Showing posts with label Disaster Planning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disaster Planning. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Disaster Planning and the Oklahoma Tornado

Disaster Planning is something we seem to do very poorly.  It took a wake-up call such as Hurricane Andrew to upgrade building codes in Florida, an attempt to build better wind resistant structures to ameliorate loss of property and protect lives in the future.  Florida still has a long way to go, particularly with insurance issues.

But an improved building code would have done little to minimize structural damage in an F4 or F5 tornado that stays on the ground for a long time such as the horror of yesterday's Oklahoma tragedy.  On the other hand, requiring that new homes be built with a below ground storm shelter, and new schools have storm proof basements, with adequate ventilation and supplies in the event of a structural collapse, is something that could be done.  Retrofitting homes with even a minimal below ground shelter would not be that costly.  Give homeowners offsetting tax credits.  It would save lives.  The odds for surviving a direct hit from such a monster tornado are high in any below the ground shelter as most deaths are from structural collapse and flying debris.  

In the meantime, nothing can be done other than to try to help the victims. There are a number of charities, but the Red Cross has their team there now and one of the best ways to help victims is to give to their disaster relief fund. It is our charity of choice in spite of the occasional false Internet rumor that the Red Cross keeps too much of its charitable donations for its own operating expenses.  It is a large organization and as such perhaps it is a little less efficient than smaller disaster relief charities, but they are in the vanguard of the first responders in Oklahoma.

Red Cross Statement on Oklahoma Tornado
Posted May 20,2013

The American Red Cross issued the following statement following the tornado in Oklahoma this afternoon:

WASHINGTON, Monday, May 20, 2013 – Our thoughts and concerns go to everyone in Oklahoma following this horrific tornado.

The American Red Cross has one shelter open in Moore and is working on locating others; we continue to operate three shelters that were opened Sunday in the Oklahoma City area following the storms on Sunday. .

Red Cross volunteers are out tonight with food and supplies supporting first responders.

More than 25 emergency response vehicles are positioned to move at first light Tuesday, and we expect that the number will increase. The Red Cross is also sending in kitchen support trailers to support the upcoming operation to provide meals to those forced out of their homes.

People in Oklahoma near the tornado area are encouraged to connect with one another and let loved ones know that they are safe. This can be done through the I’m Safe feature of the free Red Cross tornado app. In addition, if you have access to a computer, go to to list yourself as safe. If not, you can text loved ones or call a family member and ask them to register you on the site.

This has been a major disaster, and the Red Cross will be there for the people in this state and this community. People who wish to make a donation can support American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas as well as disasters big and small throughout the United States by visiting, dialing 1-800-REDCROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Costa Concordia Tragedy

Whether you are piloting a large ship or your own recreational vessel, most nautical disasters are the result of its Captain being overconfident, especially when it comes to the deadly mix of thinking he knows the waters well while having an opportunity to show off. Apparently, the Costa Concordia had "nautical flybys" the island of Giglio in the past, coming close to the island to bask in the approbation of tourists there and providing a close-up thrill for the passengers as well. Imagine, 114,000 gross tonnage lumbering along at some 15 knots hitting an immovable object.

On my own "ship" of some 40 feet, I once took my knowledge of local waters for granted and raced another vessel out to our Crow Island anchorage using a "short cut" as the sun was setting on a Friday evening and, unfortunately for me, as the tide had already started to recede, only to find my vessel hard aground a sand bar with no means of kedging off the bar. It's a long story, one that thankfully ended well, with no injuries other than to my severely bruised ego, and I'll tell it sometime, but it could have turned out very differently.

Showing off and thinking one has complete control of one's vessel under all conditions is just a lethal combination. I'm guilty so I know. I might also comment that of the two dozen or so cruises we've been on, none were on ships the size of the Concordia. The new megaships seem to be out of proportion, their height too much for the beam, with evacuation procedures not up to the standards necessary for a full complement of passengers and crew. Unfortunately, lessons to be learned now in retrospect.

January 21 Follow-up, Videos

Friday, March 18, 2011

Engineering Failures and World-Wide Consequences

The similarities between the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing nuclear Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan are striking.

