Coping with Irene

I’ve spent much of the day working at the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as a volunteer.  The EOC normally looks like a very large conference room, but when something bad happens, they plug in a gazillion more phones and arrange the tables according to Incident Management functions.  We radio operators use an office just outside the EOC. This works well because trying to hear a noisy transmission over a lot of background noise is almost impossible.

The storm so far has been less fierce than feared, although you might not catch this from the news coverage. The third string of meteorologists and news readers are breathlessly reporting the conditions in terms far more exciting than what I’m actually seeing. The requisite camera crew has “the talent” (the person who gets the speaking part) standing out in the rain and imitating a mime performing “walking against the wind.”  I’ve never quite figured this tradition out. Maybe it’s like a pagan sacrifice only instead of throwing someone into the volcano, one person has to get wet and windblown to appease the storm gods. Or it just could
be that some people will do anything to be seen on television.

At this time the center of the hurricane has just passed us. The actual eye looks to be just out in the Atlantic, but this is a good way to guestimate when things are going to wind down. However, there may be one major exception. High tide occurs in about 20 minutes with the winds coming from the northeast toward Chesapeake Bay. All the rain we’ve had is trying to run east through the streams and rivers into the Chesapeake Bay and the ground is saturated. We now have the tide pushing more water in and preventing the rainwater from going out. Add the wind which will push additional water back up the rivers and there could be significant flooding. If so, people will forced to seek high ground
and many will need to make their way to the shelters set up in area schools.

The role we hams have in all this is to provide communications between the EOC and the shelters if telephone communications break down. Several of the shelters have lost power and with it their regular telephones, but for the most part we’re
playing a supporting role. That’s okay with me since I’ve had my fill of slogging through the scene of the disaster. Besides, supporting roles are the ones that go to the character actors who seem to have more fun than the leading men and women. Even better, character actors don’t show up in the “Before” and “After” articles for losing their looks when they got older.

Since I was able to connect with the internet, I thought I’d relate what it’s like to serve in a supporting role during a hurricane. In a nutshell, it’s kind of like being at work. Everyone is overworked – one of our operators has been on site for over 24 hours; underpaid – what do you expect, we’re volunteers; and under-appreciated. Somehow when people are watching everything they own blow or float away, they tend not to be effusive in their praise.

However, the people involved want to make their contribution, however small, toward helping out.

 

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