By Walter Siegmund (talk) - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

By Walter Siegmund (talk) – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

I’ve written before about emergency response and preparation here.  But there was one aspect of emergency response and preparation that I neglected to mention – luck.

I bring this up because in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, some Texas politicians are calling for people to NOT donate to the American Red Cross as the result of one shelter not being used because flood waters prevented it and another shelter had only 200 beds but 2,000 people came to it.  Now the American Red Cross is pretty much the gold standard for disaster preparedness.  Their website has a great primer on the subject complete with checklists – you won’t go wrong following their advice.

So, what went wrong?  Who’s at fault for these problems?  Won’t it be lovely if we could pinpoint the person who made the mistake and crucify them – think of the emotional release it would give!

But the truth of the matter is that no one is to blame – emergency preparedness is a crapshoot.  It’s always a crapshoot because you never know precisely what’s going to happen.  Think back for a moment – who predicted before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston that the hurricane would stall and just keep dumping rain on the city?  Sure, there was going to be a lot of rain – but 50 inches!  It’s what’s called a 500- or 1,000-year event.  Based on past experience, you won’t expect to see that much rain but once in 500 to 1,000 years in Houston, if you’re lucky.  The particular shelters and those who wanted to use them were just unlucky.

In other words, you don’t expect it to happen.  So, you don’t plan on it happening.  More on that in a moment.

Overall, the American Red Cross has done a great job, to quote a Red Cross spokeswoman, “We’ve had 1,500 people on the ground, we’ve served over 700,000 meals and snacks, we’ve sheltered 40,000 people. I know the plan was there. The process has worked very well.”

So, there’s no reason not to donate to the American Red Cross.

Now, back to not planning on it happening.  My son and his family in Puyallup, WA.  It’s far enough out of Seattle for housing to be affordable without an unreasonable commute for my son.  But there’s one consideration that, frankly, no one really worries about – Mt. Rainier.  It dominates the skyline and provides plenty of opportunities for beautiful pictures.  But it’s a volcano.  A quiet volcano, but posted all over Puyallup are signs directing you to evacuation routes in the case of Mt. Rainier erupting.  Because Mt. Rainier is likely to erupt again.  And when it does, my son and his family will have approximately 20 minutes to flee before their house would be buried in mud and ash.  (The snow on Mt. Rainier would likely melt and cause massive mudslides in the case of an eruption, not to mention the pyroclastic flows like it’s sister Mount St. Helens.)

It’s likely to occur.  The problem is pinpointing when it will occur.  There’s no indication of it being soon.

Perhaps, my son and his family will be lucky and Mt. Rainier will not blow its top within their lifetimes.  They’re planning on it not doing so.

It all depends on luck.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.