Both were unimaginable before they happened. Both the nuclear facility and the oil rig had what was thought to be containment and shut down protection, as well as redundancy features, in the event of a serious accident. In each case, these systems failed. The response to each event was similar, a series of improvisational Hail Mary attempts to mitigate the damage, resembling a disaster movie in slow motion. Each catastrophe has long term consequences to the earth's ecosystem and human health, way beyond the immediate geographic area of its origin. The lack of contingency planning in Gulf crisis is evident again in the Japan disaster.

Surely, given the facts of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island there are commonalities with Fukushima Daiichi. No doubt the first line of defense in the construction of a nuclear facility or a deep water drilling rig has to be containment and redundancy features and bulletproof regulatory oversight, first at the national level, but perhaps with international participation as well. Too bad the UN is not a more effective institution. It needs to be in this area.

Any country that constructs these engineering marvels, for drilling oil in the deepest of oceans, or generating nuclear power, facilities that have world-wide consequences when they fail, should be required by the world community to maintain a national task force with readily available and deployable equipment to deal with catastrophic failure (rather than totally relying on the company responsible such as Tokyo Electric Power or BP). How much time was lost in dealing with Fukushima Daiichi when the tsunami destroyed its redundant pumps and power generating equipment?

Perhaps this may be oversimplification, but if we have the technology to create these engineering leviathans, we should also have the resources for a nuclear (and deep water drilling rig) immediate response task force, a small army trained for this once in a generation disaster, with the necessary deployable equipment (such as generators that could have been airlifted immediately to the Fukushima Daiichi site allowing the resumption of core cooling systems). We only need the universal will. Meanwhile, we all helplessly watch this terrible disaster unfolding in Japan.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top Kill Redeux

As much as I would prefer to write just about anything else, I seem to be helplessly drawn into the vortex of what has become part of a national Zeitgeist of failure, our (industry and government) inept attempts, first, on a macro scale – not having the proper guidelines and oversight for off shore drilling – and then the resulting disaster at hand, BP’s poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico. Three months into this catastrophe and we are now playing a dangerous game again, pondering a new “top kill” AKA “static kill” which, who knows (no confidence they do), might carry the danger of erupting the sea bed, the final straw in finishing off the Gulf of Mexico. If, on the other hand it is successful, or if at least the latest BP cap on its errant well holds without such an attempt, it proves only one thing: there are technical solutions that could have been part of a non fabricated contingency plan, one that would have cost BP (as well as other oil companies) a bunch of money to have standing by, but would have spared the Gulf of Mexico a fate that is still unknown in its gravity. The lack of oversight that accepted the BP’s original plan as the only shield for the ecosystem of the Gulf and the livelihood of its inhabitants is appalling. Future deep water drilling without a credible contingency plan, which should also include the concurrent drilling of a potential relief well, is unthinkable.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lack of Contingency Planning Redeux

It is a sickening feeling, helplessly watching the slow motion catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, which is rapidly becoming a dead sea. Now we are told that the pipe that was sending warm water to eliminate the formation of hydrates was damaged by one of the remote subs and it had to be withdrawn for inspection and perhaps repair, sending tens of thousands more barrels of oil into the Gulf daily. Given the incredibly high stakes, how could there not be another such pipe ready for immediate deployment? Or an entire lower marine riser package cap? Where is the contingency planning and who is responsible, the government, BP, or is it Larry, Curley and Moe?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Legitimate” Claims

By now we’ve all seen the $50 million media blitz by BP in which Tony Hayward articulates that all “legitimate” claims will be honored, as well the recent news story that it will pay these claims for "as long as it takes." There is a world of meaning in the word “legitimate” and in a first step to define it before BP’s legal army begins to mobilize, BP announced it would appoint an “Independent Mediator to review and assist in the claims process,” that person apparently yet to be appointed (again, by BP, not an independent authority). This “Independent Mediator” will make advisory decisions” on claims, with those decisions subject to the following:

* If the claimant feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, he or she retains all rights under OPA either to seek reimbursement from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or to file a claim in court.
* If BP feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, the company may choose not to accept it, but the claimant then may use the Independent Mediator's decision in claiming against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or in a subsequent court action

Note the reference to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund as the first line of defense for BP. Congress created this Fund in 1986 to pay the claims of “any person or organization that has incurred removal costs or suffered damages due to an oil spill may submit a claim.” Supposedly it is funded at $2.7 billion. However, the Fund site says: “British Petroleum is now accepting claims for the Gulf Coast oil spill. Please call them at 1-800-440-0858.” So, back to you BP!

