NPR - Week of 9/9/13

As many of you know one of my major life goals is to become a blogger for NPR (in my spare time). As soon as I get a grip on where commas go I'll be sending them my resume.

Anyway, lots of disaster related topics being discussed on NPR in the past 24 hours. Here are my top three:

1. During Katrina, 'Memorial' Doctors Chose Who Lived, Who Died

Sheri Fink, the author of "Five Days at Memorial" took on a gut wrenching topic - the choices doctors had to make in choosing which patients to save, when they couldn't save them all during Katrina at New Orleans Memorial Hospital. It appears from the interview that she's quite critical (as most people, including the legal system, have been) of many of the decisions that were made. She recognizes both the benefit and need of preparing plans before hand but recognizes the necessity of improvisation during response. I'm very curious to read this book -- I'll let y'all know how it is. For a longer description of the Memorial situation but a shorter one than provided by the book the NYT is on it! (well was, it's from '09)

Sidenote: HOW MANY MORE TIMES DO HOSPITALS NEED TO BE FLOODED BEFORE WE MOVE THE ELECTRICAL UP OFF THE GROUND?!?


2. After Newtown Tragedy, Some Schools Are All But Bulletproof

Any story surrounding school shootings, especially Newtown, are difficult to listen to but this one brings up several important points. Some of the parents who lost children during the shooting created an organization called Safe and Sound to help give schools resources for how to make their schools...er... safe and sound.

Increased preparedness and mitigation measures - including things like training security guards and teachers and also how to "harden the infrastructure" in schools are posted online for schools to use. Apparently schools can get, what sounds to be a strong piece of plastic, (I'm sure it's more technical than that simplification) to put over glass windows and doors to make them hopefully just strong enough to stop a bullet. Additionally the federal government put out a new guidance following Newtown for schools, although it lacked an associated funding. Craig Lemoult reports that in the past few years the feds have even been cutting funding for school security.

Obviously there are many issues here but let's focus on two:
- Cutting federal funding for school safety speaks to the greater issue of lack of funding and support for the entire education system in America while also addressing our federal governments preference of being reactive in emergency/ disaster situations... apparently school shootings are no exception to this.

-  While clearly this was an article about school shootings specifically it's important to remember that there are other threats to schools than just shootings. Most recently evident as a result of the tornado in Oklahoma. More should and needs to be done to educate and assist local school districts in keeping children safe while they're on school grounds.


3. Dust Bowl Worries Swirl Up As Shelterbelt Buckles 

In the second grade I read a little paperback kids book on the Titanic. Then the movie came out and my mother took me to see it in the theater. I've always had a fear of drowning (especially from a boat sinking in the ocean) needless to say the movie did little to settle this growing concern. My little 7 year old self became convinced that I was on the Titanic in my past life. Could it be true? Sure. Is it likely? Obviously not BUT it does give me a good point of reference for my first obsession with a disaster (I have another story about the Perfect Storm but I'll save that for another day).

Why is this related to this NPR article? Well because during my youth I was so busy obsessing over the Titanic that I didn't learn about the other disasters of the first half of the 20th century. (Full disclosure I did read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse at some point in my childhood but, despite several attempts, have never gotten past page 50 in East of Eden... Sorry Steinbeck) Recently, as in since 2 months ago when I saw a special on the Dust Bowl on PBS, I've become intrigued by the incident and have been noticing that it's been popping up in unexpected places (i.e. this NPR story).

The Dust Bowl lasted for a decade, 1930-1940 to varying degrees. Economic conditions, driven by WWI/ Great Depression, unsustainable farming practices, and bad weather made for the makings of the disaster. There's that deadly combination of humans interacting with natural hazards to create increased vulnerability (we've talked about this before... pay attention!). You may have heard about Roosevelt passing the Soil Conservation Act during the worst of it as a response effort to promote sustainable farming (not sustainable, sustainable just non-drought encouraging sustainable). Well I bet you didn't know about the Shelterbelt program (or at least I sure didn't). Under Roosevelt's advisement the federal government planted a windbreak from Texas to Canada consisting ONE HUNDRED MILLION TREES!?!? This is an astonishing large undertaking and from my knowledge, I would argue a major US mitigation/ recovery project.

NPR's Joe Wertz interviews an Oklahoma farmer who explains how the current drought conditions in the area are reminiscent of issues during the Dust Bowl. Additionally, the trees in the windbreak are dying out. Some of this is from natural causes BUT also from farmers cutting them down to add acreage to their farms to increase their profits. Yikes. Y'all, this drought things is really scary. I didn't fully realize this until I moved to the midwest and started working with Ag engineers (that means agriculture for all you city folk) but food security is a HUGE issue. I mean obviously... but it's wicked complex -- GMO, dead bees, drought, flooding, the economy -- it's all inextricably intertwined.

Also... here's a Mumford and Sons song about the Dust Bowl. See? This disaster is totally making a comeback - it may not have made as big a pop cultural splash as James Cameron did but give it time...

Big Splash.... Titanic.... See what I did there?

Well, food security, education institutions, and hospitals... I'd say NPR hit the gamut this week! Keep it up y'all.