Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Correctly Respond to a Disaster

The most important thing is, be flexible and try to be patient. Disasters are, in all senses of the word, chaotic. In disaster relief circles, the first wave of volunteers is sometimes called “the disaster after the disaster” because before they even know where to put all the survivors, before they even have a plan to coordinate all the volunteers, there's thousands of volunteers ready to be put to work. Also, remember the recovery after a disaster can take years and sometimes when the community needs you most is actually a few months or even a year after a disaster, because most other potential volunteers are no longer interested.

Sometimes the best thing to do directly after a disaster is to make contact with an organization already there and figure out their biggest needs (generators, ice, basic first-aid supplies, or sometimes the biggest need is just money). I know it may seem boring or unfulfilling to just raise money, but keep in mind that the church or mosque or whatever probably didn't factor sheltering dozens of survivors or feeding volunteers into their budgets, so money may be the thing they need most. Also, by giving them money, they can then spend it in the local economy, an economy which was very disrupted and lost a lot of money because of the disaster.

Contact and coordinate your efforts with people/organizations already at the scene. It may be that most areas are still locked-down and no one is allowed in, so there's not much volunteers can do. Also, try and figure out if there are age restrictions, if minors need a guardian present or a written consent form from a guardian. Someone who is actually there can also give you the areas where volunteers are needed (doing actual clean-up, donations sorting, data entry, etc) and tell you what type of clothing to wear. Some volunteers who wanted to do clean-up in Joplin came without close-toed shoes and it was too much of a hazard to have them in the field, so they had to volunteer in areas that they didn't really want to. Also in Joplin, we had EMTs, Firefighters, etc. coming to our volunteer center and demanding to be a part of the search and rescue. They are pretty careful who they allow on those teams, so this is something you should try and work out beforehand (for instance, if you're a firefighter, then try to call the local fire department in that area). It is also important to bring your id, certification, license, etc. if you are wanting to volunteer is a specialized capacity.

Make sure to work out beforehand all of your logistics (place to stay, food/water, bedding). As a volunteer you have to keep in mind that, because there was a disaster, most of the local resources are rapidly being exhausted and if you come unprepared and ill-equipped you can actually be more of a burden than a help. I remember a few times when food was supposed to be provided in disaster areas, but tornadoes have a way of making street signs disappear and cause landmarks to not be in their proper place, so meeting points are missed or misunderstood. You will have a better experience as a volunteer if you are thoroughly prepared.

While on the subject of food, if you have a food truck, a huge grill, or another thing of that nature and want to help provide food for volunteers, keep in mind that you will probably have to work things out with the health department. We had many well-meaning individuals who came a long way to Joplin who wished to set up and provide food for survivors and volunteers, only to be shut down by the health department because they weren't where they were supposed to be, didn't ask for permission, etc.

When trying to figure out needs, whether for volunteers or donations, don't solely depend on the media for information, because they often get misinformation (sometimes from well-meaning individuals) and/or do not share the whole story. Or the media makes an announcement for a need and doesn't realize that some company was generous enough to fulfill the whole need, so then there is an excess of that one item. Sometimes the media isn't allowed access to areas where heavily involved individuals are (people who actually know what's going on), so they ask whoever they can talk to, which is sometimes a volunteer who has only been there an hour or survivor who hasn't left the area of the emergency shelter since they got there.

Lastly, and very importantly, try and figure out if the community is keeping track of volunteer hours and equipment used in volunteer efforts. You can normally find this out by contacting someone in city hall, possibly looking on the community's website, or sometimes the media will announce it. If FEMA declares a disaster then the federal government does a cost share (the local government pays a percentage and the federal government pays a percentage) for the disaster recovery. Volunteer hours and equipment used can be given a dollar amount and be counted towards the percentage the local government has to pay. In other words, as well as your volunteering physically helping recover the disaster area, it can help it financially recover as well.

