Thursday, June 27, 2013

How much does an ounce of prevention cost?

We've all hear the old saying: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  I question the cost- benefit ratio on that adage occasionally. Today's is an easy one.

Our home is downstream of a wildfire that is now more than 90,000 acres large and less than 50% contained. The nearest burned perimeter is about 10 miles away and includes terrain that is up to 5,000 feet higher in elevation.  Weather patterns are setting up to start the summer monsoon rains within the next 10 days. There is a reasonable potential for black muck and goo to make it to our little town. It is also reasonably possible for a frog-strangler to bring some of that nastiness as a good-sized flood.

In 1999, we had a flood from about a .75 inch rain that flowed about 20 inches deep through our yard. It was the first flood of any significance since 1972 (long story, very high water, dead people).  The 1999 20 inches was about 3 inches below the threshold into our house. Since then, we have built a 2 foot wall on the upstream side of our property but outside the chain-link fence and built up the driveway outside the gate by about a foot. Unfortunately, that leaves a 10-foot wide driveway 18 inches below the wings of the wall where flood waters and goo can come in.  The plan was to insert boards so that they are between the stone wall and the chain-link fence and would be held in place by the pressure of any small floods. Oops, we forgot. The boards were on-hand, but have since been used for something else (they were really nice 2 X 12's that someone gave us).  

We have flood insurance, but that only helps recover from a horrid mess. The experts describe the source drainage area as a "50,000 acre Walmart parking lot covered with feet of ash and rock poised at a 45 degree angle above the town."  I believe we need a little more protection, but not at great expense.  So here's my solution, which cost me under $20 at Home Depot.

The 2 foot piece of rebar will be used in conjunction with the U-bolts and the nipple (lower left of pic) to make a stop for the wide gate.  In the 1999 flood, the long lever-arm of the wide gate made it vulnerable to popping open. Someone drove down the street through a foot of water and the wake popped the gate open. We went from a trickle to a real flood in our yard in about 30 seconds.  So how will this work? Using a small auger on my drill (and possibly a pick) the 6 inch nipple goes vertically into the ground to hold the rebar. The rebar will pass through the 3 U-bolts attached to the chain link and into the nipple to strengthen the closure of the gate. This assembly will be about mid-way on the gate. The physics would move it closer to the opening, but if I do it wrong, we could puncture a tire as we drive in. That will significantly raise the cost of an ounce of prevention.

This gate-closure strengthening will work in tandem with the next part, using the 2 lag bolts and the 4 larger U-bolts (to the right of the rebar in the photo) . I have 2 large scraps of 5/8 inch exterior grade plywood. Neither is large enough to cover the opening but if I drill matching holes and bolt them together with a small overlap, the two will cover the opening to about 3 feet of depth.  Step 2 is to drill smaller holes in the corners of the new, larger  plywood  to accommodate the U-bolts.  I'll attach the U-bolts to the fencing (at least one side to a fence post, as they are anchored with concrete) outside the gate, so the weight will not compound the gate problem. Because of the hydrologic dynamics of the location, once some water is slowed or stopped by this, the water will drop sand and gravel and build up the driveway, helping build a larger 'dam' against subsequent flood waters.

It should take me about 90 minutes to do all he work except driving the nipple in the ground. Once the plywood is prepped, it can be kept nearby until needed and then assembled in about 15 minutes. Emplacing the nipple in the hard ground is the wild card, time-wise.  I can also put one of those rubber end caps over it so it will be open to receive the rebar when finally needed.

Is this a great permanent solution to future flood? No.  This is an ounce of prevention for an abnormally bad but low probability (but certainly possible)  post-fire flood response.

The risk is real but low to moderate.  The potential damage is high if it happens.

At less than $20 bucks an ounce, I'll take an ounce of prevention, please.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Emergency Support Plan Discoveries

Sorry about the long silence. I spent some time (about a week longer than I had planned) in the small community where we often vacation, and had an eye-opening experience.  The place is an unincorporated community consisting of a couple of named towns and the surrounding ranch communities, for a total of about 300 people and perhaps 150 occupied homes. We have a very good volunteer fire department with a great EMS team. They have very good incident command, and coordinated well with the Federal Incident Commander for the fire operations. What they did not have was a community support plan that could be implemented by the Incident Commander/ Fire Chief in the event of an emergency that required sustained support for the local affected, displaced or evacuated population. Such a plan could cover anything from an extended power outage to deep snow, flood, fire, to you-name-it.

Here's the scenario: Wildfire required the 1 AM evacuation of about 30 people from one of the unincorporated towns in our extended community. A few of us in the unaffected part of the community got the 'hey you' and were asked to set up coffee and breakfast for the evacuees, with a statement that the Red Cross would be there for lunch. About 9:30 AM, the 5 of us realized there were 30 people with no lunch as the RC had not shown up yet. We rushed home and returned with some lunch items by about  1115.  We also made phone calls to line up some dinner donations, just in case the RC was delayed further.  By dinner time, we also were directed by the fire chief to provide 3 meals per day for the non-federal fire fighters, between 45 and 60 meals per day. We also realized that with 100+ degree temps, a cooling center was needed, so that was started and opened to all.

That evening the Governor spoke at a public meeting, stating that the RC support had broken down on the interstate and would be here 'tomorrow.'  Gov also made a pitch for all to donate to the RC. The state dept of sanitation rep stopped by to provide training and some goodies like gloves and thermometers so we could run an approved food service operation for the evacuees, volunteers and firefighters from our community center kitchen. 

To make a long and frustrating story short, a rep from the RC showed up on Day 5 of the evacuation to find out what was needed. Turned out someone from our FD decided that we had it all under control so told the RC not to bother on the morning of Day 3. Made me crazy that someone with no authority and without checking with the Hey-you team would do that.  The person also didn't think to mention it to the Captain of the Hey-you team, so we were all still expecting the RC to show up and take over. Fortunately, by that time we had a little organization running, lots of donations from local residents and businesses in the region and a schedule for donating food so we wouldn't end up with lots for lunch but nothing for dinner. We had enough unprepared food donations that residents could pick up some when they signed up to prepare a dish for a meal the next day.  Wal-Mart from a town 40 miles away was one of the major donors of a lot of fruit, bottled water and individually-wrapped items for the firefighters.  Many thanks to them along with a local grocery and several restaurants and a local RV park .

To date, the evacuees remain evacuated. Fire fighters are still being fed with donated food. Not sure what the RC ever provided, other than the meeting rep last Friday.

With my planning background, all this made me nuts.  Gov suggesting people donate to an organization with them having no intention to support the evacuation (too small or some such nonsense), no plan, hey-you turning into a monster requirement with no plan and no dedicated resources, FD personnel making important support decisions affecting many lives without any coordination, etc.. Fortunately it turned out well, this time.  There were several casualties along the way, including long-term relationships ruined by disagreements on how to run the operation so that people were fed and that no one got sick. I did provide/suggest some structure to move the process from adhoc chaos to a somewhat orderly one. Had to return home so not sure how much of that stuck. I have started drafting an emergency support plan with modules for differing types of support that can be 'plugged and played' as needed. I'll submit to a few local people for their consideration for any such future emergencies.

Let me know if you'd like me to post the draft in case you, too, are in a small, close-knit unincorporated community that lacks a support plan for those affected by a disaster.

Why is this Frugal?  We had great potential to waste resources from the generous community due to lack of organization. We also had the potential for 'generosity fatigue' from the same folks. In a small community, those precious resources must be frugally managed or people will not be so generous next time.  Also, if there is a perception of waste or theft, businesses will not donate and more of the burden will fall on already weary people.