Friday, July 21, 2006

Disaster Planning - City Summit

The City of Key West began one of its occasional City Summits today at Key West High School. The topic is post-hurricane disaster planning. The City, inspired by mayor Morgan McPherson, is undertaking a major update to its disaster plan. The purpose of today's Summit was to open up a discussion "outside the box" of what it's already doing to cope with the after-effects of last year's storms, the worst of which, Wilma, flooded two-thirds of the island and caused untold damage and dislocation of many residents from their homes.

The main message of the Summit was that we have a plan that dealt reasonably well with the damage caused by hurricanes we remember, but that it is not sufficient for a truly devastating category 3, 4 or 5 storm, one that could flood or blow away most of the homes on the island. Matt Strahan of the National Weather Service's Key West office cautioned City officials not to encourage, or even consider, eliminating mandatory evacuations in the Keys and Key West. It is estimated that 80% of Key West residents did not evacuate for Wilma, which after all was only Category 1 when it passed 50 miles to the west of the island, yet it caused destruction that has taken nearly a year to clean up. Many of the FEMA trailers put into service after Wilma are still in place, two months into 2006 hurricane season. And I heard someone say that some of them aren't properly tied down even now.

The highlight of the summit so far has been presentations made by students and faculty of Texas A&M's Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning program. Thirty-five students of the school prepared plans for staging areas for relief services immediately post-hurricane, and for longer-term temporary housing areas, and a half-dozen of them came and made their presentations to the fifty or so residents and other invited guests attending the Summit. They promise to put their presentations up on the internet once they finish their work here and incorporate what they learned in todays's sessions.

The most interesting comment I heard all day was a suggestion to build hurricane shelters underground (or undersea) to accomodate up to a few-thousand people. Initial reaction to that idea raised many eyebrows and generated some scornful remarks, but a guest from out of town suggested that the idea should not be dismissed out of hand. He said that he has personal knowledge of several such facilities operated by the government that can shelter up to 3000 people for up to a month. (Here's one. Here's another.) It gives new meaning to Beneath the 12-Mile Reef.

The Summit will conclude tomorrow morning, after which the students return to College Station and update their plans based on what they heard back from local participants.

It was, all-in-all, a good day. I was asked to return tomorrow to facilitate one of the break-out groups that will be formed to work out the next steps of the planning effort.

Great Government® comes from a partnership between citizens and their representatives, and flows upwards from individuals, who must be vigilant against anything that is against the public interest. Sessions like these are one way of ensuring that they don't.


jipzeecab said...

Ivory tower consultants usually turn out to be dopes. Both "underground" facilities cited are 100's if not thousands of feet above sea level. The COST of building such a facility in Key West ( for 3000 people)including self power generating capacity would be in the $ billions.

Anonymous said...

(1) Being the principal scientist on a team of 30 top professionals in the world means I get my feet wet and my hands dirty daily. I sit in no ivory tower and our projects are built by our clients daily.
(2) I know that I specifically stated that there are several underground facilities for all types of uses that work. Not all are military, and I know no one on my team would indicate a location of such a facility. This is well known work in the UNC world that is used for sheltering.
(3) Justify your cost estimates. I would be surprised is they exceeded $100 million -- certainly not billions.

Finally there are only two viable solutions for sheltering in place. Build a sea wall around geo-domes or go underground.

Chet Uber
Principal Scientist
SecurityPosture, Inc.

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