According to BP, “90 percent of the damages or income loss claims paid out so far had gone to individuals -- primarily fishermen, shrimpers, oyster fishermen and crabbers. The rest had gone to smaller businesses, and the company was also moving to respond to claims by medium- and large-sized businesses.”

No mention is made of the elephant in the room: state and local governments along the Gulf that depend on their revenue from property tax and sales tax. These are under stress to begin with and, now, with tourism disappearing, and properties along the Gulf going unsold (anyone want to buy a home near a beach with tar balls for an unknown period of time?), home valuations are plummeting, along with the associated property tax. Florida, which has no state income tax, is dependent sales tax revenue, a large portion of which comes from tourism with its beaches and water being the major attraction. And, with the Gulf Stream, no part of Florida is immune to the threat of oil contamination.

The ripple effects of lost revenue to small to large businesses, increased unemployment, plummeting home values and increased foreclosures, and finally to tax revenue, are large and long lasting. So, BP, what about the “legitimacy” of claims of state and local governments for the lost tax revenue, this year and perhaps years to come? Thus far BP’s track record, on promptly paying claims, truthfully reporting the scope of the spillage, going all out to save the precious wildlife and shorelines of the Gulf, is poor. This does not bode well for how BP’s legal team will finally attempt to define “legitimate.”


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Perfect Storm

It is Memorial Day weekend, one of profound sadness, for the service men and women who gave their lives for our country, and now what seems like a deathwatch for the fragile ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest failure on the part of BP to stop the oil leak in the Gulf via a “top kill,” one that was said to have a 60-70% probability of succeeding, now seems like just another attempt to string along an anxious nation until the “permanent fix” of drilling an intercept relief well is supposed to be concluded in August.

Now there is a new stop gap “plan,” which involves cutting off the damaged riser and capping it with a containment valve. Per BP: "We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," pretty much what was said of the top kill method. So we can all hope that this is not just more media hype and cutting the damaged riser does not just release more oil. One cynically gets the sense, watching all of these improvised attempts, that we’ve seen this movie before, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (the Government and BP) saying “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”

Here’s the “perfect storm” scenario: NOAA’s forecast that the impending hurricane season being nearly as active as the one in 2005 and the possible impact on the rescue and cleanup activity by the armada of ships and platforms and miles and miles of containment booms in the Gulf.

It is speculation as to how a Katrina might further spread oil inland or even suck up and deposit surface oil in its torrential rain-making machine, but one thing is clear: clean up efforts and relief well drilling would be profoundly effected. The combination of the spill and an active hurricane season is an environmental catastrophe of even more untold proportions. And it bears noting that early season named storms are more likely to form nearby, particularly in the Gulf and the Caribbean.

The only potential “good” to come from this might be our country’s willingness to make the sacrifices we made in fighting wars, pulling together as a nation and declaring energy independence via alternative energy. I am not some Pollyanna thinking that we can suddenly drive our energy needs via alternative means. We need better technology, an improved infrastructure, and be willing to pay a steep tax on fossil fuels to support such efforts.

But that is what it is all about: the national willpower to achieve this objective and to save our environment as well. President Kennedy declared that we would put a man on the moon in ten years at the beginning of the 1960’s; we can do the same for alternative energy today. Since we seemed doomed to forever plan using a rear view mirror, this might be the only good that can come from this disaster.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Towards the end of the week I am going into the hospital for “a procedure” (a minor one to the medical community, a major one to me) so I attribute this posting to some free floating anxiety and an attempt to get some thoughts down on several topics, all suitable for their own entries. I think of them as a bunch of tweets, albeit more than 140 characters.

The first thing on my mind, other than “the procedure” is how quickly we’ve become inured to the major catastrophic saga of the last month: the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico. I present as anecdotal evidence Sunday’s New York Times. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” fails to mention anything on the topic until more than halfway into the first section, although the front page did carry an article on premium prices for a Jon Bon Jovi “concert” in Hershey, Pa.

