Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hurtling Toward the "Finish"

So, I left off in Rikuzentakata, where mostly we heard from folks talking about surviving or rebuilding from a tsunami.  The Japanese are pretty good at dealing with earthquakes; it was pointed out more than once that, without the tsunami, the damage and loss of life wouldn't have been nearly as severe.  The tsunami was much tougher.

This is one of those times of sorting out the overlap between what they had to offer and what we really need.  Tsunami strategy translates easily to the Oregon coast, but for Portland, it's not as clear.  What other surprise risks do we need to prepare for?  Uhh...if we knew....

We did hear from a firefighter, a cool guy we all said we wanted to go for a beer with.  He worked for 51 straight days because 25% of their staff died helping people.  We all kind of stared.  That's a conflict.  That's THE conflict for NET, but even more for the pros:  do your job fully and pay the price, or hold back and be around to help with the aftermath.  Cruel choices.

I think that's the place our afternoon exercise was coming from:  practice making cruel choices, to see how we react.  Unfortunately for the class, the exercise wasn't probably robust enough to get us to the level of panic.  Larry, who worked ambulances in the Bay Area during Loma Prieta, was completely unfazed, as was Barb, our FEMA reservist.  But even the rest of us were kind of waiting for the stuff to get really horrible.  Felt bad for the lady running it, 'cause her exercise had clearly unhinged previous groups.  She certainly gave us things to think about, especially given her time in the GEJE aftermath, but I think she also learned a bunch from us.

Friday morning we heard more from city planners about reconstruction, and then headed down the coast to Ishinomaki.  Ishinomaki is a city of about 100,000 people, and so more like Portland.  There, we heard from one of the city's disaster managers at the time, a practical man and (understandably) now retired.  He talked a bit about shelters (had identified 16, now 100, all reinforced concrete) where they store supplies, like meals (had 12,000; now 50,000, mostly at government expense).  Except, here's the thing.  If this happens again, they expect 70,000 displaced people, and assume 2 meals/day.  Uh, math concerns....

So, expectations #1 and #2 are that people are bringing food with them, and folks know to do this.  Expectation #3 is that food will arrive from outside by day 4, as it did in 2011.  I don't think any of these apply to Portland, so that's, uh, something to think about.

On a side note, Friday was one of my more memorable birthdays.  Never bused around the coast of Japan  before, plus, after hearing from Ishinomaki's planner, we headed over to the local onsen (natural hot springs bathhouse) for a proper Japanese soak.  Extremely cool, in a 115-degree way...

And to wrap up the day, there was already a barbecue planned, which was its own kind of mayhem.  Lots of sausages (without buns;  the Japanese don't seem to believe in them), eggplant and acorn squash for grilling, and, out of nowhere, a cheese pizza.  I've never been more surprised and thrilled to see a cheese pizza.

Finally, I had mostly kept the birthday thing quiet, but I mentioned it to one of the Japanese ukelele players (it was THAT kind of party), and within 10 seconds, everyone in the band (15 or 20?) was singing happy birthday.  With the expected pause near the end when folks realized they didn't really know who they were singing FOR, but, okay, whatever, and crashing through for the obligatory enthusiastic finish.  Awesome.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

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