And I feel a storm, all wet and warm, not ten miles away. . .
We Floridian’s are a hardy bunch – and those of us who have been here awhile understand the annual anxieties of living in the National Hurricane Center’s “Cone of Confusion.”
During my productive life, the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association bestowed the Professional Emergency Manager designation on me. It was a point of pride – a wonderful accomplishment for this uneducated bumpkin – and required years of preparation, study, and the accumulation of hard-earned practical experience to achieve.
In addition to my duties as Chief of Police for the City of Holly Hill, I had ancillary responsibilities as the city’s Emergency Management Coordinator. When I retired, I was honored to remain as a reserve police officer, assisting with emergency management logistics and operations during storms until I hung-up my spurs for good last year.
During my long career, I was witness to natures wrath from inside numerous Emergency Operations Centers and Command Posts – including Hurricane Andrew, numerous tropical storms, the “Florida Fire Storms,” the 2004 Florida Hurricane Season, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, historic Halifax area flooding in 2009, the drenching scrape of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and others long forgotten.
No matter how much you learn about mitigation efforts, best practices, and the disaster recovery cycle, I have always stood in utter awe of the incredible power and cruel efficiency of these extreme weather systems – and their ability to bring out the best, and worst, in all of us.
There are a lot of things that divide us here on the Fun Coast – and sometimes, Volusia County takes on the appearance of a weird caste system.
But Mother Nature is the great equalizer.
She doesn’t give a Tinker’s damn who we are or the size of our bank account.
The awesome power of nature’s magnificently efficient processes serves the earth – not us – yet our very survival depends upon them.
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 safety nets that allow us to build homes and pursue our livelihoods where we probably shouldn’t – and to repeatedly rebuild them in the same vulnerable places – the power of nature can be difficult to comprehend when we’re face-to-face with it.
As I write this, Hurricane Ian – with its ferocious winds and torrential rains – has just become a 140-mph Category 4 major storm and is bearing down on Florida’s west coast. Our not-so-perfect forecasting models say will be paying us a visit here on the Fun Coast tonight and tomorrow.
With Florida’s property-insurance industry in shambles – with a sixth insurer recently declared insolvent – this is the last thing we need. . .
Remember what Rabbie Burns said about “…the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men”?
As a relatively quiet Hurricane Season roars back with a vengeance, mice and men are actively preparing to ‘hunker down,’ clearing store shelves as our 24/7 media fans the flames of fear and speculation – shamelessly working worried viewers into a frenzy, as everything from toilet paper to bottled water becomes scarce.
They use terms like ‘catastrophic,’ ‘total devastation,’ and ‘generational storm,’ then panic buying ensues at the Big Box stores of their advertisers – almost as if that’s the plan. . .
The fact is all we really need is a sound plan and a common-sense willingness to evacuate if asked and get out of harm’s way. In the aftermath, practice commonsense generator safety – avoid standing water and downed powerlines – and take caution using chainsaws and power tools, because the deadliest part of a hurricane is after the storm passes. . .
That planning includes the ability to self-sustain our family for at least three-days with non-perishable food and one gallon of water per person, per day – along with adequate prescription medications, personal comfort items, and hygiene products.
A pallet of Charmin Ultra is not necessary.
In the aftermath of devastating floods that left much of central Appalachia underwater earlier this year – with its heartbreaking scenes of the very young, the very old, and pets who suffer the consequences of these catastrophes most – raging fires in the west, and now the impacts of Ian across Central Florida – I’ve heard some ask why God would allow this trepidation, destruction, and suffering?
The answer is – I don’t know.
What I do know is that humans are 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 – yet we still need the essential elements, clean water, 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, pave over our greenspaces, and pollute our only environment like a foul bird shitting in its own nest.
Meteorologists tell us that hurricanes are the earth’s air conditioner – very capably transporting 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, 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 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 a career where you typically see people on the worst day of their life, I learned that under the worst of conditions – when we are tired, scared, wet, and hungry – when we collectively breakdown the social barriers and realize that we are all in this together – that our inherent goodness shines brightest.
I have seen the incredible power and resilience of the human spirit under difficult circumstances – and I am very proud to see the way effected communities are responding to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
In my view, Volusia County Emergency Management has done an outstanding job of keeping residents updated – and it was heartening to see sitting officials and candidates of elected office helping citizens fill sandbags and sharing preparation information on social media.
I think that’s what it’s all about.
let’s take this opportunity to show compassion and kindness, to help our neighbors and the less fortunate prepare for what comes next and recover when the storm has safely moved away.
Look, I complain a lot about politics – but trust me – our local, county, state, and federal government officials are experienced and well-equipped to deal with the planning, response, and recovery of any eventuality.
Let’s quibble over our myriad differences later.
Now is the time for what Lincoln called, “…the better angels of our nature.”
Courage, unity, compassion, and generosity of spirit.
Hunker down and stay safe, y’all.
Find up-to-date information on Hurricane Ian from Volusia County Emergency Management here: https://tinyurl.com/bdd3f4kd
(Barker’s View will return next week!)