Level Four

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I have been watching news coverage of this (and other) disasters for years. Maybe it is time for someone to act on the following.

Several years ago, I was Operations Officer for San Jose Search and Rescue. I am not interested in relief bashing or reporting. I am interested in relief and I have been espousing the following disaster plan for years.

Why not prepare for emergencies instead of being reacting to them

Helicopters and aircraft are really great for immediate emergency assistance, but their maintenance requirements make them ineffectual after about a week. Fueling, ground crews and support facilities eat up massive amounts of resources. There needs to be something to augment them after the “first seventy-two hours” scenario.

How about this as a scenario? Use a four level approach depending upon the level of destruction and help required. The amount of aid delivered could be commensurate to the level of the disaster.

Level One

Bring on the helicopters, airplanes, the news reporters, as we do now. When the news people go in, take emergency supplies with you. Let people know there is an emergency, and establish a ground swell of, “We need help here and now!” Let people know where the disaster relief shelters are located.

Have local depots of emergency supplies scattered around the US, immediately available to be airlifted or trucked to a disaster area.

Level Two:


Someone (FEMA, Red Cross, private sector) should purchase several thousand rail cars, buses and cargo containers. They should be preloaded with everything from emergency water to toilet paper, from pillows and blankets to teddy bears, from tents to porta-potties. Some units could have ATV’s while others would have air cushion vehicles. Once delivered, the supplies are unloaded; the containers used as emergency shelters. (Could empty containers be used to repair broken levees?) Some of these containers could be outfitted as field kitchens, communications stations, mobile hospital units, pharmacies and medium sized mobile emergency power generators.

Each container could be tailored to specific type of disaster relief needed; filled with equipment that might be needed, depending upon the disaster and/or terrain. Only those containers that fit the problem would be delivered.

We could have these containers pre-positioned at different points around the US: military bases; port facilities; private trucking and/or rail facilities. They could be delivered by truck or rail, and onsite within a few days to set up a camp city any where in North America.

How about a couple of Navy LCACs (air cushion vehicles) that could move men and supplies, over flooded or nonexistent streets to points many miles inland, to provide much needed assistance.

Individuals or corporations could sponsor individual units, allowing them “advertising spots” for the world to see if they wanted.

Level Three

A large number of people trained to respond to major emergencies would arrive in the second to third week. They could “take the train”, and arrive on site, fresh and ready to augment the first responders. The train could be preloaded with all the equipment these will people need, thereby not using the already depleted local resources.

Train boxcars are huge: 60x10x10 in size while shipping containers are 40x8x8. They could be pre-filled with the next round of commodities to be required. When they are empty, use them as shelters. The cargo containers can also be used to create pre-fab buildings. Some of the empty trains could be used to relocate the survivors to other parts of the US. Have some rail cars (pre-positioned as above) loaded with larger field kitchens, MASH/hospital units, aircraft and automotive repair shops, laundromats, banks, schools, and barracks. Flat cars could have trucks, bull dozers, cranes, and equipment for extensive rescue missions. Trains could deliver the fuel and those things that are needed for long haul repair and relief. When a train arrives on station, their diesel-electric locomotives could supply emergency power to stricken hospitals, emergency shelters and police stations.

If needed there could be a second or third wave of trains, stopping along the way to the disaster, picking up donated fresh supplies and materials for the large job at hand. One of the biggest problems is not delivering the supplies to the disaster area. It is getting the right supplies to the person who actually need (and can use) the supplies and donations.

A train would take longer (a week or two) to get onsite, but they could be on station for much longer periods of time.

After the emergency phase is over, the box cars/containers could be returned to their pre-positioning center for cleaning, refurb and stockpile for reuse.

Level Four:

How about outfitting a couple of WWII-type LST’s, LSD’s, freighter, tankers, troop transports, hospital ships for those disasters like hurricanes Andrew, Camille, Katrina, and future major disasters. Freighters could have hundreds of tons of lumber and building supplies on board. Ships are a natural solution for carrying huge power plants, water desalinization plants, water purification plants, etc. Maintenance should be nominally inexpensive. Ships could, if required, be towed to disaster site within four to six weeks and be on station for months.

I remember watching WWII invasions of Anzio, Normandy, and islands of the Pacific. How about an invasion of trained US personnel similar to the conservation corps or WPA? I can envision an old LST running itself aground on a beach near New Orleans, opening its huge garage doors, and CB’s (Civilian Builders) offloading tractors, bulldozers, graders, and all the heavy tools needed to rebuild a city.

Americans are resilient. They can arise to the most monumental of disasters. Maybe it is time to wage war on disasters. Maybe it is time to be proactive instead of reactive.

Robin Roberts
All Things Notary
Mountain View, California 94043


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