Saturday, June 14, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
It is a pretty critical article of the city's plan to use the subway to evacuate the city if a hurricane is coming. The article points out that last August 2.7 inches of rain swamped the subway reducing service by 50% for over 29 hours. The article also points out that even with 1 1/2 inches of rain in one hour will "seriously effect service on almost all non-elevated lines" due to the need to constantly pump out water. What it doesn't mention is that currently according to the ever optimistic MTA the subway system is already running at 70% capacity during normal hours and 99% during the five "rush hours". So even if there was no rain, it would be impossible for the subways to evacuate everyone. They miss that people evacuating would be loaded down with baggage, even if everyone limited themselves to teh basics. That would also assume that every MTA worker would remain behind to run the trains and the system. It also misses the point for an evacuation to be efficient people would have to be heading to a location where they could get off the Island, probably Port Authority, Grand Central and a few inter-city transit hubs. Thus certain train routes would even be fuller than during rush hour, where people are moving in a more decentralized way. The bus system is even more strapped running at higher capacities and would have to deal with added traffic of those wishing to flee above ground. The list goes on and on about the impracticality of this "plan" which is really no plan. The article also fails to point out that three independent government bodies including the NY Legislature all have pointed out the infeasability of this plan, which by the way cost the tax payers about 2 million to draw up. This should not surprise any readers of this blog, other than it made it on the front page of a local paper.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
A federal scientist said Tuesday his bosses ignored
to alert Gulf Coast hurricane victims earlier about severe health risks
formaldehyde in government-issued trailers and once told him not to
e-mails about his concerns.
read the entire AP article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080401/ap_on_go_ot/fema_trailers_cdc
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Top 10 Myths about Disasters
by aftershock action alliance
The Government Emergency Managers Primary Interest is Protecting you and your loved Ones?
This is one of the most common myths about disasters. FEMA, OEM, and EAS are not about protecting human lives but about maintaining control. In Katrina they did not allow the helicopter pilots fly to rescue survivors because they had not sufficient “control of New Orleans” but did drop use helicopters to drop Navy SEALs in to protect valuable warehouses and the district branch of the Federal Reserve. All disaster research agrees the most casualties occur within the first 24 hours of a disaster, the government themselves they do not plan to “intervene” during major crises for at least 36 hours. There first interest is in controlling populations and maintaining COG (continuance of government), which they actually say publicly on their web-sites and publications. Property and government infrastructure come before you, your friends and your loved ones as priorities for all levels of government emergency managers.
Emergency Workers are your first line of aid during a disaster?
The truth is that 90% of those rescued during a disaster are rescued by civilians. This number has remained relatively unchanged for 50 years, despite the growing budgets and technological sophistication of first responders. Even search and rescue is dominated by civilian volunteers with no training. Your co-workers, neighbors, family and friends are the people most likely to provide meaningful aid and relief during a disaster.
People will panic or act selfishly during an emergency?
We have all seen movies about disasters where people panic or act in their own self-interests (at the detriment of those around them) during a disaster. The research from various disaster centers who have analyzed thousands of case studies from across the globe and going back 65 years, suggest that it is exceptionally rare that people panic. People do panic in specific situations like airports, hospitals, schools and stadiums where they are surrounded by strangers in a a total environment. Even in these situations it only occurs about a ¼ of the time. There are almost not accounts of people panicking in their own neighborhoods or places of work. One only needs to think back to Katrina or 9/11 to see that people make rational decisions even when confronted with massive disasters. Disasters also tend to bring out the best in people. Spontaneous mutual aid is actually more prevalent during times of crisis. People are more willing to help each other out even at risk to themselves. Crime rates actually drop quite low during and following disasters. The press tends to over-emphasize looting but the amount of looting that occurs during a disaster is actually less than the amount of shop-lifting that occurs during a normal day. The looting is also mostly of food and supplies (diapers) that would perish anyways and is often needed by victims of disasters. The supposed crimes (rapes of children) at the Superdome during Katrina all turned out to be false and started actually by the New Orleans Police Chief in a stupid ploy to get more attention, he was fired a few weeks afterward. Despite all the research with disasters and people coming together during times of stress and crisis, the government still refuses to believe the unwashed masses won't panic and are loathe to give real information to the public about a disaster.
Donating money to large and established charities is the best way you can help others during a disaster?
US News and World Report in 12/2006 did exhaustive research on donations for relief following disasters. They found about 10% of all donations actually went to direct relief efforts. The rest of 90% of those charitable donations went to other things. For example in 2005 the head of the Red Cross, Marsha Evans pulled in $651, 957 that year and yet only worked 30 weeks. Other charities are not better. 25% to 50% of all money goes into fund raising and development, that means up to ½ of the money you donate is to get more people to donate. Large amounts of money then are essentially funneled to PR and advertising firms that are there to make a profit.
We are better today at predicting disasters.
According to University of Delaware researchers, the largest disaster center in the world, we are actually no better at predicting disasters then we were in 1984. For nearly the past quarter of a century we have not improved one bit, in predicting when disasters will strike. We are even worse at predicting the effect of disasters. In James Surowiecki's well researched book The Wisdom of Crowds, emergency experts are not even better than public at predicting the damage (property loss and causalities) caused by specific natural disasters. A recent NSA intelligence report suggests we may actually be in a worse position to predict terrorist events then we were 10 years ago. The International Committee on Climate Change, made up leading scientists, suggest “the current climate chaos, throws many of our best predictive models and methodologies into serious doubt about their efficacy”.
Disasters hurt the economy.
There is the wide spread belief that no one wants a disaster because it negatively impacts the economy, but unfortunately like war disasters are situations where corporations can make massive profits. In Naomi Klein's well researched best-seller The Shock Doctrine, she shows that the corporate elite actually counts on disasters for their economic health. Companies like Haliburton, Exxon, GE, Wal-Mart, etc. actually benefit from disasters receiving no-bid sweetheart deals from the government and permanent contracts that siphon off public funds. In on a local level disasters are big profit makers for real estate developers that can get property at subsidized prices, while corporations are given tax breaks for staying in the area or moving into it. In addition, disasters are useful for rolling back labor gains for workers and privatizing public agencies (e.g. Schools and sanitation). While it is true the poor and working class get damaged economically from disasters the rich and corporations can actually get more money. Most shockingly is that according to the Wall Street Journal, disasters actually cause the stock market to rise, disproportionately for the wealthy companies and investors. On a local level property and income taxes almost always rise for poor and working class people with a substantial cut in public services.
There are sufficient medical services available in case of a biological event (pandemics, bio-terrorism, etc.).
There is not enough stockpiled medications for everyone according to a 2005 CDC report. That report in facts throws doubt on that there is even enough medical supplies for first responders (who get priority of course during a disaster). The reason for this dangerous shortfall is that pharmaceutical companies in this country are not required to provide drug supplies to the government at below market price. Norway for example makes all drug companies operating in the country donate (free of charge) enough drugs to cover every person in Norway. These companies are the same but due to lobbyist efforts this is not true in the US, where many of these companies are located. It is not only a matter of drugs, other medical services are precariously low. There are fewer ambulance per capita in the US than in Columbia and 48 other countries. We rank 51st in emergency room doctors and nurses in the world. Over the past year the government has defunded about 25,000 public hospital beds and the trend seems to continue. Most urban hospitals operate at about 90% capacity (a requirement of most managed care systems) so nearly any disaster will quickly overwhelm these hospitals.
