Sunday, September 4, 2011

Earthquake + Hurricane - Devastation = Lessons Learned

This is only a test.
I would not survive a zombie apocalypse movie. I can tell you that now. Based on my responses to the natural disasters that hit my area in the last week or two, I would be that "cameo" role - you know, the one that has a great first scene but doesn't make it past the opening credits. Luckily, neither of these events did as much damage as either one could have done. So for me, it's like that really annoying screen/tone that used to come across the tv every so often: This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. This is only a test. If this were an actual emergency, ... I probably should have paid better attention to that part!

I was not prepared for this.  I didn't know what to do in an earthquake.  I didn't know how to hurricane-proof my apartment, or what kind of tape to use on the windows.  I didn't know whether the mandatory evacuation in parts of my village included my building.  I didn't know where to go if I had to evacuate, and I didn't have a "go bag" packed.  I didn't have a clue what to put into such a bag, either.  I did go shopping in case I had to be stuck at home for a few days, but I didn't buy what I would need to go that long without power.  I didn't even have a battery for the clock/radio I have that's designed for just such an emergency (it was a gift years ago - clearly not something I would have thought of myself). 

I guess there's some comfort in knowing that I'm not the only one who's this clueless.

At least my ignorance wasn't shown on live tv, and then streaming on youtube for all to see (add this video to the list of things that made me smile that week)!  Still, it's a bit disturbing after-the-fact to think about what could have happened, and how little I would have been able to do about it.

I consider myself very fortunate. I honestly didn't even feel the earthquake.  I was in the middle of my office building with a few others, when we heard a commotion (high pitched voices) down the hall.  We went to see what was going on, and a few coworkers said something about their desks shaking.  We couldn't believe there was really just an earthquake, and they couldn't believe that we really didn't feel it.  But as I called (ok, txted)  everyone I could think of to see if they were alright, I heard similar stories all around.  Some were completely freaked out, while others missed it altogether.

As for the hurricane (or tropical storm, or whatever category it actually was at the moment it hit my area), I did actually feel it, I did know it was happening, and I was affected.  I had to cancel the plans I had for the weekend, and I lost power for a day and a half.  I spent the worst part of the storm home alone with no tv, no lights, no power (no coffee!), and no way to reach hubby, who was stuck at work in an area with no cell service. But all in all, the way I was "affected" turned out to be a temporary inconvenience. Hubby came home, my power came back, I went out for coffee, and there was no damage to my person or my property. That makes me pretty lucky, compared to what so many others had to deal with.

So I take this as a learning experience.  I was talking with someone after the fact, and we wondered whether this extreme weather was a fluke or something that we would likely see happening more often.  Though I hope for the former, I fear it's the latter: we've done so much damage to our poor planet, and now Mother Nature is fighting back.  So while I hope it won't be necessary for a very long time, I've learned what I'll need to know and what I'll need to do next time.

I learned that "low-lying areas" refers to areas 10 feet or less above sea level.  So rather than cursing the big hill I live on, I'm grateful it kept our block from flooding, meaning that I did not have to evacuate.  In fact, I'm higher up than the school they turned into an emergency shelter a few blocks away!

I learned that there really isn't much to do to hurricane-proof an apartment.  There are no lawn ornaments to put away, and the Super (and ours really is super!) pretty much handles whatever needs to be done for the building, and the "experts" said not to bother taping the windows.

I learned that when the power goes, the gas goes too.  So even though I knew I couldn't use the microwave, I learned that I also couldn't use the stove.  So all the frozen food was useless, but so was most of the non-perishable stuff in the pantry, since I had no way to cook it.  Next time: peanut butter & banana wraps!

I learned that no power/no gas also means no hot water.  But I got a few ideas of where I could go to take a hot shower next time.  A free trial (or guest pass) at a gym isn't just for exercise equipment!

I learned that even "emergency lights" can go out.  Good thing the cell phone (recharged by what was left of the laptop battery) can be used as a flashlight!

I learned what should be in a go bag!  I may not have one packed and ready to go, but at least I do actually have most of those items, and can get them together quickly if necessary.

I learned that some people are not happy unless they've got something to complain about.  Ok, perhaps I knew this already, but I was definitely reminded of that again.  The same people who complained after the blizzard last winter that the city didn't take enough precautions now complained about the precautions that were taken.  Better safe than sorry, I'd say!

I learned that I'm surrounded by a lot of kind, generous, thoughtful people.  So many went out of their way to offer me anything I might need: flashlights, batteries, coffee, food, a place to take a hot shower, and even a place to stay for a few days.  I'm grateful that my power came back quickly enough that I didn't need to take them up on it, but I'm even more grateful for the caring friends who were so concerned.

I learned (or was reminded) that expecting the worst but hoping for the best can lead us to feel grateful for what would otherwise upset us: ConEd originally said my power would be out for 5 days, so I was ecstatic when it came back after only a day and a half (though I can remember times in the past when I was annoyed that it was out for just a few hours).

I learned that Mayor Bloomberg cannot speak Spanish!!  Ok, technically, I guess he gets the words right, but his pronunciation is painful!  

I was reminded that some people will do really stupid things just to get on camera.  Like go to the beach when a hurricane is coming.  Or run behind the news reporter and wave at the camera ... and I don't mean with their hands!

Most of all, I was reminded how much of a community feeling we get when really put to the test.  Families found old-fashioned ways to make the most of their time together without technology.  Friends who haven't spoken in years checked in on each other just to make sure they're ok.  Neighbors shared what little resources they had to get through the dark days together.  It's a little sad that it takes a disaster to bring people together like this, and I hope the feeling lasts longer than the clean-up efforts.  Still, it's nice to know that when it comes down to it, when push comes to shove, when we really need it, there is unity in our community.

**If you like what you read, tell a friend.  In fact, tell me, too - post a comment below.  If you don't ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!