Winter Storm: Lessons Learned

A couple weeks ago I put up a post about having a “get home” bag.  That post was initiated by a “risk” of winter weather — it got cold, nary a drop of anything fell from the sky.

Well, today there would be falling of drops — or flakes as it were — and a-falling they have been since about 11 am (its nearing 8pm now).    Before any of you from states that actually experience true winter weather start to make fun of the south and how we freak out about stuff, imagine what would happen if say Minnesota experienced a month of 100 degree weather with 98 percent humidity.  They would freak out.  I’m not talking about the true severity of the weather in this instance — what is more important is lack of preparedness and reaction to an “unexpected” event.

Normally, I work about 16 miles from home.  There is an interstate, 2 major direct thoroughfares, and countless combinations of side streets that could get me home.  In addition, there are 2 significant geographic landmarks that i could follow from my office, and navigate directly home in light or darkness.  Both offering fair concealment be it necessary.

Well today, I was working at the State Capitol–some 40 miles away.

About 11 am snowflakes began to fall.  By Noon the Governor had announced the closing the building, local businesses were closing by 1pm, and by 3 I was in my car (fortunately by this point the parking garage had cleared as several of my co-workers sat in the garage for hours waiting to get on the road).

So here are my key observations:

1) Roads both surface streets and interstates were JAMMED — unless you can find less-known cut-troughs.

While it took me 30 minutes to drive the first block, but after 10 more minutes after 2 turns, I had probably covered 5 to 8 miles without seeing 10 more cars. Traffic reports weren’t helping, I didn’t have a GPS to help, and my Map wasn’t detailed enough to show me these routes.  I called someone who had access to google maps and confirmed which routes would be best to get me where I wanted to go, but basically I just took routes that sent me north and east — which of course necessitated awareness of which way was north.

2) There ain’t no po-lice when things go crazy. And crazy doesn’t mean a riot.

When the streets are jammed, cops can’t get through. Ambulances cannot get through. Wreckers cannot clear roads.  How well prepared are you for this? I drove through some sketchy neighborhoods today that I normally would avoid.  I knew what was going to keep me safe, even if I had to ditch the car and walk — and it wasn’t the police.

3) Communication starts to crap-out.

Verizon publicly announced they were having outages due to nearly 3-times their normal call volume.  In addition, my cell phone battery was dying(NOT a verizon phone, I left the big 4 providers a few months ago and now use a $10/month unlimited talk and text plan).   I had a car charger to fix my problem, but what if I didnt.  Or what if cell service got overloaded and went down?  Then my route home (confirmed through cell phone) wouldn’t have been so smooth and I may still be sitting out there in traffic.

4) Plan B, C and D

Before I was in my car to head home I knew 3 spots along my anticipated route that if things turned bad (roads froze over).  Each of the spots I was fully prepared and equipped to ditch the car, grab the go-bag and hoof-it if necessary.

I assure you, people in my town were freaking out today.  A couple inches of snow totally flipped the world upside down — my sister as I write is still stranded at the school she teaches at WITH THE STUDENTS!!!

The cause could have been anything, it is the reaction that I want to focus your attention on.  If an entire Metro-area hits the road at the same time, no one is going anywhere, Police will be worthless, communication will falter.   If main routes of transportation, cell phones, GPS access — any number of things — go out what will happen?  Things can — and some day will — go badly.  There are systems that we have learned to rely upon each day, if we don’t know what they are and how we use them we may get surprised one day when they quit working.

Just some food for thought.

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