houses, power-lines or roads. I lived up there for a number of years, and it is quite a relief to not be faced with those frequent worries, even though my daughter Triceratops Girl still lives up there, and I commute up to see or or collect her a couple of times a week.

Commute: I take a 30 minute train ride to and from work every weekday, with a change of train just outside the city and a subway ride to get to my destination. On nights when I do kendo, that's a slightly longer subway ride from a different station in the City Loop. I mostly walk around the city, with the occasional tram ride to speed things up. The trains run pretty well, but being an ex-IRA-bombing-era London resident, there is something disconcerting about being in a large metal tube jammed full of my fellow commuters underground. I know it's very very unlikely, but it's always on my mind. Not to mention my favourite scene in Predator 2, "Let's dance...". Again, for what it's worth, I always look to my exits, both on the trains and on their routes. Those pauses when your train is sitting waiting for clearance at the next station are great times to look out the window, and if you're lucky, you will see the network of connecting tunnels, emergency exits and the like that exist. The same goes for elevators and escalators. I'm always left wondering "which of you seemingly normal looking assheads are going to loose it and be part of the problem?" I'm not bothered by crowds on a psychological level, purely a survival and psycho-social one.

On my long weekly drives, I go under two railways, over another, cross a floodway bridge, and over two freeways. Lots of bridges that could conceivably fail and leave be stranded on the wrong side. I have a paper map book and compass in the event my phones GPS isn't up to finding me a way around for whatever reason and try to keep a mental map of refuge, refilling and regrouping points along my way. Traffic pinch points are another concern. Time spent stuck in traffic is time waisted getting where I'm needed, or away from whatever needs avoiding. Peak hour driving takes on an aspect of survival training with the right mindset. "how would this route cope with one less lane, two less? If obscured by smoke or rain?"

What does this all mean? Why is any of this important?

In the event of an emergency, where you are, where you need to be, and where you want to go are all key elements that may well change dramatically, without notice or announcement. What you have on you at the time may be the only resourcing you have at hand, but odds are, simply knowing your environment may well put many more resources at your disposal. Consider your situation, consider the options. Adapt, innovate, overcome.

1 comment:

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