Rural areas are always safer than urban areas during a disaster.
The truth is that rural areas are no safer than urban areas when hit by disasters. Causality rates are slightly higher in rural areas (per capita) than urban areas. The reason for this is the lack of infrastructure in many rural areas, making it easier for people to be cut off for longer periods of time. Rural areas also have a lack of people power, since we know most rescue efforts rely on civilian volunteers, cities have denser populations and thus more people to provide aid.
Disasters are apolitical events.
Nearly all disasters are political events. The causes of disasters from 9/11 to Katrina have political dimensions. Aid and relief efforts have political calculations. Populations with more political clout (e.g. Money) receive more aid and relief. Affluent populations even have their own private relief and aid organizations subsidized by the government. During the recent wildfires in the wealthy white areas of Malibu more firefighters were dispatched than in the more populous areas of poorer valleys struck the same year by wildfires. The wealthy residents had their own private firefighters who literally saved some homes while allowing others to burn. Groups like Helpjet, cater to the rich providing private evacuations to luxury resorts while others wait for bottled water in the Superdome. Our country has moved into a have and have not approach to disaster relief and aid where certain lives and homes are considered more worthy of protection than others. The recovery efforts in devastated areas is also fiercely political. In New Orleans, undamaged public housing was destroyed to make room for new condominiums sold to well-connected developers for 1 cent to the dollar. Charles Scott, one of the top researchers in disaster studies from Stanford University, conducted an 18 year study on insurance and government pay outs for disaster victims concluded, “It is clear that poor people have little reason to hope they will be treated fairly when it comes to disaster recovery. In many ways they are victimized again by the entire process.” Naomi Klein has pointed out in her book and numerous articles and papers that the extreme right-wing has successfully used the “shocks” of disasters to roll back labor laws and civil liberties to further their political agendas.
There is nothing you can do during a disaster.
This is the most destructive of all the disaster myths. There is so much you can do when joined by your friends, co-workers and neighbors. We know that civilian volunteers providing mutual aid is the most effective form of both direct relief and recovery and thus there is much you can do to mitigate the most devastating effects of a disaster. You must prepare and be ready to act with your community to protect itself both from the disaster and the political elements that would exploit the situation. You can find help on how to prepare and organize for disasters at www.aftershockaction.org
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Crowd In Control: Decision-Making During Disasters
Information dissemination/control and decision-making are two primary and interrelated activities any response must confront during a disaster. How information is shared/managed and decisions are made will shape every other aspect of relief and recovery. These important areas must be decided upon before a disaster if a team or organization is going to be able to respond effectively to the many unknowables during a crisis. The Aftershock Action Alliance model uses a decentralized and autonomous approach to both information and decisions which is at odds with most Government and Private emergency management plans. We believe that there are very good reasons for bucking the trend of centralization and information control which will in turn lead to a more effective relief/recovery effort and promote community empowerment and active resistance.
Information is a key component of decision-making and in fact is nearly impossible to imagine action without some information. There are a number of theories around how information is gathered, disseminated and analyzed. We will not go into the theories of what information is but accept the etymology of the word, “to give form” to something. Information allows us to form in our mind what something is. For a disaster there can be many types of information but one thing is clear that there is often only incomplete idea what is actually happening. This is a result of many factors like the surprise and speed of a disaster and its interruption of normal flows of information (e.g. knocking out phone lines). Disasters are not information free zones but the context of events is often disrupted to such an extent to make comprehension difficult. For example, the power may go out in our home and we look out and the street is black. We do not know if the entire city, county or state is without power. We may also not know what caused the power outage or how long it will be out. The normal attempts to seek information may be thwarted by not having access to phones, Internet, television or radio. We must decide “what is happening”, form the context for us to decide what action is to follow. If it is a blown fuse then we will search out our circuit box in the basement, if the state is blacked out then going to the fuse box is foolish.
Obviously the more correct information we have the better we will be able to decide and plan action that is sync with the events. If we have little contextual information or our information is in error our decisions and thus action will be severely impaired. That is why every organization dedicated to responding to disasters puts such a premium on information collection and management. In this way Aftershock is no different than government agencies or NGO's. Where we differ from these other organizations is in our belief in the old computer hacker motto, “Information wants to be Free”.
Government/NGO organizations spend thousands of dollars to create encrypted and scrambled communication devices so their communications (and thus information) can be private. They also use a variety of scientific and military jargon, code and abbreviations to make their communications unintelligible for the average person. What is telling is the Emergency Alert Service's (what used to be the buzzing EBS) own guidelines never mention providing “information” to the general public but only “instructions”. The motivations (and thus the information they are based on) for these instructions are kept secret from the public. This is the position of the most “public” of the emergency management agencies. The government and most private relief agencies believe that the public can not understand the information coming in and out of disaster areas. One would assume this is based on some sort of research but this isn't the case. Even a cursory glance at research from sociology, psychology and even disaster studies demonstrates that ordinary citizens can assimilate vast amounts of data and “give form to” reasonable scenarios based on what they've learned. One study done by the Santa Fe Institute, gave information about a group of tornadoes that hit Kansas in 1962, to a group of ten emergency managers and ten civilian survivors of tornadoes from New Mexico. They found that on 7 factors (e.g. Estimated number of causalities) both groups did similarly. In fact the ten civilians had greater agreement internally then the “experts”. So why won't the government give the public information it needs? One rationale for withholding information from the public is the great fear of “mass panic”. As we have written elsewhere this is mostly a myth and there is over 20 years of research to back us up. In the rare occasions that panic does occur it generally is in very specific situations. These situations are characterized by lack of familiarity with the environment, over-crowding, lack of access to the normal social networks and expert over-reaction. Even under some of these situations, panics do not occur. It seems the fear of panic is wholly over-blown and not a good excuse for withholding information from the public. Controlling information does allow organizations to exert control over groups that do not have access to information. Psychology experiments have suggested that people over-estimate the value of secret of information. For example, a psychology experiment at the University of Wisconsin in 1999, allowed long-time gamblers to peak at the one card at anytime during a standard five card draw poker game. Those that peaked, bet more even if they had a loosing hand and those that were not allowed to peak bet less even if they had a good hand. The effect on the poker game was large despite the little statistical significance of looking at one random card. What this showed is that people who get secret information, even when it is not important, will over estimate the value of that information and so will everyone else even if they have no idea what that information is and whether it will be useful for their actions. So you can see how the fact that the government has access to information the rest of us don't have allows them to exert a greater control over our actions regardless of the usefulness of that information. This approach also breeds a foolish arrogance in the part of those in possession of such supposed knowledge. This is probably the real reason governments spend so much time and resources “protecting” the public from panic by withholding important information.