Thank you for your willingness to volunteer and I hope you have a wonderful volunteer experience. Be safe, work hard, maybe have some fun, and create some fulfilling memories. God bless, may he give your hands strength and may he comfort the survivors.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dangers of Computational Dependency or TomTom and Seri: Downfall of Us All

This is another note along the same vein as the “zombies attack America.” Perhaps this will sound as if I am a conspiracy theorist, but I don't really think it is a conspiracy, rather, it is the natural course of things in the world we live in and there are those who may take advantage of that course. Alright, enough talking around what I wish to speak of.

Today, as I was driving in heavy traffic, I began to think how nice it would be to have one of those cars that practically drives itself. I saw an article in Time magazine or some such magazine about soon there will probably be a car which does completely drive itself. After thinking of driving, I also thought of how when people have a question now, instead of trying to remember the answer from things learned or even asking a friend for the answer, they ask their phone.

I recently watched a documentary, called Digital Nation, and in it a few educators who were interviewed said something along the lines of: children no longer need to be taught answers and facts because they now have access to all the answers at the touch of a button. I do think teaching styles should change over time, I do firmly believe in more than rote learning but, oh, can't you see that despite our phones, computers, an internet filled with information, and so many other modern things, our brains are still our best and most reliable resource? I know they more readily forget things, but they do not easily run out of power, they do not get out of range or hit a dead spot, and it is harder to tamper with them.

Now, if we were attacked by electromagnetic bombs (which can destroy electronic devices using high-powered microwaves) currently, we would be helpless in so many ways, but we could still drive old cars (“pre-computer cars”), because we have the skills to drive; many architects could still design a bridge, because they committed the skills they need to memory; a mechanic could fix a car because they learned how to, and not because they looks up a step by step video every time they do something. The more we commit to electronic memory, instead of committing it to our memory and using electronic merely as a “back-up,” the easier it is to render us helpless.

I was not planning on going in this direction, but my brain took me here, so off I go. Electronic memory and media is also more changeable and easier to change than “good old paper.” It saddens me and scares me a little that so many books, papers, magazines, etc. are moving purely toward the electronic. I can keep a paper copy of the Bible or history book or newspaper in my house and I would know if anyone were to tamper with it. Not only that, I can go to my friend and ask to compare my paper source to his, which, even if they were the same when they were made, are now mutually exclusive (if one changes, it does not effect the integrity of the other). Whereas millions of electronic copies can be linked to one source, can often be remotely accessed, and can be almost simultaneously changed. “Hey, didn't the ending of The Hunchback of Notre Dame used to be different?” “I'm not sure, but my e-book ends the same as yours, so I don't think so.” Just something else to think of.

Note: I am a little biased towards paper books, I like the way they feel and smell, I like that I can underline and, when a friend borrows the book, they can see my underlines. I also enjoy buying an old copy of something and seeing someone else's underlines. I have enjoyed reading a couple novels on a Kendall, and I do want to eventually get one to use when traveling, I also know e-books are better for the environment, but they are just not the same.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Your Mom's Home-cooking

As I was throwing together a meatloaf based on my Mom's vague instructions and ingredient amounts, I was composing this in my head to a male audience, so I will go ahead and write it that way. Women, feel free to read it as well.

Before you annoy your wife or girlfriend with comments about how a certain dish isn't like your mother makes it, even though she says she's following the recipe your mother gave her, here's some things you should know. Despite what some people try and say, cooking is not a science; yeah, it may kind of be when doing a fancy, highfalutin recipe, but not so when doing a recipe that is a staple, an old friend. When your mom is making her meatloaf, her spaghetti sauce, or her apple pie it is more of an art-form.

Tonight I asked my mom for her meatloaf recipe and how to make it and she proceeded to give me all the ingredients without any measurements. As she was telling me how to make it and how many eggs to use, all she said was, “If you have enough meat, use two eggs, but you don't want to use too many eggs, then it will be “eggy.” About the tomato sauce she stated, “Just put enough in to make the meat a nice pink color.” Now, I could have chosen to be frustrated with these instructions, but I cook fairly often, so I understand the vagueness and hinting at certain attributes.

