There are a lot of things that divide us here on the Fun Coast. Sometimes, Volusia County takes on the appearance of a weird caste system.
But Mother Nature is the great equalizer.
She doesn’t care who or what we are.
The awesome power of her magnificently efficient systems and natural processes serve the earth – not us – yet our very survival depends upon them.
We have merely learned to adapt through highly developed symbiotic relationships, based on a well-evolved sense of self-preservation and species-proliferation.
Periodically, nature reminds us in the most extraordinary way that there are some things our “advanced” intellect simply cannot control.
Even though we’ve developed sophisticated insurance and financial systems that allow us to build our homes and sources of income where we probably shouldn’t – and to rebuild and replace them when we are invariably caught out – the power of nature can be difficult to comprehend when we’re face-to-face with it.
As I write this, Hurricane Irma – a Category 5 monster with ferocious winds in excess of 180-mph and torrential rains – is bearing down on the State of Florida.
At this stage, neither man nor beast is safe, and we are all actively preparing to support and sustain ourselves in the increasing likelihood that Irma pays us an unwelcome visit early next week.
Mice and men are actively preparing to ‘hunker down,’ or get the hell out of Dodge, equally vulnerable to the fury of this massive whirling buzz-saw.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the devastating floods that have left much of southeast Texas underwater – with its heartbreaking scenes of the very young, and the very old, who suffer the consequences of these catastrophes the most – raging fires in the west, and now the most powerful storm ever recorded roaring across the Atlantic Ocean – I’ve heard some ask why God would allow this suffering and trepidation.
The answer is – I don’t know.
What I do know is that we strange little creatures – odd sentient beings that have harnessed many natural powers, developed complex civilizations, split the atom and even transported ourselves to other planets – still need the essential elements, seasonal changes and temperate air to survive.
Look, I’m not an overly religious sort, but even a sinner like me can see that a power greater than all of us has developed a wonderful natural order – systems and patterns that constantly supply us with the fundamentals necessary to sustain and propagate life on Earth – despite our strange desire to kill one another with mindless efficiency and pollute our only environment like a foul bird shitting repeatedly in its own nest.
Meteorologists tell us that hurricanes are the earth’s air conditioner. They very capably transport warm air from the mid-latitudes to the colder polar regions.
They also serve to move warmth from the lower-levels of the atmosphere vertically; conducting solar heat from the surface to the top of the troposphere, thus mixing the atmosphere and ensuring a temperate balance and climate.
This natural quest for global horizontal and vertical thermal equilibrium requires a powerful force to transport all that latent heat produced by the Sun – and that is the exact purpose of these monster storms.
We just happen to get in the way sometimes.
According to scientists, hurricanes also oxygenate seawater, help replenish barrier islands and deposit a huge amount of quantifiable energy into other parts of the globe.
While we can measure it, the purpose of this energy exchange isn’t fully understood.
I suspect it has something to do with Mother Nature’s constant search for balance.
During my law enforcement career, I was witness to natures wrath on several occasions– including Hurricane Andrew, numerous tropical storms, the “Florida Fire Storms,” the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and our local historic flooding of 2009.
I received advanced training from FEMA, attended the National Emergency Management Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and received the Florida Professional Emergency Manager designation.
But no matter how much you study, experience and learn about the process, best practices and protection measures, I have always stood in utter awe at the incredible power and seemingly cruel efficiency of these extreme weather systems – and their ability to bring out the best, and worst, in all of us.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I was a young patrol sergeant who was sent to Miami-Dade County to supervise a group of experienced law enforcement officers in support of recovery efforts.
We were billeted on the beautiful campus of Barry University in Miami Shores, where the Dominican nuns took outstanding care of their increasingly scruffy and grumpy charges.
My unit was assigned to the challenged Liberty City area of northern Dade County, working 6pm-to-6am conducting preventive patrols and loosely enforcing the countywide curfew that had been put into effect to limit looting in the more heavily affected areas to the south.
I saw the best of humanity. I also saw the depth of man’s inhumanity as well.
Over the time we were there, people from all over the country contributed tons of food, water, clothing and other materials. It happens following every disaster, and managing the literal flood of supplies is a science unto itself.
In fact, there was such an overwhelming flow of consumables and donated items that we were quickly running out of space at the police substation where we were based.
My partner, a crusty old Metro-Dade sergeant who had been assigned to a desk in the Criminal Investigations Division after being shot and seriously wounded in the line of duty, quickly organized our two-man effort to feed and support the large homeless population in our area of operations.
We quickly emptied a closet – an entire storage room – that was stacked full of donated pizzas – loading them into the trunk of our tattered Dodge Diplomat patrol car and set up an impromptu feeding station at a Florida East-Coast Railroad freight yard.
We did this night-after-night, sustaining the dazed, confused, mentally ill and down-on-their-luck alcoholics and addicts – the walking wounded, the people of the night, some wearing little more than rags.
We also fed people from the neighborhood, some who had exhausted their preparedness supplies or had been displaced by damage to their homes and had no where else to go.
There were no social or economic separation – we were all just people trying hard to help one another survive during extraordinary circumstances.
We simply embraced the challenge and did our best to keep smiling.
Some of our fellow officers laughed at us – and my commanding officer with Metro-Dade warned that I would be required to take these “lumpers” home with me if I kept feeding them – but we kept on supplying what we had until a more organized and sustainable support system was up and running.
We did this in between calls-for-service – handling everything from homicides, suicides, sexual batteries and domestic fights. The good, the bad and the ugly of everyday policing in what the Miami Herald later described as a “War Zone.”
I learned that under the worst of conditions – when you’re tired, scared, wet and hungry – when you finally break the mental and social barriers and realize that we are all in this together – that the inherent goodness of men and women shines brightest.
As we prepare for what may well be the catastrophic impact of the most powerful storm in recorded history – let’s take this unique opportunity to show compassion and kindness, to help our neighbors and the less fortunate prepare, and, if necessary, to get safely out of harm’s way.
I have seen the incredible power and resilience of the human spirit under difficult circumstances – and I am very proud to see the incredible way our community is responding to this collective threat.
Look, I complain a lot about politics – but trust me – our local, county and state government officials, and first responders at all levels, are extremely experienced and incredibly well-equipped to deal with the planning, response and recovery phases of this emergency.
Let’s quibble over our differences later. Now is the time for unity – and generosity.
Please continue to follow the directives of our local and state emergency management officials – and, most of all – please help one another.
And keep smiling. It helps more than you realize.
May God bless and keep each of you safe as we face the unknown together.