Aftershock believes information should be shared and be public. We are dedicated to finding ways of getting information to the public so people can better form an opinion on what is going on. Understanding that there are many unknowns during a disaster and that normal communications systems will undoubtedly be impaired, Aftershock relies on the “many eyes, big voice” model of information sharing. Aftershock believes that people are reasonably capable of providing useful information about the key issues regarding a disaster. This of course goes against popular thought about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness reliability has been questioned in courts and in classroom experiments for decades. The assumption is that people make very poor judges of actual facts and misinterpret and add to things they witness. While that is true, it is not the whole truth. Witnesses are very good at recalling and explaining certain facts (e.g. gender) and poor at others (e.g. Colors), it depends on what they are experiencing. Groups tend to increase the accuracy of eye-witness testimonies. Research suggests that 4 people witnessing a car accident can get over 90% of the “relevant” details correctly. The question is whether eye witness information about disasters is any better or worse than in car crashes. We do not know the answer and as far as we can tell there is no reliable research on that question. What we do know is that the more eyes you have, the more likely you will get accurate information. In_____ influential work The Wisdom of Crowds he shows that over a 140 years of research in biology, sociology, psychology and information systems suggest that larger groups of people can make better decisions and accumulate more useful and accurate information than smaller cadres of experts. There is some precedents for this in our experiences. At mass mobilizations decentralized information gathering systems like Indymedia website1 are superior (in terms of speed and accuracy) in relaying crucial information like arrests and injuries when compared to official government agencies (e.g. the police department) or corporate media (e.g. Local news). During Katrina amateur radio buffs provided a better description of the damaged areas and the type of flooding in New Orleans than FEMA or any other organization. Aftershock seeks to maximize the number of people that can participate in the information sharing during an emergency. The larger number of reporters or collectors of data ensure that widely inaccurate information is weeded out. Wikipedia according to a Nature article (December 2005) is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britanica when experts compared randomly selected articles. We are confident that the information collected by a multitude will be accurate and useful if we can get enough people to share information. The question is how during a disaster do we allow regular people to share the information they have. Aftershock is working on a number of decentralized models in which people can bring information and report what is going on, even when communication disruptions and other obstacles are in place. We are all familiar with the “telephone game”, where information is passed on from one person down a chain and by the end the it is completely changed. This demonstrates the inherent problem of second-hand sources, which the Government, media and NGOs almost entirely rely on for their data. We want to allow individuals that have first hand information to be able to share it, like wikipedia and indymedia, in an uncensored way. We believe that if there is substantial first-hand information available, the need to use possibly inaccurate second-hand sources will be greatly diminished. This will also allow the most up-to-date information since it will not have to be managed before being released. We all know that during a crisis timely information is crucial.
Being able to accurately provide first-hand information to the public will require a big and simple voice. That means, we have to come up with ways to take decentralized reports and expand their reach as quickly as possible. Broadcast radio seems ideal for this type of timely dissemination. Relatively simple technology would allow an am/fm or shortwave broadcast to reach a large number of people spread out geographically. Radio technology is relatively efficient and the power requirement would be minimal and could be kept operational with a generator or alternative energy resources. Radio has the advantage of allowing anyone with a radio or within hearing distance of a radio to obtain information simultaneously. A crisis center, or any other meeting place, could with one battery/crank/solar radio provide information to hundreds of people at once without using precious resources or labor. To collect information the use of small digital recorders and other devices could reduce the time of writing or reproducing information and could easily and quickly be disseminated by a transmitter. Radio broadcasts also allow people to obtain information while doing other things (e.g. first aid), requiring no focal point and minimal attention drain. It also allows people to take their information, if they have a radio, and be mobile with it. To be truly useful, the information will need to be in languages used by the folks in the area. First hand accounts, will aid this by allowing participation by various segments of the population. It also makes literacy a non-issue. Psychologists have done studies on freshman students (one might assume they are a bit more literate than some general populations) and found they can retain 50% more information from audio resources than written resources in the same amount of time. This maximizing of information load could be crucial for people during a crisis and involved in decision-making.
We all know that government agencies and relief organizations use a top down decision model , often called a command & control model. The problems with this model should be obvious to anyone who studies disasters. C&C models tend to be slow reacting, when time is of the essence, and often lack appropriate flexibility. Flexibility is key when dealing with disasters because of the large amount of unknowables. C&C models do not promote individual and/or small group initiative. They put a primacy on analysis over on-the-ground knowledge. C&C models are much better at reacting to predictable events where people have been trained for specialized actions. Much more could be said about the problems of C&C models (e.g. overlapping authority) and management systems in general. For more information on the problems of C&C models see our other article (___________).
Aftershock believes in a participatory and horizontal (P&H) model. The P&H model allows as many people as possible to participate in decision-making. Participation is useful during disasters because all researchers agree that being actively involved in decision making can actually reduce the harmful psychological effects of emergencies on ordinary people. This beneficial psychological effect is not the only reason to use a participatory model. As _____ pointed out crowds are often smarter than the smartest person/people in them. Crows have an eerie ability to know more than the individuals that make it up. This has to do with the aggregation of information and the ingrained desire for mutual aid/cooperation. Since all the participants are deeply invested in coming up with the best solution to their own problems they will minimize damaging decisions and maximize decisions that can aid them in reaching their goals. Recent research in self-organizing models suggest an emergence (moving from simple to complex) occurs when certain principles are met. These crucial principles are: feedback, size and egalitarian power-sharing. Feedback and size are related, if the size of a group gets too big feedback systems are less effective. Research shows that humans can reasonably “read” others in groups of about 60 and when groups get bigger the feedback system breaks down. When feedback is no longer working all sorts of negative characteristics manifest: aggression, suspicion, gossip, isolation and so on. Size also effects how coordinated a group can be. One can think of a flock of geese, they can engage in complicated aerial maneuvers in flocks of about 20 but bats can coordinate their actions in the thousands. If you double the size of a flock (geese or bats) their coordination drops substantially and they will almost invariably break into smaller groups.
The P&H model must allow for groups that get too big to break into smaller groups so that the feedback system and coordination can continue. Flocks, herds, ant hill, bee hives and so on show that key to maintaining complex behavior (and high degrees of coordination) is egalitarian power sharing. While it is true many social animals, wolves and baboons, exist in rigid hierarchies, their ability to be flexible is seriously compromised. Biologists have noted that in times of environmental changes wolf packs and baboon troops actually become less hierarchical. This probably serves a variety of reasons that allow these groups to maximize their adaptability.
