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Teachable Moments! When Water Isn’t Your Friend…

Did you see the video clip on the news this week of the Australian teenager in a kayak going through a drive-thru at a flooded fast-food restaurant? It’s generated smiles and laughter, not to mention lots of views. Perhaps, it’s even inspired or eliminated worry for fast-foodies who live in areas which flood. 

But, bigger picture, I actually see that video clip as a good starting point for conversations about emergency preparedness – what those of us who do outreach on the subject often refer to as a “teachable moment.”

Fortunately, the flood damage in this case looks relatively minor. I base that on the observation that the restaurant still has the capability to cook and serve food; workers were able to get there; the water doesn’t look especially deep, muddy or full of debris; the kayaker does not look cold; and no one seemed to be in shock. Sometimes when flooding follows hurricanes and other huge storms, when rivers rise or dams rupture, when earthquakes are followed by tsunamis; that isn’t always the case.

I was invited to a meeting this past weekend to brainstorm about features for a small, customized emergency preparedness app for our local community group volunteers. It’s based on GIS mapping technology and the concept of “crowd-sourcing” information. Prior to an emergency, we will use it to map and annotate information about local businesses, medical and veterinary resources, facilities such as community centers and schools, organizations that have offered to help, and many other things including potential hazards. Access to the cached information during and following an emergency should be invaluable for community leaders and volunteers trying to help. Assuming connectivity is not lost, or once it is restored, new info including damage reports and photos can be uploaded.

Our worst-case scenario disaster here in Seattle and elsewhere on the west coast, is a large magnitude earthquake that would take out much of our infrastructure, perhaps followed by a tsunami – all the more dire if it strikes during extreme weather and/or at night, or during the peak traffic commute.

We also worry about more localized, somewhat less unpleasant, scenarios. These include winter storms, especially those involving heavy rain and/or wind, or heavy snowfall followed by rapid thaw, that could prompt mudslides, result in downed trees and power-lines, or cause roads to wash out. Not far away, we have creeks and rivers that typically swell over their banks. And, neighborhoods sometimes experience flooding when storm drains get clogged or water mains break, even if they aren’t anywhere near a natural water source.

Why post about this here on the SlideMoor Boating Blog? Well, as someone who loves the water, who is also involved in emergency preparedness, I want to “connect the dots” and, yes, take advantage of a teachable moment.

When any disaster happens, it is always those immediately around you – be it neighbors, colleagues, family members, friends, fellow boaters, and oftentimes strangers — who suddenly find themselves in the role of ad hoc first responders, until professional first responders can arrive. In a major disaster, that could be a long time coming, hours or days. If you’ve ever made a call for help, you know that even a few minutes can seem like forever and seconds can make a difference.

I believe boaters are generally better prepared than many to help our communities prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. Specifically:

  • Most of us, (ideally ALL of us), have been trained in boating safety, including CPR and basic first aid and also in the use fire extinguishers. Unfortunately, not everyone else has that knowledge or has practiced those skills – so they may find themselves fumbling to find and read the instructions. Hopefully you can step up and dive in quickly, if the need does arise.
  • Most boaters also have experience with marine radios, so if phones, internet and other regular means of communication aren’t available, we still have ways to communicate – whereas others may be at a complete loss. Perhaps you can help your community with communications during an emergency.
  • As boaters, we may also be able to help provide transportation during a major emergency, especially if infrastructure (buildings, roads, power, and communications) on terra firma is severely compromised.

Lastly, I’d urge all of you to take advantage of any teachable moments that you find. Pass along your knowledge, experience, observations, ideas and information to others in your community, your families, and especially, to young people.

Hazards will differ from coast to coast, and every location in between. I think the key to effectively preparing for and responding to disasters is to engage with your community. You don’t necessarily need a customized app, but rather the mindset to work together to prepare and respond.

Karen Berge

Karen Berge

I enjoy living in Seattle, where boating opportunities abound. My goal is to take advantage of them all!
Karen Berge

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