You Are The First Responder

The tragedy in Minneapolis of a few days ago underlines something I have written about before and will no doubt have to write about again.  I never really thought about it much until Katrina hit and I saw the images that all of you saw.  Those were images of people standing in what seemed like endless lines for food and water or to be evacuated. 

 Waiting for “professionals” to save you in a time of crisis may cost you your life.  In this age of terrorism it is very important that individuals be able to think clearly, and also have the ability to take care of themselves in a time of tragedy, or an insane random event such as the bridge collapse.  First responders didn’t empty those frightened kids out of that school bus that almost met a terrible fate on the I35W bridge, normal people did.  Someone had to take charge, calm the kids down, get them off the bus and scurry them to safety – then the “first responders” came and evacuated them and others off of what was left of the bridge.

 As I alluded to earlier, during the Katrina crisis I was simply appalled and irate at those who refused to take their personal safety into their own hands and instead decided that they would wait for the government to help them.  Remember the convention center where a breathless Geraldo Rivera stated that babies were dying?  Remember the bridge where people waited for days on end to be evacuated?  What the hell was everybody doing?

It is approximately 76 miles from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, LA.  Most humans can leisurely walk 3 mph, making it about 25 hours or so to make the hike from NO to Baton Rouge.  To this day I wonder why more people didn’t do this, or just hike it to a closer destination where help may have been available.  I understand that some people may have been trapped by water and I understand that small children and the elderly may have an issue with this sort of jaunt, but a normal healthy adult should have really no problem, even carrying provisions in a backpack.

But that last sentence is where I get tripped up.  The words healthy adult are meaning less and less in our present day America.  You can’t help yourself if you can’t help yourself, as I like to say.

And you may, someday, need to help yourself.  The bridge collapse and disasters like Katrina are proof that it may be YOU that has to flee, help, or act.  You may not have time to allow for a governmental agency or a “first responder” to arrive and lend a hand.

I hope you have a plan in case of an emergency, and are healthy enough to implement it.

Cross posted at LITGM.

7 thoughts on “You Are The First Responder”

  1. Although, I agree with the main thrust of your post I must point out that authorities blocked egress from NO by foot. They didn’t want people wandering around with no supplies in areas no one could find them in.

    You have to remember that hurricanes devastate vast areas. Walking out of the disaster zone is nearly impossible. Walking 76 miles in Louisiana during the summer with no food or clean water would have been virtually impossible even for a healthy adult male, much less anyone else. Even the military would frown on that kind of jaunt.

  2. Shannon Love –

    I disagree with not being able to walk out of there. Yes, the area was devastated. There is no way the feds could have blocked every area of egress from NO. I would think a simple compass would have sufficed to get around any road block. And who says you need to take roads the whole way. As I mentioned supplies are very easy to carry in a backpack. Walking out of a disaster zone such as this isn’t impossible at all. Two twelve hour shifts of walking is all it would take.

    But I wasn’t there either.

    The main point, which I am glad you agree with me on, is that people need to take care of themselves rather than rely on the government or “first responders” in times of crisis.

  3. Dan from Madison,

    There is no way the feds could have blocked every area of egress from NO

    The Feds didn’t do it, the local and state authorities did. Remember that NO only had three roads left above water after the storm.

    And who says you need to take roads the whole way

    In Louisiana you pretty much have to. Remember NO is built in the middle of a swamp. Making time off road on foot is nearly impossible.

    As I mentioned supplies are very easy to carry in a backpack

    I think one would need a 3 to 6 liters of water minimum for such a trip. That’s rather a lot weight to hump.

    Two twelve hour shifts of walking is all it would take.

    From my reading about military foot marching in the pre-mechanical era, even trained troops could not easily make a sustained two day 76 mile march reliably. When they did pull off such feats, they lost as many an 20% of their force along the way. A sustained ground covering stride is harder than it seems. Most people can walk for no more than 4 hours at a stretch with a 2-4 hour break between. Even so, only about 8 hours a day of walking is all most people, even fit males, can realistically accomplish.

    I think something else you may not have taken into account is the hot humid weather in Louisiana in July. I can attest from personal experience that sustained hiking in those conditions is very taxing.

    Other consideration also apply. How many people are going? If thousands go sanitation and crowd control can become a problem. Women face serious risk if caught alone in lawless zones. What if one is injured or falls ill? How will emergency teams find them. A lot of people might become lost.

    Having said that, a lot of people did walk out of NO. Many found rides out the disaster area after traveling only about a dozen miles.

    The main point, which I am glad you agree with me on, is that people need to take care of themselves rather than rely on the government or “first responders” in times of crisis.