Egalitarian groups are more adaptable because they can break up and reform. One can think of a flock of birds when attacked by a predator like a hawk. The hawk will swoop in and the flock disbands and then quickly reforms, over and over again. This both tires and confuses the hawk and minimizes the damage it can do to the flock as a whole and increases the survivability of each individual. The fact that any faction has the same ability to decide how and when to reform with the other splinter groups allows it to be very adaptive. This also plays out during disasters. There is a myth that disasters are just emergencies writ large. Some disaster experts, like NYPD chief Kelly, believe disasters are “like huge car accidents”. They believe that disasters are simply a matter of scale not quality and this can be a costly mistake (though common of C&C models). Hierarchical groups, with power concentrated in a minority of individuals, allow for greater disruptions. What C&C models often don't take in account is disruption among their own system. If 10% of professional emergency responders can not get to the disaster site or report to duty how will that effect the chain of command. The loss of an individual or a group of individuals is not evenly distributed among the whole and thus can have devastating effects at both end s of the chain. There is the problem of decapitation of course, when the leadership is unable to communicate its commands to the subordinates but equally problematic is when subordinates are not around to carry out the tasks of commanders. During Katrina and 9/11 we saw this play out with devastating effect. In 9/11 the Office of Emergency Management was in the World Trade Center and thus commanders could not get together and send out commands. In Katrina over 50% of patrolmen did not report to duty so commands went unheeded. Sharing power, like sharing information, allows for more balanced decisions to emerge. Extreme errors in judgment can be checked if there is a horizontal structure that might be missed with a few commanders calling the shots. Sharing power allows actions to be more timely since the center of decision making is with the group. In C&C models groups must await orders before acting even if they know what to do, this delay can be catastrophic (eg helicopters being grounded during Katrina). Sharing power also increases investment in the decision, creating greater cohesion and coordination. When people are not invested in a decision other influences must be brought to bare to ensure compliance like training, retribution and reward. These types of influences may be difficult to muster during a disaster especially if it is wide spread and unpredicted. People who feel invested in the decision will more likely go out of their way to ensure its success even at sacrifice to their own immediate needs or concerns. We believe consensus is probably the best way to ensure maximum input, participation and investment in the decision making process. Many believe that consensus is not effective is large and diverse groups but research doesn't support this proposition. Experiments conducted at Stanford suggest that diversity has little impact on a groups ability to reach consensus regarding concrete goal-directed actions. Groups of students were divided in two groups after taking a battery of personality tests and surveys. Group A was made up of people with similar profiles while Group B was purposefully made up with people to maximize diversity. Each group had to use consensus to work their way through a digital maze in a certain period of time, if they succeeded they receive a monetary reward. While both groups were able to succeeded at the task, Group B out performed Group A every time in terms of speed and accuracy (while reporting it a more difficult experience). So consensus may be filled with arguing and frustration it doesn't seem to negatively impact the actual decisions being made. Another common criticism is that consensus takes too long. While it is true that a dictatorship is the most efficient decision making in regards to time (assuming the dictator has an efficient way to disseminate their commands) most other decision models are not significantly faster than consensus. According to the same Stanford researchers voting takes about 80% of the time as consensus, when they added a majority voting system to the groups. When there is significant time pressure consensus groups can make decisions in a reasonable amount of time. The subjective experience of time is very different between voting and consensus. The Stanford researchers found that the voting groups could accurately assess the amount of time their decisions took, while the consensus groups invariably believed their overestimated the time it took to make decisions. This may be the result of the reported frustration of consensus building. This will be a stumbling block for the P&H model in that many people will at first be resistant to consensus (despite its practical benefits) and exposure to the process will not necessarily engender satisfaction with this mode of making decisions. We believe this problem does not outweigh the benefits and we will need to do more research and thinking about how to reduce the frustration with consensus decision making.
The P&H model also has the added benefit of best utilizing the skills and knowledge of an ad hoc group. It is difficult for C&C groups to effectively gage and utilize the abilities of volunteers and thus prefer to use only known subordinates (trained professionals). That is why there is so little effective inter-agency cooperation between both government agencies and NGO relief groups. By creating and utilizing an open P&H model individuals can more easily share their abilities with the group. A decentralized system allows for greater and more timely feedback loops to allow groups to adjust to their strengths and weaknesses. This can be crucial in the ever shifting landscape of a disaster. Individuals in a group can quickly replace someone who is not able to do the job and switch roles more fluidly than in a C&C system that doesn't allow for such transitions.
Additionally, the Aftershock model allows for greater community empowerment. People who have the experience of direct decision making during a crisis are less likely to abdicate that collective power to authorities. Joint decision making also creates important social bonds between individuals and groups that can be used to network knowledge and resources inside the community. We believe by supporting and participating in community self organization efforts we can foster greater possibilities of active resistance. Active resistance can take the part of protecting a community from destructive and exploitive recovery schemes and/or be used to challenge generalizable oppression. A successful community response to disasters can be a powerful tool in creating greater autonomy and strengthening the interconnectedness of dependent and fractured neighborhoods.
1Indymedia is made up of non-specialists who run a web-site where anyone can post information about a protest.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Pedal Power Resources Juicycle <http://juicycle.com/> Homebuilt pedaled kitchen accessories toolset constructed with common fasteners; metal welding avoided. Plans and anecdotes provided. Lightfoot Cycles <http://www.lightfootcycles.com/> We design and build dynamic, evolving and improving human-powered vehicles. Maya Pedal <http://www.mayapedal.org/> We recycle used bicycles to build pedal-powered machines which support and help facilitate the work of small-scale, self-sustainable projects. Pedal Power Directory <http://www.energyplanet.info/Pedal_Power/> Web directory of information about pedal power, pedal powered generators and transportation. Pedal Works <http://pedalpower.org/> Pedal energy development alternatives develops and promotes the use of pedal powered technology. The Bicycle Tutor <http://bicycletutor.com/> Video tutorials show you how to repair your own bike! : Pedal Powered Vehicle <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedal_powered_vehicle> Pedal powered vehicle is used to describe several types of vehicles.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Biological, Chemicle & Radiological Decontamination
Decontamination is defined as the process of removing or neutralizing a hazard from the environment, property, or life form. The principal objectives of this process are to prevent further harm and optimize the chance for full clinical recovery or restoration of the object exposed to the dangerous hazard. Military and civilian research suggests that upwards to 97% of dangerous contaminants can be removed through simple decontamination procedures for both ambulatory and non-ambulatory victims. Medical triage should occur first and then decontamination. There are two types of decontamination procedures: Site and Field. Site decontamination is what is done on the location where victims are first encountered. This could be indoors or outdoors and should be treated accordingly. Field is a area set up at a Crisis Center, where other supplies and more fixed infrastructure is.
Always ensure your own health, do not engage in activities that will put you at undue risk.
Decontamination always occur after the 30 second standard Medical triage.
Prioritize non-ambulatory victims first
Keep ambulatory victims from moving around and spreading or “embedding' contaminates
Move all patients, if feasible, from contaminated sites and barring this find reasonable shelter to resist further or re-contamination.
Remove patients clothes (with medic shears). Estimates suggest 70% of decontaminates are on clothes (and approx.25% of them will transfer in time to the body).
Perform a quick 1 minute rinse staring from head and going to feet (there are more orifices and larger pores in the top part of the body). You will need about 2 gallons of water
If there is time rinse again with a dilution of some cleaning agent (e.g. Soap). The idea is the added molecular weight and possible chemical adhesion will occur and remove more contaminants. You will need about 2 gallons of water and a 1/100 part solution to maximize resources and effectiveness.
Re-cloth the body (obviously not with the old soiled clothes). The easiest and best way to do this is with garbage bags. The plastic allows for an effective barrier and is somewhat resistant to “contaminant travel” due to its non-porous nature. The uniformity in color also helps spot decontaminates. One could also use emergency blankets to meet the same need.
Soiled clothes should be bagged and sealed if possible or lumped together. A note saying “HAZ/MAT” is enough to alert others not to touch or go near it.
Shears should be rinsed before returning to your bag and gloves, face masks and or other personal emergency protection should be left in the HAZ/MAT bag or pile.
You should set up at least two field decontamination sites. One for each Gender.
To avoid trouble or slowing down, try to ensure at least some privacy, a complete tent like structure is optimal .
The structure should have a clearly marked entrance and exit.
Containers with lids or bags, should be provided for people to discard their clothes, while they wait in line.
On the other side of the path 9across from the dumping ground) should be new clothes, robes, towels, or something. It should be very close so people can get it at the same time they are dropping of contaminated clothes.
