Monday, September 16, 2013

How not to be an asshole during a crisis

Part of living through as many natural disasters as I have means that I've also seen both the best and worst sides of people.

When tragedy strikes, we want to believe that everyone will rally together and help one another, but that is not always the case. Often, the opposite happens, and people begin to worry only about themselves, even if that comes at the price of others.

It's not pretty, I promise.

There have been some amazing stories coming out locally about things people have done to help others, who have rescued each other, who have gone above and beyond. The emergency responders are always amazing, and one of these days, I plan to drive to Boulder myself to hug the Sheriff. No one signs up for this much responsibility.

Close friends of mine spent hours in the thick of it moving other people's horses to safety. Local people have gone up in planes and helicopters every single time the weather cleared to get aerial shots of the flooding, often being the best source of information about road conditions.

Then there are the other people.

The ones who are bitching that schools are out most of this week. Because it inconveniences them. Because they have to go back to work. Because the school their kid goes to is fine. Because this is just ridiculous. Never mind that some schools suffered a lot of flooding damage, that many teachers and students are evacuated, trapped or have lost everything. Never mind that the schools with damage need water pumped out and water intrusion damages repaired or that the buses are being used to evacuate people.

The ones on this end of town who are pissed because they wanted to go to Target in the middle of the storm, but the police and fire departments were just impeding their travels and shutting down roads. Don't they know how important it is to run menial errands in the middle of a catastrophe??? Never mind that the roads were flooded or in danger of flooding. Never mind that bridge integrity is an issue. Never mind that no one gives a shit about your weekday trip to Target. Lives are in danger. People lost everything. Whatever.

The ones who just had to go out in the thick of it because they wanted to see what was going on. Who needed to stop on the side of the road and block traffic so they could take crappy pictures with their cell phones. Some of those people got stuck on the other side of the river then complained that they couldn't get home. Some of those people were pissed at the police and fire fighters for worrying about stupid inconsequential things like public safety. Some of those people probably lost their cars when they flooded and had to be saved. A fire truck was lost east of here saving people who shouldn't have been out. Fortunately, no one died in that rescue, but that rescue never should have happened in the first place. Stay home, stay safe. Don't endanger other people or divert resources because you're an asshole.

The ones who can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that the road conditions are changing constantly because of the river flows, that roads that were closed five minutes ago may be open now and vice versa, who can't comprehend why the city doesn't have an accurate map, updated every five minutes. The people who work for the city have their hands full, dammit. Give them a break.

The ones who take this opportunity to find some flaw in the local government's handling of the disaster, because that's going to do anyone any good at this point. A tragedy on this scale simply cannot be adequately prepared for. Social media is a blessing and a curse, because it allows quick dissemination of information, both correct and incorrect. It gives people a platform to distract from the immediate needs of others.

The ones who don't understand that although their house is safe and they are largely unaffected, this is a regional disaster. The roads are not going to get rebuilt over night. The water isn't just going to disappear because it's in your way. The bridges probably won't all be fixed for a year. A year. Instead of whining about how you have to drive half a mile out of your way to get to the other side of town now, think about the people who's only way in and out of their home was destroyed.

The ones who just don't get it. The ones who don't think it is a big deal because they aren't personally affected. Who live just far enough away that it's not their problem. Out of sight, out of mind. Empathy is dead, folks. I hate to say it, but it's true. If something has to effect you to affect you....that's a problem.

Then you have all the people who don't actually live here, but who come to visit this beautiful place. The ones who are more worried about their reservations and vacations than whether people are trapped or dead. Sorry, your vacay isn't our top priority right now. Lives need saved and towns need rebuilt first. The mountains will still be here indefinitely, honest.

p.s. the leaves will change next year too.

There is also this huge component of stuff largely ignored by the media, and I have to talk about that too. I've lived through enough of this shit to know that it's not just this disaster. It happens all the time. The media goes where the money is, where the good shots are, not where the story is. During the Cedar Fire in San Diego, we saw tons of shots of expensive coastal homes burning because it made good TV. People out by us were dying because there was no news coverage of middle-class east county.

During the Northridge earthquake, no one outside of town knew that the soil in neighborhoods by us liquified, swallowing houses, or that our high school was closed for months, or that if the earthquake would have happened during the day hundreds of us would have died. FEMA didn't even show up for a few weeks. My house was five miles from the epicenter, as the crow flies, but we didn't exist.

It's happening again now, and reminding me that when disaster strikes, you have to truly be prepared because help might not be coming. The cameras sure won't show up unless you've got something happening that they deem worthy. The Today Show is broadcasting from Boulder today, apparently. On day 5 of this event, when the biggest threats are over here, but the situation is worsening out east. They have helicopters and all the money in the world. They could fly into Lyons and show what happened there. They could come to Longmont and show the damage here. They could talk about the entire neighborhoods trapped and isolated by water east of here. They won't. They'll set cameras up in some beautiful part of Boulder and make it look good.

Those of us who live here, who understand what happened, who get it, will be fine. We'll help the friends who need dug out. We'll be patient about road closures and bridge inspections. We'll conserve resources when needed, give what we can without being asked to. We won't seek credit or photo opportunities when the hard work of rebuilding starts. We won't criticize and complain about inconveniences, we'll understand. We saw what happened here, even if the world didn't.

It's alright.

Living through enough of these disasters, I know the truth.

We got this.


  1. This post has no comments and THAT pisses me off. It is heartbreaking that we've become a country where people just don't give a damn about anyone anymore.

    My thoughts and prayers are in Colorado. To those affected and those not. Because, let's face it.....even if you still have everything, you are still affected on some level.

  2. A lot of people are only focused on what is going on in their lives and never even thought about any of the points you have brought up and many if they stop and think would feel embarrassed that it didn't occur to them. I think everyone reacts differently and yes some are assholes but I still like to think that most people would not want to risk the life and health of others for selfish desires. Maybe I am living in a pipe dream.

  3. I just don't understand where humanity has lost itself. We've always had some that were selfish and only cared about themselves but it seeoms as though 3 in 4 people are now selfish and disgusting people. I wish there was more we could do from the distance. :/

  4. I wish darwinism took these idiots out, instead of the first responders who are usually trying to keep them from doing themselves in.

    As to the coverage - after being through fires (structural, controlled, & wild), floods (flash and tropical-rain induced), and hurricanes - both as bystander and reporter - you're 100% correct. Most media goes for the money shot. And that's a sad testament to our humanity as well.

  5. There seem to be mostly two types of people. Those who look at the world in terms of "how will this affect me." And those in terms of "how will this affect everyone." Oddly, they split pretty easily into political parties, too. Funny.


Some of My Most Popular Posts