    Amen to that. I grew up in rural texas where even routine police and ambulance service was 15 to 30 minutes away, assuming they could find you down the maze country dirt roads. As a result, we always thought of ourselves as first responders for every conceivable type of emergency.

  4. I guess we will agree to disagree as to the feasibility of making a long hike under adverse conditions.

    If you are hiking and come up on a road block, you simply whip out your compass, disappear into the woods for a while, and reappear on the other side of the road block. Sure, this will cost you a bit of time.

    Here is an interesting document. From the document:

    “In Sicily in WW2 a complete US infantry battalion marched cross country 54 miles in 33 hours.”
    I guarantee those guys were loaded down WAY more than an individual person who needed supplies for just himself.

    “The Roman Army’s normal march of seven hours per day would yield anywhere from 15-20 miles.”

    The Napoleonic army routinely marched at 3 mph and were much faster during forced marches.

    From US Army staff officers field manual:

    “An infantry div on the march averages 12-15 miles per day, an armored div 100 miles per day.”

    So I may have overestimated the 24 hour rate, but remember that the above people marching are loaded down with equipment, the poundage of which varies depending on the era.

  5. There is a fairly simple way to settle this, set up a reasonably priced evac kit, normal footwear that you’re likely to be caught in, and start trudging. See how far you get before you phone in for help and you’ve got a reasonable estimate. A very long time ago I got the habit of walking from my parents home in Mamaroneck, NY to the CT border and back when I wanted to blow off some steam. I’ve done it in the relatively recent past and that round trip is about 14 miles give or take and takes me 3-4 hours give or take. I could probably do it twice if I needed to and I didn’t have the kids with me and 3 times if it were vital but I’d probably be bed ridden for at least a day afterwards if I was doing 40-45 miles in a day. If there was high humidity, as NO no doubt has, reasonable walking radius would be significantly smaller, ditto if there would be little shade.

  6. The 1-35 bridge collapse and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are two very different events, but I think I get the point of your article; look out for your own safety and hold yourself responsible for disaster preparedness. I’d like to suggest something even simpler in preparation for an unfortunate event; one should carry a first aid kit in the car, better yet, take a first aid course and learn how to use it. When I lived in Europe, a first aid kit, includng a folded thermal blanket for treating shock, was required to be in every car. To my knowledge, no state in he US has a similar requirement.

    As for carrying 6 liters of water, approximately 15 pounds, for 75 miles, it would be quite an effort for the average American. How many of the readers here walk more than a mile a day carrying anything more than briefcase? 3 miles an hour might be an average pace for the first few hours, but blisters and muscle cramps will take their toll on the healthiest trained individual over 75 miles. Most people probably don’t even have the right shoes to walk a great distance in. Also the roads were probably closed to foot traffic because the roads needed for vehicle traffic just for emergency services would otherwise be clogged with refugees on foot. Soldiers on a march walk in disciplined files, civilians, dragging suitcases and small children, would be anything but orderly. I have done several long distance marches, once with a mere 30,000 participants, and all four lanes of highway were full. I had some incredible blisters, muscle soreness and cramping, but finished all 100 miles. For this event, I trained for four months, walking 50 to a 125 miles a week carrying 35 pounds. How many people do this type of walking regularly enough to have the kind of stamina necessary to go the distance?

    The reason the armored division outmarches the infantry is that the armored division is using vehicles of various types, whereas an infantry division is the term used to designated almost exclusively foot troops. Generally, infantry that ride in vehicles are called mechanized infantry, generally indistingushable from an armored force for the purposes of movement.

    If it was my only way out, sure I’d do it, and drag my family along, but we enjoy good health and decent hiking shoes, how many folks in NO could say the same?

  7. Good points all. I made the consession in the original article that elderly/small children may not have a lot of fun on a hike of this sort – you can include the sick in this group as well. But at the end of the original post I also asked the general reader if they had an emergency plan and were healthy to implement it.

    The general state of health in the US is declining, and not being able to fend for yourself for a few days may be the difference between life and death in the event of an emergency or catastrophe.

    As for the viability of hiking from NO to Baton Rouge – I dind’t say it would be easy, and remember you are leaving from your house so you would have all of the supplies and the most comfortable shoes you could find. IF you were prepared.

    In the comments were also mentioned that many did hike it out of there, and didn’t have to go that far to receive aid. All of this said I am pretty confident that I could make it in a few days, but sure as hell am not going to try.

    I wonder a lot if a terror attack such as a dirty nuke happened to a city like Chicago in the dead of winter – no electricity would equal no heat. If it were zero outside you would not make it half as long as in sweltering conditions. Again, hope I never need to find out.

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