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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

They Say It's a Dry Heat

We have a saying in Phoenix: Don’t talk about the heat in the summertime; no one wants to hear about it and it doesn’t do any good.

By “we,” I guess I just mean me and a few members of my family. No one in my family talks about how hot it is when it’s 112 degrees outside. We know it’s hot outside. This is not breaking news.

They taught us in journalism school that the news value of a story varies with the audience, and I saw that theory borne out firsthand: A 200-acre subdivision is top-fold news in Flagstaff. In Phoenix, that subdivision is a blurb on the community pages or a mention in the real estate section. News can be what most impacts the community.

So it is in emergency management, too. We have a saying that disasters are local. In other words, they start out small before becoming a city disaster, then a county disaster, and on up to the federal level.

When I give outreach presentations, I ask people if it’s a disaster when the power goes out on their street. Our stance? You bet! The food in your fridge might start going bad, the aquarium can’t aerate water for your tropical fish, and the air conditioner is a distant memory. All those things are enough to put a good dent in your quality of life. In the summertime, it can be downright dangerous.

The air conditioner went out in my new house last weekend sometime Saturday afternoon. I discovered I and the house-warranty people have disparate views on what constitutes an emergency. To them, it must be medical in nature. To me, it’s whether or not I can get any sleep without drowning in my own sweat.

My own personal disaster threshold dropped a notch when I spent the better part of last Monday working from home from 10 a.m. – During the heat of the day. Without air conditioning. – until about 5:15 p.m when it finally got fixed.

Yet there are people on the streets who depend on organizations like the Salvation Army to deploy hydration stations in Phoenix. And I am nothing less than disturbed and saddened when I read stories about hikers on a local mountain who succumb to the heat. Stories like this should be so rare that they definitely fall under the category of "Unusual Occurrences."

But they're not unusual. They're becoming everyday news. In this case, maybe it’s best that we keep on talking about the heat no matter how old the message seems to get. It just might help someone stay safe and actually do some good.

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