Why, I wonder, are we not pressing with all the public opinion power at our disposal for some resolution to this disaster? To watch BP, Transocean, and Halliburton in the brief Congressional Hearings was sickening, each pointing to the other to blame in a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil routine, finally all pointing to the Minerals Management Service which “oversees” drilling activity. BP says it will pay "all legitimate claims," the operative word being their interpretation of “legitimate,” but that is far from the main issues: why were there no contingency plans in place and how, with all this country’s resources, is there no way to stop this fire hose of black destruction on the pristine waters of the Gulf? Every single one of us should be holding these companies and the federal government responsible and let our justifiable anger be heard.

Maybe I take this personally as we live in Florida and appreciate the natural beauty of its waterways and beaches. But I felt the same way after the Exxon Valdez and it is absolutely stunning that we have failed to learn the sad lessons of drilling in fragile environments.

Then, I shift to another aspect of living in Florida, particularly south Florida that is blessed with some of the finest theatre talent. I’ve written before on the incredible productions at Dramaworks, the West Palm Beach theatre dedicated “to theatre to think about.” Yesterday we saw a concert version of Sondheim’s classic Into the Woods performed by the Caldwell Theatre Company. There we discovered that some of the actors we’ve seen repeatedly at Dramaworks and Florida Stage not only can also sing, but do so at professional levels befitting Broadway. In particular I mention Jim Ballard (who we saw only a few nights before in a Noel Coward reading at Dramaworks), Elizabeth Dimon, Wayne LeGette, and Margery Lowe, and I apologize if I am overlooking others. Also, as a pianist myself, I found Michael O’Dell’s keyboard accompaniment remarkable – almost three hours of Sondheim’s intricate melodies played flawlessly and lovingly. All in all it was a great performance of one of Sondheim’s best works, the lyrics of Children Will Listen reverberating in memory:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
So learn what to be
Careful before you say 'Listen to me'
Children will listen

We saw Stephen Sondheim last year in West Palm Beach on the eve of his 80th birthday (I regret that Google has removed music uploads from the link). He is a national treasure, our last remaining tie to the greats of Broadway.

Finally, and I’m not sure about the appropriate transition to this topic, but I continue to be mesmerized by Raymond Carver’s writings, including his essay “On Writing.”

From that essay, here is classic Carver as it is exactly what he does: ”It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.”

Thinking about a friend who admitted he wrote something just to make a deadline and make a buck, knowing he could have written something better if he took the time, Carver writes, “If writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave. I wanted to say to my friend, for heaven’s sake go do something else. There have to be easier and maybe more honest ways to try and earn a living. Or else just do it to the best of your abilities, your talents, and then don’t justify or make excuses. Don’t complain, don’t explain.”

It seems this advice is applicable to everything as we journey into the woods.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

(Lack of) Contingency Planning

It is sickening to watch the unfolding environmental and economic tragedy in the Gulf. I know nothing about the business of drilling for oil, but even in the modest publishing business I ran for decades, contingency planning had to be formalized and a high priority on an ongoing basis. One needs to be prepared for the unthinkable. In our business, we built safeguards and redundancies in case our business data was wiped out or there was a natural disaster such as a flood. Of course, if such a disaster did occur and if all our planning failed, it would have affected little more than our business and our authors and customers. One would think that disaster planning for companies in the business of drilling for oil along our fragile coast would be of a magnitude and comprehensiveness befitting the potential consequences, to not only their own business, but to the environment as well.

BP’s (and presumably the oil industry’s) singular reliance on a device known as a blowout preventer to circumvent such a disaster seems to be a plan without any backup plan. Isn’t this where the federal government should have had an active role – overseeing any drilling of this nature, requiring not only a first line of safeguards, but a disaster plan that can be immediately implemented in the event the first line fails? Much more, so much more, is at stake here.

Now we are told that BP has contracted to have three huge rectangular concrete and steel chambers built that can be lowered onto each of the three leaks. Apparently, this, too, is not without risk, but it may be the best chance at stemming the flow. These will be ready in about a week! Meanwhile, oil continues to gush. Why, why, are not such chambers ready for immediate deployment around the Gulf? It seems that, like with Hurricane Katrina, we are doomed to “plan” using a rear view mirror, drilling, baby, drilling our planet into oblivion.