As I write this, a few days before you’ll read it, winter storms are devastating much of the U.S. and provoking everything from short-term discomfort to acute humanitarian crises. It’s especially bad in Texas, where millions have been without power and also faced critical shortages of food, potable water, and gasoline. It’s a catastrophic event there and will have many long tails, so please help those victims and other afflicted Americans however you can.
EMS World readers are not the kind of people who typically need exhorted for that, but we should probably keep reminding America in general. Our compassion and empathy for each other have worn pretty thin in recent years. Even as Texans were dying of causes they’d never imagined on Texans’ death certificates, some social media misanthropes mustered only snide shrugs because the state votes the wrong color or has elected some disagreeable people. We got much the same during our Valentine’s weekend event in the Pacific Northwest.
On the ground at such times, those distinctions are way less important. Here in suburban Portland, a giant ice storm knocked out power for days (four in my case). The house got to 43ºF and we didn’t eat well, but blankets and firewood sustained us until we could borrow a generator. We were moderately uncomfortable for a few days, but our lives weren’t in danger.
We passed the time taking random drives on icy roads—the only way to charge phones before the generator—and checking in regularly with our neighbors, especially the elderly and single, making sure they had food, batteries, and ways to meet their basic needs. We traded the latest information on open food sources and hotel vacancies in powered areas. We shared spare items. We kept our politics to ourselves.
And we weren’t the only ones—it was happening across the region. For a brief, shining moment in 2021, nearly everyone actually gave a damn about each other. (I think and hope this happened in Texas too.) The generator friend, unbidden, also brought us extension cords and space heaters (we sure owe that guy a nice dinner). Outside neighbors got to quick work with chainsaws clearing downed trees from roads and each other’s driveways. We shuttled spare firewood to the powerless. Community members who’d been cold-warring with yard signs a few months ago came together in a common cause of easing each other’s suffering.
Kind of messed up that it takes a disaster for that.
But those good neighbors, they do elect some disagreeable politicians. Down in Texas a fellow named Tim Boyd, then mayor of a small town called Colorado City, posted something callous on Facebook as storms ravaged his state: Only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish.]
Elaborated Boyd: No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout.
O-o-o-kay—utilities and emergency services are just glorified food stamps? Novel take, Tim. I kinda thought that’s what the taxes and bills were for.
Boyd wasn’t just a Facebook scold, though; he had some shrewd survival tips to offer. If you lack power, you “step up and come up with a game plan.” If you’re without water, you “think outside the box.” Bet Texans wish they’d thought of that.
So maybe those are just mindless platitudes from an ideologue facing little or no deprivation himself. Most people think paying your taxes and bills should earn you at least some official effort when communities face epic life threats. But there is a fundamental truth at the bottom of Boyd’s ham-fisted Randism: The more you can do for yourselves, truly, the better off you’ll be.
My family learned this from a California wildfire 20 years ago: The authorities—in particular your EMS system—will do the best they can, but you ultimately can’t really count on anything besides yourselves, so maximize your odds. Keep multiple gallons of water on hand. Keep stockpiles of nonperishable foods (and pet food—you really don’t want to watch your dog starve). You can’t have enough firewood and flashlights and batteries and blankets and toilet paper. Keep gas tanks full and medications refilled. Tourniquets, bandages, and first aid supplies go without saying. Pay attention to the stupid forecast.
Some of these lessons we’re still learning. We’ll be getting a generator now, as soon as anyone has them back in stock. Probably a gas-powered chainsaw, too, as the electric ones are quite ineffective without electricity. A few jerricans of fuel would be a nice safety net.
Again, our ordeal was mild compared to what Texans and some of our Oregon neighbors are going through. They will no doubt absorb these and additional lessons, and I know you have some too. Share them with your neighbors and help each other prepare before you have to help each other survive. This is an extremely viable and valuable investment for individuals as well as EMS systems. Functional governments, if you’re lucky enough to have one, will do their best to help citizens in need. But cops, firefighters, and EMS personnel as vulnerable to freezing homes, contaminated water, blocked roads, and trees crushing their vehicles as anyone. Your first, best line of defense will always be you and your neighbors.