Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guest Post: Tornado response

Today we have a guest post from a friend who was one of the first people to respond to the aftermath of the F5 tornado that hit Moore, OK  almost a year ago. The debris was still falling out of the sky as his ambulance came over the hill into the town and he spent the next four days shuttling injured people to various hospitals in the area.

So you think you're in the clear now that you survived your disaster? That, unfortunately, is not the case at all.

After being on an ambulance crew for four days during and after the May 2013 tornadoes in Oklahoma, I learned quite a bit about what happens after a disaster. Surviving the actual tornado, or hell, any major disaster is a no-brainer, that's a basic part of prepping. The things that happen in the following hours, days, weeks, and months are also things we need to be worried about.

The actual tornado did a lot of damage but the things that were dangerous afterwards are what hurt a lot of people. When you have open gas lines, sharp debris, unstable structures, overhanging power lines, etc. you need to have your wits about you. This is not the time to get hurt physically because you are not paying attention. We literally had cases of people walking into traffic. Not because they were suicidal or anything, it was simply because they needed to get from point A to point B and they didn't think about looking both ways when crossing the street.

Psychological shock was a huge problem. If you're not physically injured, that does not mean you are not psychologically injured. The reasons are obvious now, but we did see a lot of it. Your struggle has just begun, you need to have your head in the right place and make the right decisions. The decisions you make in the first 12 hours will stay with you for months or even years. You need to take however long you need to take to get your head back in the game. Be aware that others around you are probably in shock, too. They will not be thinking straight, and may put you in danger by their actions.

One major thing that you have to realize is that communications will be down in the immediate aftermath of a disaster like this. Our ambulance had zero ability to communicate with our dispatch and through them, the rest of the world. Zero. We were literally on our own. Radio did not work, cell phones did not work, texting didn't work. The only thing that did work was email and that was only if we were lucky and in the right spot. Something to keep in mind while setting up your preparations.

So. Your house has been hit. You need to make a decision, do I stay or leave?

When and if you decide to leave, you should know that you are not going to be able to come back for quite a long time. You're going to have to know where you are going to go. Grab what is close to your heart and irreplaceable. Hopefully it is small enough to walk with because the roads will be full of debris and people. Your car may not even be in the same county after a tornado, if it survives in drivable condition. The hardest part will be leaving things behind. Remember, that is what insurance is for.
Also note that hotels will spike the prices on you. Unfortunately, after a disaster is when the opportunistic scum of the earth come out of the woodwork.
Don't rely on hotels, motels, or extended stay hotels as a permanent solution. There were many cases of actual storm survivors being kicked out to make room for contractors/utility workers that were coming in from out of state to help with the rebuilding.
Depending on how long it takes for city workers and emergency workers to do their jobs, you may be out of your house for weeks, even months. Reason being is because they will say the neighborhood is unsafe with the power lines, water lines, and gas lines being broken. They will not allow anyone back into the neighborhood until the workers have done their jobs unhindered from civilians getting in the way. That does not mean that the scum sucking parasitic thieves will not go into the neighborhood under the cover of darkness and steal from your home that is now wide open.
Please, have a plan in place for where you can go in case something bad happens. Some place for you and your family to stay for a long time until you get back on your feet. Family, friends, co-workers- this is a good reason why having a network of people you can rely on is important.

In a later article, I'll talk in more detail about the people who stayed in their homes. That was a nightmare for everyone. The stories I heard from the people that refused to leave their homes were of nightly police foot pursuits for thieves. No power and no light emboldened the thieves. It was a big problem for police and unfortunately a lot of peoples' personal belongings were stolen from their storm-damaged homes. That is the reality that you will have to deal with when you make the decision to leave your home. By storm or by man, more than likely you will lose a lot of possessions if not everything. Again, good insurance is a must.

Always remember that people will try to scam you. From insurance adjusters to contractors, it seemed like everybody was trying to screw somebody. Don't get me wrong, there were some good people out there that wanted to help (I still thank the local pizza company that fed us for days) but the good ones were outnumbered by the bad one. So beware. Best advice would be to look around for local contractors now. Roofing people, foundation people, tree removal companies, etc., and have those be your go-to people. After the disaster is not the time to try and find them. They will be a little busy. It doesn't matter that your home is brand new right now, do your research and get the contact information, you will need it later. Yes, insurance does pay eventually, but they do not do the legwork for you to find the people needed to do the work.

Remember the most important things. You are in the middle of a disaster. Just because the tornado is gone doesn't mean that the disaster is over. You have to rely on yourself. You also need to be able to take care of yourself. Emergency crews will not be able to take care of the minor injuries that you would normally call an ambulance for. The ambulance crews and other emergency workers are looking for people who are trapped and badly wounded. A twisted ankle or a broken wrist is on the bottom of the totem pole.

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