“How can I best help the ___ disaster?”

I’m seeing a bunch of posts here and elsewhere about donations to Texas.  Let me offer you my perspective.  Right now, I’m in the Harris County EOC.

Unsolicited donations take a huge amount of resources to receive, sort, and distribute.  The priority now is life-saving and life-sustaining.  All resources (people, stuff and money) need to focus in this direction … and also to a longer view of helping people recover to a new normal which may take weeks or months for most, and never for others.

Organizations purchase the primary disaster supplies in advance of a disaster.  A good size chunk of the monetary donations will be used to replenish stock for the next disaster.  They’re all emptying their warehouses.  A lot on faith that the American public will donate.

Pick your favorite charity.  Examples: American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Convention, Save the Children … many more are listed at https://www.nvoad.org

See what they’re asking for.  A lot ask for money because that is what helps things move.  Money fuels the trucks, pay for transport and distribution.  Even volunteers aren’t free; they need to eat and sleep too which takes money.  Money is also given directly to survivors.  It replaces prescriptions, purchases medical equipment, and other supplies to help drive survivors’ recovery.

Not certain you believe what charities post on their website?  Go visit https://www.charitynavigator.org

They’re widely accepted as a neutral and reliable third-party rating of charities.

While I’m here…. the new cycle.  Many people are working very hard on this (and every) disaster response.  During the disaster and at the start of the response, the news is everyone friend.  The dramatic rescues and visuals are good for ratings.  But that wears off in about a week.  Then the news media turns on the responders.  Shouldn’t you have been more ready?  Why didn’t you do ___?  Everyone knew that Texas would get record setting rain sometime, right?  Why did you evacuate the tourists and ruin their vacations?  Why didn’t you evacuate the residents?

Everyone is talking about Houston.  There are many communities in Texas suffering that don’t make the news.

Want to know what rivers are flooding?  https://waterwatch.usgs.gov

Want to know how much rain will fall?  http://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/qpf/day1-7.shtml

Want to know where the storm will hit?  http://www.spc.noaa.gov and http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

Want to know where the winds are?  https://www.windy.com/

Social media doesn’t help either.  You’ll see an email or post somewhere claiming some blown out of context tragedy, and passionately click the forward button without checking it.  Please pause and verify against multiple trustworthy sources.  The airport didn’t flood so bad that planes were underwater (despite the photo you’ve seen).  I’m waiting for the obligatory shark swimming past house photo we see at every flood.


What do I think a person can do to help?

  1. Support your favorite charity with either your money or time. And keep doing it after this disaster ends.
  2. Test your smoke alarm. Home fires are still the leading disaster that kills people.  If it were a single event, you’d be outraged at the deaths.
  3. Get to know your neighbors. The single biggest indicator of the resilience/recovery of a community is how well people knew each other before the disaster.  Income, location, demographics and other factors don’t matter.


Thank you for reading this far.

ICS Humor

A group of ICS folks are sitting in a room.  The room is hot and they’re sweating.  The planners look for someone to measure just how hot the room is getting.  The finance admin person starts to wonder how much is paid to the A/C contractor to maintain the system.

Meanwhile, the log person sets up a fan to cool the room.

As the room cools, the ops chief thanks everyone for coming together to solve the problem.

Mark’s Gospel and Social Media

There is a chasm growing between points of view.  People are being told that perspective is a binary decision: you can only be one or the other, nothing in between.  That is quickly followed by don’t trust the other side, they will deceive you and fill you with bad information.

I happen to be reading Mark’s Gospel and ran across Mark 7:15-23.

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

The relevance for today struck me like a hammer — granted Mark was writing about food and I’m thinking social media.  People (including myself) need to be open to new information, perspectives and opinions.  Listening to someone you disagree with doesn’t defile you.  It really expands your perspective which can open your heart and mind.  The more you understand about another person, the more likely you are to find a common solution.  And the less likely you are to see them as an enemy.

Don’t be afraid of new information.  Use your resources to gather information, weigh it for validity, and think for yourself.  This goes for both information you strongly agree with and information that makes you really angry.  Verify it as those listening to you will think it comes from your heart.

Moral Courage

Martin Luther King famously said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” It is great to imagine the US population whipped into a fury of loud voices to push back. This is not the starting point.

The start is the moral courage to shift the conversations around us. The start is the each person defining the moral line in the sand they will not cross — before they unwittingly cross it.

“…But it’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me” sings Garth Brooks in The Change. This is where each person starts: putting their feet down firmly to stand for something.

I challenge you to stand where you are.
I challenge you to find your own morality and ethics.
I challenge you to shift the conversations around you through dialog that opens perspectives — not berates people on their own perspective and belief.

We need to close this chasm where it isn’t enough that one side wins, the other side must lose too. We need to find a way to dialogue to an agreeable solution.

Will everyone be perfectly content? No.
Will we get through this? Yes, together.

Never Surrender the Science

“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” –Wikipedia

Science stands regardless of your personal belief.  Science stands apart from personal preference, politics, culture, language, and many other subjective matters.  When I say “science”, I mean good quality, peer-reviewed science.  Science that can be recreated.

Do not let others steal your science.  If you agree, feel free to take this art and use it.

And the original Adobe Illustrator file to customize it to your needs.




The sound of the sun

This morning, I was laying in bed thinking about the sound the sun makes.  Do you know that nobody has heard the sun?  Sound waves need matter to propagate and space is a vacuum.  If sound could travel in a vacuum, would the sun make enough noise that we could hear it?

Light gets from the Sun to the Earth in 8.4 minutes.

Sound would 14 years to make the same trip assuming sea level atmosphere all the way to the sun.  However, add an iron rod between the Earth to the Sun, and noise would only take 343 days to make the trip because iron carries sound nearly 15 times faster than air.


The numbers in this calculation…

  • Speed of Light: 299,792,458 meters/second
  • Speed of Sound: 343 m/s
  • Speed of Sound in Iron: 5,130 m/s
  • Earth-Sun Distance: 152,000,000,000 meters
  • Time for Light: 507 seconds
  • Time for Sound: 443,148,688 seconds
  • Time for Sound in iron: 29,629,630 seconds

Where to find more information

Here is a list of readings that I’ve compiled for my classes and students over the years on topics relating to the intersection of technology and disaster, crisis, risk management.  This list is kept current as older material becomes obsolete and new materials is available.  Let me know what you think are solid reference materials on these topics. Continue reading Where to find more information