In an Emergency … Part 3 (End)

Once again we listened to the news via AM radio.  As we drove down the 15 we passed in and out of fire zones.  At the end of the Cajon Pass we spotted at least 6 or 7 big rig trucks in various conditions toppled on their sides in response to the Santa Ana winds.  The same Wal-Mart truck we saw downed when we drove to Vegas was still there.  The drive passed Fallbrook was the most telling of the disaster.  The air was thick with smoke so it was hard to breathe and visibility was greatly limited to a few car lengths ahead.  We saw burned out houses and still burning flames eating brush on the side of the road.  We drove on hoping that this is not what it is like at home.  I took pictures a long the way and I had to take pictures of a few land marks as there is no geotagging yet in current consumer cameras. As we approached Escondido, the air cleared and we were relieved to see that there were no signs of fire near home.  Later we would find out that the fire in San Marcos was a very small brush fire next to Cal State San Marcos that was quickly put out.  When we got home, Snowball cheerfully greeted us with “fweets” of joy and bounced all around his cage.  He wanted his welcome home treat.

The local news was surreal.  They were referring to pages in the Thomas Guide to help people identify locations of active fires and areas under evacuation.  The local government was informing people to leave their houses via reverse 911 calls and because telephone service was cut off, the local government was relying on TV to relay the message to evacuate to a remote community in San Diego.  Where were the SMS messages, Google maps, and mash-ups of web services to keep people in the know?  My company seemed on the forefront with a wiki.  What good is technology for people camping out in Qualcomm Stadium when cellphone “circuits” are jammed and batteries are dying?   How are the millennials surviving without text messaging?  For 2 – 3 days, SD was put back 10 – 15-years.  We were calling over land lines, watching TV, listening to AM radio, and using the Thomas Guide.  It seems to me to be a scary and out-of-control situation made worse by a communication breakdown when we need to communicate the most.

The web is very much still in it’s infancy and all it takes is a disaster to show just how “loose” the web is.  We’ve been thinking a lot about paper in a Web 2.0 world and, well, I think we’ve got a while to go before paper goes out of style.

In an Emergency, Technology Falls to the Lowest Denominator

One of the take-aways from my days as an earthquake engineering student is in a disaster, the first thing that happens is the power goes out.  Another thing that happens is people are asked to limit telephone and cell phone calls so emergency and support people can keep in touch.  Hence, in an emergency all of our wonderful electronic gadgets and web enable do-dads become useless little boxes of plastic, silicon, and metal at a time when we need to be connected the most.

The journey from Las Vegas back to our home in San Marcos is a tale of failed electronics and a reversion to analog methods of communication, including paper.  Our tale begins Sunday night after Steve and I had just settled in for the night and were getting ready to go to sleep.  We turned on the TV to find out what was going on within and outside of “La-La Land.”  The news of the moment was the fires in Malibu and the potential of displaced movie stars.  This happens every year, so we didn’t pay too much attention to it.  We went to sleep, peacefully, only to awaken the next morning to the news that San Diego was on fire. 

The worst thing about being out of state when there’s a disaster at home is getting accurate and timely news.  Too often the news is generalized and exaggerated for a national audience so it’s difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t.  I got on the Internet to check the websites of news stations local to SD and the Union-Tribune website.  It was early Monday morning and the SD’s local news websites were not working well.  The upload and download speeds were very slow.  I was frustrated because CNN was making it seem like the state was under the influence of a wall of fire that extended from Malibu to the US/Mexico border.  Steve’s cellphone started ringing.  It was his manager calling to discuss what needed to be done IT-wise to shutdown their worksite.  While I was fighting with the Internet, I finally got some news from SD, an e-mail informing me that the HP SD Site is closed.  Technology was working okay so far and when I finally got through to the Internet, the coverage websites were simply enacted.  There was a picture of flames and the same information from CNN.  As the morning progressed, the coverage was turned into a running blog and as the locations of the fires were learned, the locations were overlaid on Google Maps — a “mash-up.”  This was very helpful but as the same time misleading — as there was a flame symbol sitting on top of my hometown, San Marcos.  Meanwhile, Steve was on his cell phone initiating emergency plans and, over the Internet, moving data and doing whatever to save data and sever the electronic link from the SD site of his company from the rest of the company.   I called my parents who were in Atlanta at the time.  They informed me that my Dad was flying back to San Diego.