Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Northridge Earthquake Pt. III

At some point the second day after the quake, my relief arrived at the San Fernando shelter, and I went home.

Travelling now in daylight, I could take my time and appreciate the sort of damage suffered. For miles along suburban boulevards, every brick wall was flat on the ground. Call it God's Greatest Falling Domino Trick.

At CalState Northridge, they'd recently put up a multilevel student parking structure. All 3 levels had been pushed over, despite 4'x4' steel reinforced columns, as if Godzilla had just decided it was in the way. And of course, there was no water or power anywhere within 15 miles in any direction, and no one knew whether any of the freeway overpasses were structurally sound. Entire 50' sections at an interchange north of the Valley had simply fallen to earth, in one instance stranding a trucker and his semi, a lady in a Toyota, and a elderly couple in an RV 80' up in the air on an intact section of transition crossover, until a day or two later when they were all helilifted off it. At a nearby mall, the guy cleaning the parking lot at 4AM was buried under rubble for a day or so while the LAFD worked to cut him out of his cocoon of concrete.

Lesson Ten:
If this had hit at noon, the death toll would have been in the thousands, not the dozens.

I don't recall where I slept, or if I did, the first couple of days. Adrenaline and aftershocks were a perpetual motion machine making a decent sleep period more of a theoretical thing than an actual accomplishment. At any rate, I came back to volunteer HQ after managing some kind of rest period. Those trying to keep things organized had set up cots in our office cubbyhole at Red Cross HQ. The biggest issue early on was trying to staff locations, and taking people who were in the midst of dealing with the crisis themselves, and making it work. Eventually, we re-invented the wheel, and went to 12-hour shifts, thus introducing some predictability into the chaos, and helping both the supervisors and the supervised deal with things easier. I highly recommend a similar arrangement for future reference.

Lesson Eleven:
Go to an AM/PM shift system ASAP, at 6, 7, or 8AM/PM. It's worked at hospitals for decades, and it makes it simple to plan, while maximizing your people and minimizing travel and staffing needs. Just do it.

I bounced around over the next few days, mainly becoming a utility person to fill in wherever there were holes.

The second day found me at a newly opened shelter in a local HS gymnasium (classes were cancelled indefinitely with no power and water, so the space was available). Whereupon I watched catastrophe meet miracle in about an hour. The catastrophe was some douchebag elder care facility driving their entire residence roster, some 40 old folks, in a few vans, and basically abandoning them all at the shelter and driving off. And these weren't minimal care people, these were some sick gents and ladies. It was one of the most egregious cases I've ever seen of abandonment of care, and I'm sure only one of many. And then the miracle happened. I had been sent two LOLNs (Little Old Lady Nurses.)  Florence and Clara were quite possibly serving on active nursing duties as far back as the Depression, if not WWI. So while I was on a phone to HQ advising them of the recent patient dump, my two RNs from long before I was born were inside taking care of business. I got back inside wondering how we were going to take over care for 40 really old and sick folks in the midst of a public shelter. Then when I walked inside, I found that in about half an hour, Clara had gotten everyone settled into their new "ward", literally.

She'd put all the men on one side of the gym, in alphabetical order, and done the same with the women on the other side. Like she did this stuff everyday.

Meanwhile Florence had collected the forty patient charts the facility had dumped on us along with the patients, and organized them in her new nursing station. Then she'd taken all the boxes of med bottles for all 40 folks, organized them by patient into brown paper lunch sacks, written names on the outside, and written medication administration times on every sack.

Neither of these ladies was a day under 65, and while my back was turned, they built a (probably) better organized hospital in 30 minutes than the one the patients had come from, while I was outside clucking and flapping on the phone. I called HQ back, and called off the alarm, and reported that these two ladies needed me like a car needed a fifth wheel.

Lesson Twelve:
One competent retiree nurse (or other professional) is worth 50 of anything else.

I went back to HQ, and coordinated divying up supplies for the shelters, pending the next fire we needed to stomp out.

By this point, McDonald's and Taco Bell had dropped mobile restaurant trailers in the parking lot, and besides feeding the staff and radio contingent, we were loading up XXX lunches/dinners to cart off to people at the shelters all over the area. In addition, there was a small mountain of bottled water. Also, the local breweries outside the affected area had suspended alcohol bottling, and transitioned to canning drinking water. Eventually, the local Bud brewery dd the same once they got power and water back. One of my friend's treasured souvenirs is a six pack of Budweiser cans with pure water inside. Eventually, they switched to a paint scheme that clearly identified the contents as drinking water. As it was, I could have taken all I could carry, but instead managed to get by with the simple expedient of always having at least a 1L bottle of water in a cargo pocket at all times. It was my "urban canteen" for the first week. Water and food for people was so not an issue that it really didn't come up at all.

Lesson Thirteen:
Food and water may be as well-handled, or it may not. Make your own provision, and you won't be waiting on a handout (that may or ma not arrive) come the day. A simple bottle of Potable Aqua iodine tablets, or keeping a Katadyn filter in your car, could be the difference between surviving comfortably, or not surviving at all.

The next night, I was assigned to yet another shelter, this one supposedly short-handed. When I arrived, it turned out that they'd acquired several folks, and things were under control. Meanwhile, three days after the earthquake, FEMA made their appearance.

A semi-trailer full of brand new military folding cots backed up to a local park, and they dumped 500 of them in the park. Note that they didn't deliver them, nor attempt to contact anyone anywhere to see if there was actually any shelter nearby that needed them.

They simply followed their idiotic orders, and dumped 500 cots where there was no shelter, in the middle of a park, and then drove away.

Homeless people could be seen with 3 and 4 FEMA cots in their stolen shopping carts for days afterwards, and the pile of federal "aid" was gone in a matter of hours.

Lesson Fourteen:
Follow the teachings of Ronald Reagan: The most feared sentence in the English language is "We're from the government, and we're here to help."
This was the only sighting of anything resembling FEMA for the entire first week after the quake. Thank God. That probably kept casualties down, especially among the government workers.

to be continued...

1 comment:

RandyGC said...

Unfortunately, your experience of the care facility dumping at the shelter is not unique. Happened here in the aftermath of an Ice Storm.

The lesson I learned was that you can't assume that day to day care givers will have the sense of responsibility and duty to maintain their role during an emergency and you need to be prepared to handle that when it happens.

Excellent series!