Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Plot by Geologists Has Succeeded: You are Ready for the BIG ONE

Note: Please accept that this is tongue-in-cheek semi-parody, and is in no way meant to minimize the viral pandemic that is deeply affecting our society. Please take all appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus...
The long years of planning and the endless meetings in secret have finally borne fruit. The geologists have finally prepared American society for the BIG ONE (the BIG earthquake, the BIG volcanic eruption, the BIG hurricane). Straight-forward education didn't work, since no one read the reams of information put out by the hard-working geologists, so we finally had to use the arrival of the Covid-19 virus to make our point: disasters will happen and we have to be ready for them.
It's unfortunate that people had to panic and go running into stores to buy up huge amounts of materials basically unrelated to the virus: the bottled water, the paper towels, the non-perishable foods. But through the power of suggestion, we geologists managed to get people to buy just the kinds of things one would need in the aftermath of a major quake when help and assistance by emergency workers might be days or weeks away.

There is nothing that makes a geologist cringe more than a government official saying something along the lines of “It’s an unforeseen problem. … Came out of nowhere.”. That's almost never true. Every government official has all kinds of emergency planning materials available to them, and presidents have entire government bureaucracies designed to prepare for emergencies and disasters. Unless they disband them, as happened to the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense in 2018. Many people no longer remember the words of Bobby Jindal in 2009 in a response to a State-of-the-Union address, but geologists will always remember: he was complaining about “$140 million for something called volcano monitoring. Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.".

It has been interesting (and terrifying) to watch the response of people to the pandemic. Millions didn't take it seriously and continued life as normal. Some understood the warnings of the epidemiologists and started making preparations, buying reasonable amounts of cleaning supplies and disinfectants. It has been a slow-motion disaster that unfolded over several months. Volcanic disasters may be similar; eruptions have precursors that can last for months.

But earthquakes will come on suddenly and without warning. And unlike with the pandemic, the infrastructure of society will be severely compromised. It won't be stores with empty shelves...it will be stores in ruins. The electricity will go off, and with it the faucets and toilets won't have water. The hospitals won't be overwhelmed over a period of days or weeks, they be inundated all at once if they are functioning at all. It's in those kinds of moments that having water, food and emergency first aid supplies can be the difference between a good or bad outcome during a disaster.

There will be some important differences. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are regional, not national disasters. The infrastructure will be destroyed in some places, but will be functioning in others. Because of this, it won't take all that long for emergency workers to begin arriving from outlying areas where the damage isn't so bad.

There is one other really big difference when these geologic disasters strike: we won't be constrained by 'social distancing'. We'll be available to help each other out. Remember the words of Fred Rogers:
For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world. There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong. 
Strive to be one of the helpers in all that is to come.
For more on earthquake preparedness, especially in the Bay Area, check out:

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