Hoses or buckets attached to pulleys or rigged in some other way above the people should be available.
People will move ideally through three connected sections of the tent.
First will have a lot of water 3-4 gallons or 30 seconds of 15 psi hose (about the strength of a garden hose).
Stage 2 will have the cleaning solution and half the water of stage 1 (scale the above step)
Stage 3 will have the same amount of water as the previous stage but no cleaning solution.
There will be another receptacle for the newly contaminated cloth and new coverings.
The exit path should veer off immediately to the left or right as close to a 90 degree angle as possible...to avoid contaminating mist, ensure greater privacy and to avoid congestion.
Non-Ambulatory Patients in a Field Contamination Station
For the most part follow the same procedure as above
Non-ambulatory people should go first
There should be a throw away on the stretcher being used (if you have no material for throw-aways then wash it down with a gallon of 1/50 solution and have at least 3 alternating stretchers)
Do NOT flip the patient (this could cause greater injury than the contamination)
Rescuers escorting the stretcher should be wearing maximum personal protection gear and that gear should be disposed of AFTER all escorting is done.
Other Notes about Decontamination:
If You Do Not Have Water: Follow the procedures but use sand, flour, talc powder or similar substance. Then use a soft broom to brush it off.
What about Babies & Infants They must always be escorted and one must make sure to protect them from inhaling water. One can use less water on children and babies.
What about water Run Off the research seems to suggest that for most decontaminates it is not that big of a deal. You will need to have some pallets or what not if there are many, because it will get muddy. I think for us it would be ideal to collect the water, to keep it seeping into the soil or entering the sewer.
Escorts should go through Decontamination escorts even with full protective gear should still go through decontamination after their shift is done.
How about bleach never use bleach with chemical or radiological decontamination, it can make it worse. Bleach must be administered very carefully and should only be used by ambulatory patients and in very diluted amounts (½ cap-full per gallon)
Cleaning tools To save time and avoid mistakes, all possibly contaminated tools should be put in a container or bag together. Then water with 50% solution should be added to container. Soaked for at least 5 minutes. Dumped out and spread over a piece of plastic,tarp, canvass or on concrete. Then tools should be hosed down and then carefully rotated and hosed again. All tools should be allowed to dry before using again. All tools should be marked with red (tape, spray paint, markers, etc.) and should be considered Hot even after cleaning. They should be kept separate from other tools so there is no mix up.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Excerpts from this week's Time magazine
( http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1717404,00.html )
"Why is this radical? Because even though regular people do the majority of rescuing after almost every major disaster, they are the last people to be intelligently enrolled in the process. Emergency managers and professional responders do not trust the public as much as they should, nor do politicians. 'The first responder community — fire and police — would like you to believe that, without them, you're not going to survive," says Eric Holdeman, who spent 11 years running emergency management operations in Seattle before leaving in 2007. "But the reality is that there are not enough of them to be able to respond to regional, large incidents.'"
"An oil spill in San Francisco Bay leaked 58,000 gallons of black oil into the water, killing at least 400 birds. Without being asked, thousands of locals showed up to help. Fishermen emptied out their boats and put on their gloves; families came with buckets and Kitty Litter spades. "Two thousand people showed up and said, we'll do hazardous waste removal," says Baker. But most of them were chased away. "All these federal and state agencies said, oh no, we don't need volunteers." Buddhist monks were arrested crossing police lines to help clean up the beach."
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Self Organization During Disasters
“Self organization depends upon ready access to timely, accurate information through an information infrastructure that supports systematic monitoring of critical conditions, feedback to responsible participants, and revision of actions taken in the light of new information. When this is in place, no other emergency management is as successful.” -- Comfort (1995) based on his research of the Great Hanshin Earthquake Japan 1995
Since at least World War II researchers have known that emergencies of all types could be best mitigated by “civilian resources” when available. Self Organization is the key to this remarkable success in civilian response to a wide range of emergencies and have proved effective in many socio-geographic environments around the world. Despite this decades old knowledge, and proven success record, governments, NGOs and corporate elites have continued to foist bureaucratic, centralized and dangerous management schemes on communities around the globe. Aftreshock Action has studied and looked at what makes self-organization such an effective tool in relief and recovery work and what elements support or hamper successful community responses to crises. This article looks at some of the most recent research and points us in ways in which we can optimize our community's ability to self-organize during a disaster.
Though governments, NGOs and corporations are constantly revising and re-branding their emergency efforts, the model they employ remains surprisingly stable. Social science researchers have dubbed their management efforts “command and control systems” as opposed to “community response systems”. These models are often employed together when dealing with an emergency/disaster. Due to the inherent flexibility and quick reactive time community response nearly always occur prior to command/control systems. Sometimes they operate together in geography but almost always remain separate due to the inherent contradictions embedded in each approach. Command/control approaches believe by their own internal logic that they need to eventually dismantle the community response to be effective. So in the end one model usually trumps the others during different periods of a crisis and its aftermath. Both models need to provide some basic functions: evaluation/information; resource management; react/adapt to unpredictable variables; develop and implement decisions; obtain consent of victims, stake-holders and the “public”. Each model based on its organizational principles approaches these functions from very different perspectives.
Control/command systems are characterized by closed information feedback systems. Information is controlled and managed by gate-keepers (e.g.”experts”). This system can often become very fragile and overwhelmed during a disaster by the duality of too much data and ever increasing number of variables. These two problems are exacerbated by the attempt by command/control systems to work from a gestalt (wide angle approach) and the need to manage and feed information to those in a position to analyze it. Obviously these groups know that disasters often compromise information management by damaging infrastructure and rapid changes. To get around these problems they put a lot of stock in predictive models in an attempt to create plans prior to the event. They also seek technology that can provide secure and uninterrupted transmission of data and other information to gatekeepers. Because the loop is closed and in many ways predetermined, there is a heavy emphasis on “scenarios” and “action models”. The closed loop has failed so spectacularly in the past. Control/command models believe that the problem has been a lack of data and information so there has been a greater and greater emphasis on data collection. Soon there was a problem, the amount data was so large it was impossible even for a team of highly educated and specialized experts to not get overwhelmed. To get over this hurdle, they turned to using massive supercomputers for not only crunching the numbers using statistics but to create computer simulations and action modules. In a sense removing any human oversight in the technologically dependent model. The truth is that this model has done poorly. Researchers who have looked at the computer simulations for disasters have found that nearly 80% of predicted outcomes of disasters have been so far off base as to be almost random (2002 Richardson). In fact, over the past 10 years there has not been one successful simulation system that has been able to predict the accurately the damaging effects of any of the past Simley's 1,000 most destructive natural disasters (a common list used by disaster researchers). What is so shocking is that nearly 35% of those disasters on the list are naturally and fairly frequent reoccurring phenomena. Comfort did research showing nearly a decade of computer simulations (from a variety of Government and academic sources) to disaster experts. They were given 100 action plans and damage results devised for 200 actual disasters. The experts then had to assign the simulation to the actual disaster, and they could not do it. It was nearly random and the experts had no agreement among themselves.
