Sunday, January 21, 2007


You flip the switch and the light comes on. You power up your computer and you’re connected to the world. You wake to the soft and reassuring hum of your furnace warming your home. You open your refrigerator and you see food to eat. You dial your cordless phone and connect. You turn on the tap and clean, clear potable water comes out.

What got me thinking about this? Last week, I was talking to an old friend who lives in the Denver area. He was telling me what the series of storms that hit the area did to people. Then I saw stories on TV about the situation in the Midwest and the terrible things that they are experiencing.

Wait a minute, we’ve been there and done that! How soon we forget, I said to myself, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one. We experienced the devastations delivered by that not so nice lady named Fran in September, 1996. She was the strongest hurricane to make a direct hit on North Carolina since Hazel in 1954, and what a hit it was.

Anyone who was here can probably force themselves to remember the trees on homes, cars, and blocking roads. We had flooding, and we had no power. Many had claims in the thousands and for the first time in Chapel Hill history, a town-wide state of emergency was declared. Rosemary Waldorf, who was Chapel Hill mayor at the time said it was a very serious situation because OWASA lost power at the water treatment plant and we faced a twin public health disaster of not being able to get potable water and not be able to use our sewer system.

Then there was that guy Floyd who came in September 1999, a guy who should have been named Flood. We didn’t have the damage here that some in the other parts of the state experienced, but it was another reminder of the power of a hurricane and the damage it can do. On the positive side, local citizens organized the Neighbors for Speed committee to help the “down-east” community adopted by Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Then there was the great ice storm of December 2002. No power, no heat and freezing temperatures were an unwelcome combination, and once again, we struggled together to get through what was a terribly difficult situation. Fortunately for those who had operating radios, WCHL provided a needed lifeline and we were pleased that they had just returned as a local station.

As I reflected on the local weather challenges we faced— and survived and the dreadful situation in parts of our nation while we enjoy unseasonable warmth, I had another cause for pause knowing that our turn will come— again. Are we ready?

We can’t wait to act; we must work on the necessary preparations while we face no crisis. The worldwide web is loaded with sites that will help you determine what you need in order to survive a variety of challenges that we might face. The web sites of our various levels of government also provide plenty of information on preparation for these challenges.

On the Orange County site ( there are useful links to other sites with information on family preparedness resources, disaster kits, checklists, and other general information. The information on children and their needs, financial preparedness, and how to help the mobility impaired is particularly useful and are topics often overlooked. And it’s worth noting that a lot of this information on the site is also available in Spanish.

So, do you agree with me that it’s just a matter of time before we have our turn again? If so, do you have your 72-hour emergency kit ready? Do you have a “go-bag?” Will it be an ice storm, high winds and rain, a tornado or a hurricane? Whatever it is, we can mitigate the impact by getting ready today. The emergency preparedness staff does group presentations to churches, clubs, neighborhood groups, and others. Not preparing doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t think it won’t happen again; it might only mean that we are just procrastinators. Being a procrastinator about preparedness is not a good thing.

PS: If the power goes out at our house and the sump pump is inoperative, and then it rains very hard, really bad things happen in the basement. We invested in a back-up generator to provide emergency power. It has only run about six total hours during power outages over the last three years. So, I’ve decided that it’s great insurance and buying it is what’s responsible for us not having any prolonged outages lately. Checks to show your appreciation for my generator can be sent to me at …

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