The Anniversary of Hurricane Ike came and went without much fanfare.
I still remember how the water felt as I slogged down 16th street heading into the biting wind. How the grit had gotten in my water shoes and how saturated my skin felt after several hours in and out of the grimy water. The fear in my stomach as a transformer blew close by. Wondering if the electricity could travel through the water to me. Trying to breathe and see through the thick smoke coming off of the huge fire burning at the Yacht Basin.
It seems like yesterday I felt the tiny boy’s hand in mine as I held on to he and his sister while walking chest deep in the grime next to their mom and pulling a rescue board piled with another sibling and a few belongings that they begged to bring along. Bringing them to high ground at Broadway and piling them into a waiting police car that would take them to the emergency shelter at Ball High school. Taking a moment to watch them drive off and grab an energy bar before heading to the next group a few blocks away.
Those of us that went through Hurricane Ike have memories like this etched into us that probably will never leave. Unfortunately, as time slips by, that institutional memory fades. Only two city department heads were in the same role when Ike hit. But it’s encouraging how much better prepared each group is now as a result of lessons learned. Charlie Kelly, who recently passed, was the Director of the Emergency Operations for Galveston for many years. He once mentioned his fear that all the event memory would be lost as people who went through the storm moved on. Fortunately, proactive planning, if done correctly, can put systems in that compensate for lack of personal experience. And its good to have a system that doesn’t depend on individual personalities or experience. After 9-11 the National Incident Management System was integrated throughout the nation’s emergency services. And locally, each group’s emergency action plan is much more comprehensive than what we had before. We recently revised the Park Board’s Emergency Action Plan and I intentionally tried to think of how it could be improved so that it didn’t rely on any one person’s experience. Last week all the Chiefs of the various public safety agencies met at the Emergency Operations Center to plan a table top exercise for a worst case scenario during biker weekend.
In lifeguard training we talk a lot about eliminating variables that can mess you up during a rescue by practicing them so much your body remembers even if your brain doesn’t. If you practice and internalize all the things you can control in advance, you are better able to handle the inevitable wrinkles that arise. This applies to systems as well as individuals. It works for hurricanes and manmade disasters. And it works for you and your family as well.