Community response systems do not normally employed super specialists or chugging super-computers to access and use information from disasters. They employ an open feedback loop that is in real-time. This allows groups to process a smaller amount and scene specific information that they as humans can actually understand and use to formulate action responses. The results of the responses can be evaluated and modified in real time, allowing for a reinforced open feedback loop. These systems [inquiry] allow communities to create innovative and effective solutions to problems of resource allocation that are not available to command and control systems. They also increase the amount of “investment” by communities to self-regulate successful strategies during time of crisis by allowing them access to the information the information they need to formulate and execute plans(Tierney and Trainor 2004). Each community can seek out the information that is most needed at the moment, because the occupy the area of action and must confront the situations there. This limits the amount of variables not just the data and allows for effective information control without the need of sophisticated predictive technology or a cadre of highly trained specialists needed to “understand” the entirety of the situation. Because the open feedback loop is natural occurring, there will be information gathering and analysis happening where ever there is a crisis and a community. So the entirety of a crisis can be analyzed but not by anyone group or model so in a sense a real gestalt is created organically.
These differing approaches towards information management have a direct impact of resource allocation.
Command/control systems have a notorious record of resource mismanagement during an emergency that can actually increase the negative effects of a crisis. Resources in this system are employed based on a statistical models derived from their information systems. This creates an almost universal delay effect in moving resources to an afflicted area since information needs to be vetted and analyzed in a closed loop system. The delay can be quite substantial and when combined with the reality that the necessity of resources in the first few hours are exponentially more useful. The delay in resources are bad enough but the actual deployment of resources (even when they are manipulated by disaster-capitalist interests) has too often been a dismal failure. For example, during 9/11 it was decided to send 40% of the FDNY paramedic units and 75% of the trauma doctors to/near WTC. While Red Cross moved nearly 5 tons of plasma from regional areas as far away as Minnesota to NYC. Of course all of these resources sat unused for up to 30 hours. More people died from lack of emergency services (from non-9/11 related medical emergencies) in a single day than anytime in NYC's history. All that blood that was sent, was rushed here and the paperwork got messed up so NYC had nearly 1000% more blood than normal and with no way to send it back to where it was needed. Most of it had to be thrown away because their was no place to store it, while earnest volunteers still lined Times Square to give even more unneeded blood. FEMA sent nearly a dozen trucks of medical supplies (some arriving on 9/14) but no respirators for the responders or residents in and around the World Trade Center. The list goes on and on. Even during “slow” disasters like famines in Africa we see the same mismanagement of resources that could be used elsewhere. Angry citizens tend to blame incompetence of emergency managers but the history is too long and constant to suggest simply idiots are at the helm of emergency management agencies and organizations. It seems to be more systematic, a result of a faulty model.
Fortunately community response model has a better history of resource allocation. It is shocking the amount of aid that is provided by these unfunded groups. 2002 Walther King looked at local church groups' allocation of resources during Hurricane Lili that hit Louisiana and parts of Texas and did an estimated 860 million dollars damage and left 15 people dead. Local Churches had a budget of .005 of the Office of Emergency Management and fewer staff. They provided nearly three times the injury mitigation and protected more homes and businesses from aftermath destruction than the OEM. They used their limited resources (including human labor) very effectively and wasted almost nothing, where a much better funded agency with hundreds of trained specialists were less effective. Over and over again from earthquakes in Japan, to the Tsunami in South East Asia to tornadoes in Nebraska we see the same pattern. Local groups obviously also have the advantage in response time to disasters of all sorts. There has been extensive research on this topic and the results are conclusive, even the OEM and FEMA admit it in their publications, that community groups respond significantly faster to disaster events (often days before). Even resource poor neighborhoods “can maximize their limited resources if they are employed early, providing a initial intervention that has exponential results in disaster mitigation” (National Research Council- Committee on Disaster Research ).
A key function in emergency response is the ability to adapt/react to changing situations on the ground with imperfect information. Again we find this ability to be severely impaired with the command/control system of crisis management. This impairment is a direct result of the centralization problem inherent in government agencies and NGO organizations. This is similar to the closed information loop, in that, these control/command systems seek to predict and pre-plan the response of its responders. It seeks to substitute on-the-scene decision-making with simulations and regulations. This is undoubtedly also partially a result of the overspecialization of emergency professionals. A simple google search of the types of emergency professionals brings up scores of types, most involving at least 3 years of specialized schooling. Emergency professionals also continuously drill, up to 15 hours a week yet they are incredibly limited in making real decisions in the field. Since they are dependent on the command part of the model they must wait (like resources) for the experts to allocate and plan their actions. During Katrina, dozen of helicopter pilots waited over three days for orders before they could do limited rescue runs despite having the fuel, helicopters, equipment and skills to do it. This is not an aberration but the normal course of events. The reaction time and the adaptation needed to respond effectively to changing situations during a disaster are removed from specialized emergency workers.
The community model draws upon the diverse skills of its members, that almost always lack emergency training. This lack of basic skills (e.g. First Aid) has had a negative impact on the community model but that has not always been the case. During the heyday of Civil Defense (in the 1950's) most Americans had had a basic first aid course. Public schools taught modules on fire suppression, first aid and other useful emergency skills. We know that when emergency skills are disseminated they can be very effective. CPR and the Heimlich maneuver have saved countless lives by employing a community response model. Researchers suggest that nearly 3 times as many victims have been saved by ordinary folks using CPR than all the professionals (doctors, paramedics, life-guards, police, firemen, etc) combined. The community-response model relies on individuals to make decisions and implement action plans based on the vents surrounding them. They have no need for constant drilling or waiting for commands to provide much needed services on the ground. Nearly 1/3 of civilian helicopter pilots (tourist pilots, news helicopter pilots, etc.)during Katrina jumped into action hours after the disaster while better prepared and trained emergency pilots sat waiting for orders. There is more that can be done, we need to provide more basic emergency skills to various parts of our communities to ensure more opportunities for effective action. Despite this obvious weakness there can be no doubt that during an emergency you are more likely to be saved and your home protected by your neighbors than highly trained professionals with high tech gadgets.
All emergency aid efforts are ultimately dependent on complicity and involvement of a variety of groups:victims, stake-holders and the “public”. Even emergency managers understand that the public is an important factor in determining the overall success of a disaster operation. After the dismal failure of FEMA to act during Katrina they sub-contracted with a New York PR firm to “fix” their image and employed their services during the recent California wildfires to some positive effect. The emergency management agency has added “public trust” to its logo, highlighting the role of public opinion on relief efforts. Needless to say trust is not the first word to pop into most Americans' minds when they think of government emergency agencies (NGOs do much better but still need to use slick public relations firms). The above problems with the command/control model undoubtedly play a role in why emergency agencies can not gain the support (or complicity as the social science researchers say)of various segments of the public but the very model of control/command makes this task very difficult.
Command/control models rely heavily on both specialization and centralization that are often at odds with public support. Specialization is by necessity removes itself from the common experience of most people. The knowledge of the specialists is often obscure to everyday educated people, and thus the motivations for their actions often are not understandable to those outside. Centralization also creates decision-makers that are removed both socio-economically and geographically from most of the population and the victims of disasters. A study 2006 by McWilliams, a social psychologist at Harvard,found that among nearly every class (gender, socio-economic, regional, etc.) people tended to trust those they could relate to even if they were more poorly equipped to solve their problems. When people are not invested or do not trust decision makers they tend to unconsciously thwart action plans, a point well understood by emergency managers. Instead of trying to get more people to have trust in their authority (which may not even be possible) they use force and fear to create a passive population. This has negative consequences in that it interferes with their information gathering and fails to utilize the resources, labor and skills of the populations. They give these up in turn for creating passive complicity.
