Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in particular, has been under a lot of fire lately. Mainly because they left people on rooftops for five days and failed to notice several thousand people starving in two of New Orlean's largest structures. That's kind of like failing to notice that all the tires on your car are flat as you drive down the beltway. Nonetheless, I'm wondering if we gave them a bad rap.

Keeping in mind that they are the professionals and should know how to manage disasters and emergencies (particularly when you put the words Emergency Management in your name. Kind of sets expectations)... keeping all that in mind, I've realized that most people I know would not have been much better in the face of a disaster.

Consider my friend, who just emailed me and mentioned her building's pending fire drill in fifteen minutes. I'm really not clear on how you can have a planned, announced, fire drill. In the event of a real fire, you will not have time to neatly stack your papers, don your jacket, and grab your purse. No - you will need to haul ass quickly down a flight of stairs in a rank stairwell, possibly with only emergency lighting to guide you. How is a planned fire drill preparing you for that?

Yes- a fire drill allows you to become familiar with your building's exits, and the one which is closest to you. So a few times a year, a bell dings, and you meander slowly toward your assigned exit, never once wondering exactly what you'll do in a real emergency when flames have engulfed the door you're supposed to go out of.

I say all this a bit smugly, considering my company has dispensed with fire drills altogether. We only recently thought it prudent to confirm that the badge readers on the doors would shut off during a fire, so we don't need to actually find our badges to escape third degree burns and rolling smoke. That was comforting.

One of our other locations still has fire drills, though. In shifts. As in, "This row? This is your fire drill. Come on. Row B? You're next, as soon as we get back." They are thoroughly prepared for a fire which politely burns only one set of seats at a time. Good to know.

All things considered, it's good that I live in the Washington, DC., area. We don't usually get emergency weather to do much preparing for. No earthquakes, and we did once get a tornado but they are few and far between. Most hurricanes have rained themselves out by the time they reach us, and our only warning is usually to just pull the potted plants inside for the night.

Disasters here tend more toward the man made kind, and the unfortunate likelihood is that when the next big disaster hits DC, we'll all die immediately.

No drills needed for that.

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