When I make my flavored chocolate cupcakes of various flavors, I actually use a “lemon-lovers pound-cake” recipe as my base. If someone were to ask me for the recipe, well, I would have no idea exactly how much cocoa to tell them to use or the amount of coffee, Andes mints, mint flavoring, or whatever else I decide to use that time. If I make chili, I don't use the same amount of garlic, chili powder, or even the same amount of beans each time, but in the end it always taste like my chili. Why? Because I made it.

When my Mom makes meatloaf she adds tomato sauce until it looks right and crackers until it feels right. I add chili powder to my chili until it looks dark enough and tastes how I think it should taste. Cooking the long-used recipes is, like I said, similar to because able to recognize an old friend. You don't know exactly how tall they are or their weight to the once. Instead you know them by how they look, smell, feel, and taste. Hmm, maybe a comparison to a long-time lover would be more accurate.

So your mom may have given your wife or girlfriend the “recipe” or your dad may have told you how to make his secret barbecue sauce; but, most likely, objectively they don't know the exact amounts of all the ingredients or how long to stir it, mix it, or mold it, because how can you ever fully describe an old friend? So suck it up, let your wife make the recipe her own, or try it out for yourself and make it your own (one of the reasons I enjoy cooking is because I know I'll like what I make). And maybe one day, though it's not exactly the same, you'll discover the recipe is an old friend of yours as well.

Note: in light of my last post, with all this talking about old friends tied in with recipes, I feel I should say, please do not eat any old friends. I do not endorse that. Further note: I make it sound like the wives and girlfriends do most of the cooking, I have always cooked, so I know that is not always the case. I am sorry if I seemed to be promoting the stereotype of the woman in the kitchen. I strongly think men should be there as well, especially those who always gripe about how their love's cooking is not like their mother's. I have decided that when/if I get married, when I want something similar to my Mother's and different than my wife normally does, I will simply volunteer to cook, instead of making a big deal of it...and plan to cook lots of other times besides.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Zombies Attack America! or Why A Zombie Apocalypse Is Coming

Zombies attack America! *

Please keep in mind that this is primarily for entertainment purposes.

While I was in the shower this morning I thought about how wasteful showers are of water, which lead me to think of resources, which caused me to realize, that in the back of my mind I think our society is someday and somehow going to break down. I've been thinking for a few years that eventually I want to own land and be as self-sustaining as I can. My primary reason is simply that I don't like to be dependent, but a small part of me also whispers, “just in case.”

Just in case a virus is created which specifically targets the frontal lobe, which would take away our impulse control and much of what makes us human. Something that often occurs in warfare is a dehumanizing of an opponent, what better way to do this than to make them act little different than animals?

If you take away a human's higher brain functions, you leave them one of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet, especially if you are the stereotypical “obese American.” Also, deprived of our higher functions, I think we would largely become opportunists in in terms of our diet. So, you throw these two things together and ta-dah! The equivalent of flesh-eating zombies. In case you don't get it, the athletes would eat the, umm, husky people.

With such a potential threat to the rest of the planet residing in a country, not many would object to taking forceful action to deal with the problem, besides, the enemy is hardly human anymore anyway. So, there's the recipe for dealing with a country without causing the rest of the world to hate you and retaliate (as long as you can keep the secret of your releasing the virus).

So, stockpile your food and chose your weapons. As well as a shot gun (which I don't actually have, just so everybody knows), I'm going to keep my machete and hatchet handy (guns can malfunction and breakdown). Though, after having a discussion with the Emergency Response AmeriCorps Team I used to be a part of, we decided a small sledge hammer with an extended handle would be best (machetes and hatchets might get stuck in your opponent).

If you're stuck in a city, head to the inner city, because, though it will be more crowded, many of the shops are already fairly fortified. If you have the means, I recommend escaping to a small island with enough resources to sustain yourself, but keep in mind these zombies can probably swim.

Let's hope the virus isn't airborne and that it makes the zombies too stupid to use guns, otherwise, almost all of us are screwed. If it is airborne and you try to wear a mask, don't forget that the eyes are almost as susceptible to contagions as the mouth and nose are, so put on some goggles for good measure (or get a gas-mask).

*Note: this was written a few months ago, before the zombie-like attacks were reported in the news.