True investment, as demonstrated by the community response model, requires transparent and local decision making processes. It also requires an open information exchange system (not just the choreographed and control management of information so common among bureaucratic agencies and organizations). The fact that the community response approach draws from a shared well of experiences, resources and understandings make their actions and motivations instantly comprehensible at least to the local victims, stakeholders and the regional population. The community response approach often fails to generate large public support due to its regional focus and sphere of influence, the very factors that make it successful on the local level can work against it at larger levels. This problem is somewhat mitigated that most of the community response models resources, actors and interests are local and thus the need to have complicity by an outside generalized public is not as detrimental as it might be for the control/command approach. Activity is probably the easiest and surest way to ensure investment in a given set of actions during an emergency. People that are involved tend to feel more favorable about emergency rescue, relief and recovery efforts than those less involved. The community response model allows a maximum of participation at all stages of disaster relief, thus increasing the likelihood of investment of various populations. Since the communities tend to make decisions along more decentralized and horizontal means, this also promotes a joint sense of ownership of the actions even of groups that one is not directly involved in. For example volunteer fire-fighters and paramedics tend to rate the services of each other much higher than professional co-workers do and in fact there seems to be great distrust among professional departments where competition for budget and resources create toxic work environments (Young, Stanfield, et al 2001).
These two models are so opposite that there is very little reason to try combine these forms. A socio-technological, used by large NGOs and government agencies, approach requires a shift in the conception of response systems as reactive, command and control to ones of inquiry based systems that promote self-organization and self-evaluation. These systems create open feedback systems that do not easily exist in traditional command and control systems. These systems of inquiry allow communities to create innovative and effective solutions to problems of resource allocation that are not available to command and control systems. They also increase the amount of “investment” by communities to self-regulate successful strategies during time of crisis in other words any response to disaster must promote not inhibit emergent structures and activities during disasters.” (Tierney and Trainor 2004). Yet governments and NGOs suggest that disasters be left to professionals with the knowledge, skills and technology to ensure that there is not destructive panic. The control/command model rests on the myth that the public is ill-prepared emotionally and in resources to provide for their own rescue, relief and recovery. They use the boogey-man of panic to suggest that we can not count on our friends, neighbors or co-workers to create viable community responses to emergencies.
Social science research finds little justification that people will respond qualitatively differently to man-made versus natural disasters. The variables that effect response are: Speed of onset; geographical spread; access to information and previous experience or training for disasters. Furthermore all social research from the past 20 years suggest that people do not panic. The population as a whole tends to make very rational choices based on the information and experience they have available. Researchers have looked at variety of cases from the Spanish Influenza, to Chernobyl to 9/11 and find that people respond similarly during a crisis as people say they would react if there was a crisis. So we can predict how people will react to an unpredictable event and they tend to act reasonably. This would suggest that regular citizens can and should be trusted to participate at all levels in their own rescue and recovery operations. Panics do occur and have occurred, but they almost uniformly are located in liminal spaces highlighted by supposedly total environment. There have been recent panics a on cruise ships, airports, stadiums, hospitals and even prisons. One of the reasons for this, is that when authority breaks down AND there is a lack of organic communities people make calculated decisions based on their own awareness and needs. This combined with no reliable sense of information creates panics that can turn deadly.
In the end, it is clear that our survival during an emergency depends on the strength of our local communities. Despite the overwhelming research on this point, NGOs and governments have only allocated token support for local community organizing efforts. This is a great shame because the amount of resources needed to adequately prepare communities is relatively small when compared to the bloated budgets of NGOs and government agencies. Instead of strengthening communities' responses to disasters the government has actually created policies to retard such naturally occurring self-organizing. It would be foolish to look to reform government or NGOs which have committed themselves for decades to a dysfunctional control/command (and profited well on it). We must find ways to support and expand local organizing efforts. The uncanny way a collective community action occurs prior to, during and after a disaster demonstrates the power of organic, and indigenous organizing. These type of communities are not only effective in helping out their neighbors but also revitalizing communities and re-establishing community norms and structures (Drabek 1986). This is the goal of Aftershock Action.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Human Resources during an Emergency: The Strength of the Aftershock Model
Disasters are primarily a problem of human resources. The Human Capital model suggests that ordinary people are the important asset of any country. Adam Smith first developed this idea near the end of his life and was later turned and expanded by Karl Marx. Since Marx no less than three economists and one sociologist have won Nobel Prizes using this useful theory. The Human Capital model tends to focus on the productivity or the lack of it and its effect on GNP and other economic indicators and suggest that it is important than technology, land, resources or others in predicting the wealth, diversity and complexity. FEMA, unlike the earlier Civil Defense program, has rejected the Human Capital model (as has the Department of Defense) instead putting their assets on technology, supplies and technocrats. The Aftershock Model is a return to the primacy of average citizens affected by a disaster, looking for ways to maximize people active involvement and problem-solving skills. Emergencies are events that are particularly dependent on human resources in order to avoid unnecessary disaster.
Staffing during a disaster is always full of problems. This shortfall in human resources can dramatically accelerate the negative impacts of an emergency and create a negative feedback loop. Despite decades of independent research and commonsense FEMA and other disaster professionals still seek to limit citizen involvement during crises. This destructive trend has continued in the US with the current budget '08 budget that savaged the only civilian emergency training program by 75% despite record numbers of people signing up for trainings. Institutional NGOs have followed this trend by sinking more and more of their budget into technology and specialists and reducing their budgets for public education. The Red Cross has doubled the resources available to technological budget items while whittling away their public outreach programs by nearly 80%. In the not too distant past 1 out of every 3 “disaster dollars” (money allocated by the Federal Government for emergencies and civil defense) was allocated to local groups and agencies; but today 19 out of 20 “disaster dollars” go to universities, private military contractors and technology corporations. Even the Emergency Broadcasting System (now called Emergency Alert System) has been reduced to about 10% of their budget compared to its height in 1966. All the broadcasters have been removed and it is nearly fully automated now. It went from employing hundreds of various types of workers to a couple dozen technicians. This represents the growing trend to replace human resources with specialists and technology to “manage” disasters. So what is the role of average people during a disaster? It seems clear their model is one of control and management. We have gone from active agents (neighbors helping neighbors) to just another thing that needs to be managed by technology and government specialists.
After a disaster, conventional full-time emergency services are dramatically overloaded, with conventional fire fighting response times often exceeding several days. Staffing levels for hospitals drop up to 70%, with an often dramatic increase in patients thus exacerbating the staff shortage. The emphasis of emergency managers to control, evacuate and contain whole communities has actually reduced effective response to disasters. The International Institute of Disasters Studies published an exhaustive paper comparing mandatory evacuations versus voluntary evacuations in 13 countries. The researchers found that mandatory evacuations actually slowed recovery efforts and perhaps more surprisingly led to more injuries and deaths than voluntary. They also found not surprisingly fewer people left during voluntary (only 22% left compared to 70% for mandatory that was enforced with law enforcement). They concluded this access to “in situ” human resources actually aided rescue and recovery efforts “despite the lack of resources and training”. Removing populations, breaking up communities and hindering self organization are sure recipes in during an emergency into a disaster. This absurd policy has not always been the norm even in this country. It is a recent development, promoted successfully by radical capitalists and rabid authoritarians.
The traditional response to disasters on civilian population centers is to maintain a mass-trained force of volunteer emergency workers. In the 1930's when the Civil Defense was first formed under FDR it had close to 500,000 participants and many more volunteers. The Red Cross and Salvation Army had nearly twice the staff and volunteers as they do today despite 30% of the budget in a adjusted dollars. Studies in World War II showed that lightly trained (40 hours or less) civilians in self-organized teams can perform up to 95% of emergency activities when trained. This was during a time when there was less education and access to resources as today. In this plan, the populace rescues itself from most situations, and prioritizes emergency services.
We can also look at the consolidation and elimination of volunteer fire/ambulance brigades in the rural Midwest. A study done in 1997 by Stokes & Peters Journal of Fire Professionals and Prevention, strongly suggests the consolidation and professionalize of fire departments over three states in the Us Midwest actually reduced services. They looked at injuries, building damage and response times and found the technological sophisticated and better trained fire departments provided a lower quality of service than the volunteer groups. I have heard the same thing said by volunteer paramedic in the Midwest. So why would professional fire departments with more money, better equipment and 20 times the training than volunteers compare so poorly in rural areas of the Midwest? Stokes & Peters put the blame on the lack of human resources. They argue that there were so many more volunteers and more logically distributed (where there were high instances of fires like in grain areas there were more volunteer corps than in less at fire risk areas) than their professional counterparts. One might also suspect that there was an inherent advantage about knowing the localities where they did their fire prevention work and even a greater commitment to helping fellow community members. What Stokes & Peters also found is there was a greater fire awareness in the general population prior to the operationalization of the fire departments makes common sense, since it was a volunteer force it was required to dialog with the community to get volunteers and resources and had an easier time to create effective local outreach and educational programs. The success rates of professional fire departments' educational/outreach programs are dismal despite spending thousands of dollars and engaging professional PR firms.
Another explanation for the success of volunteer, civil and other non-professionalized emergency responders might be that most activities required during a crisis are relatively simple (though essential) to perform. Nearly all emergency literature and research suggests the simple act of turning off utilities after a disaster (e.g. Flood) can reduce fires, injuries and property destruction. Most people can learn to turn off the water-main, gas and electrical power in their home in about 30 minutes of training and with a $3.00 commercial tool. This simple act could reduce the damage of a disaster significantly. All one has to look at it the role CPR has played in saving lives. While it is true forced air bags, new low voltage defibrillators and flexible molded alternative airways are more effective than CPR in saving a patient, there can be no doubt more actual lives have been saved by the simple CPR technique. Nearly ½ of Americans have had a CPR training of some sort or another. While there is no reliable data on how many lives are saved each year (since most CPR incidents are not reported) it is quite common. The majority of CPR classes are taught by community groups with less than 5% being sponsored by NGO's, corporate entities and government agencies. The average cost for a CPOR course is less than $5.00 because most are free. There is no centralized bureau or governing body that is in charge of CPR courses or the technique itself, yet it works. So ordinary people with a little bit of training by community groups and individuals can have a large impact on emergencies. In fact the more people you engage in emergency preparedness the greater success you will have in mitigating the negative effects. If that wasn't enough to suggest a commitment to decentralized community-based emergency preparations there is another good reason to do it. As stated earlier most work during a disaster is common-sense and unskilled with limited need for high tech gadgets. It allows and requires lots of different folks “pitching in”. This pitching in has the added benefit of decreasing the negative psychological impact of disasters on people. All Disaster Psychology textbooks and research acknowledge that meaningful activity offsets many of the detrimental impacts of disasters including the devastating post-traumatic stress disorder. If people feel needed, part of a team and are engaged in tasks they have confidence in, they are less likely to exhibit negative psychological symptoms during and even after a disaster. It is ironic that the emergency managers spend so much time worrying about “mass panic” when the solution is so simple, get people involved, let them be active in aiding their own communities. Research and commonsense suggest that during disasters there is an outpouring of volunteerism. Instead of thwarting this valuable human resource by corralling people and forcing them to be passive consumers of aid, we need to use this powerful force to protect and rebuild our communities.
So why would we move from a human resource and community based model to a less effective and more expensive centralized and technological approach to disaster control? There are two major factors that led to this devastating change: money and power.
The truth is that grassroots community centered relief training is very cheap. It involves average people training their friends, neighbors, families and co-workers and they will often do this for free. Successful civilian relief models are almost inherently low technology and rely on the common and available resources of their area. They are also by necessity open source, meaning they can not be regulated or controlled by corporate interests. There simply is no money to be made out of this type of emergency preparedness. It is not only corporate interests that are effected but also large NGOs that rely on donations and grants to provide relief and rescue efforts (the number one source of such monies from the public & private charitable sectors). There is also increasingly little difference between major international NGOs and international corporations. They often work hand and glove in reaping resources and profits from disasters. The ugly truth is disasters have become major revenue generating for both NGOs and corporations. It is not a surprise that many executive directors of NGOs were once major CEOs in the private sector and that most NGOs contract out equipment and other services to large international corporations. There simply is too much money to be made in disasters and the fear of disasters to support a community based model. The very effectiveness of community based models threaten the privileged position of bloated government agencies, NGOs and corporations.
Money and power always go together. Not only is there large amounts of money to be made from disasters (read the Naomi Klein's exhaustively researched Shock Doctrine for details)but governments, individuals and corporations can use disasters to increase their political power. Disasters engender a great deal of fear, and fear can easily be turned into political capital. Different leaders, corporations and institutions demand our loyalty in exchange for security. We acquiesce to their accumulation of power in exchange for aid. If we could provide for ourselves and our community their control over us would necessarily be limited and we could demand more from them. By pulling us out of our communities and putting us in situations where we can not even provide for our basics turn us into passive children. When armed National Guardsmen control our access to water, we our in a poor position to check abuses of power or even make legitimate demands. When we are dependent on impossibly expensive technologies and arcane expertise we have no choice but to surrender our autonomy to those who claim to protect us from disasters, especially when we have no knowledge on how to do it ourselves. Despite the new model of emergency management is less effective in relief and recovery than community or civilian models, it is more effective in consolidating power and generating huge profits for selected NGOs and corporations.
The Aftershock model, like the earlier civil defense model, attempts to support the creation of self-organized community approaches to emergency preparedness,relief and recovery. Aftershock recognizes the strength and the practicability of creating low-tech grassroots models of emergency management that not only protects our communities but also empowers them. The key difference between the models is Aftershock's reliance on the human capital of community. Even resource poor and politically marginalized communities can create effective emergency groups. Aftershock seeks to disseminate easy and replicatable models (like CPR ) that utilize the resources of the community to create sustainable and community enriching approaches to crises. We understand that NGOs, governmental agencies and corporations have the most too loose from the wide-dissemination of a community based model. We expect resistance from these groups to our efforts and are willing to fight for right to protect and provide mutual aid to our neighborhoods. We know we will need to not only develop alternatives outside the NGO,corporate and government spheres but also be ready to challenge their exploitive and dangerous models. A community-based model that highlights human resource can be a powerful force in not only protecting from the negative impacts of disasters but also in enriching our communities by building confidence and sense of real solidarity.