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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Sticky Situation

When you live in certain parts of the U.S. you assume inferred risks. It’s like how peanut butter and jelly (or for me Fluff) go together.

Some regions and states are synonymous with certain emergencies. Residents of Florida are as tacitly aware of hurricanes as Midwesterners are of tornados and Californians of earthquakes.

Still, as mindful as we are of these regional hazards, there are emergencies and disasters that blindside everyone and leave us asking “Did that really just happen?” That’s why all-h

azard preparedness—plan for the probable, prepare for possible and beware the preposterous (I’m trade marking that!), including the Zombie Apocalypse and any thought to a remake of the 1986 film Howard the Duck—is so important.

A good, real life example of a “preposterous” or unpredictable disaster would be, of course, the Great Molasses Flood. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of the Great Molasses Flood? Well let me tell you, it was no joke.

The Great Molasses Flood happened on an unusually warm day in Boston. In those days, molasses not sugar was the prevailing sweetener, and it was fermented to make rum and ethyl alcohol and used in the production of munitions.

Just after noon on January 15, 1919, a tank 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter burst, unleashing, according to eyewitness accounts, an 8- to 15-foot torrent of molasses that tore through the surrounding neighborhoods at speeds of over 30 mph. The syrupy wave killed 21, injured 150 and covered some places in 2 to 3 feet of the viscous goo.

Responders from all across Boston rushed to the scene to find what The Boston Post described as a “scene almost indescribable in words. Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and

swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly paper.”

Afterwards there was rampant speculation as to the cause of the tank rupture. The company that owned the tank said anarchists had sabotaged the container; however, it was later learned that the tank had been leaking molasses since its construction four years early. Even more damning were reports of strange sounds and vibrations coming from the tank. Ultimately, the company was found culpable and ordered to pay $1,000,000 to the victims.

The point in all this is that some emergencies and disasters are unpredictable. We can track a hurricane

on weather radar and you may get away without ever making any preparedness arrangements. But remember that there are events (natural and man-made) for which there are no advance alert and warning systems, and it is in those moments that you may have to skedaddle and do it quickly.

So when we suggest you plan for the probable, prepare for possible and arrange for the preposterous, you might consider writing and rehearsing family communication and preparedness plans, and packing an emergency “go kit “with food, water and all the important things (e.g., medications, important documents, etc.) you might need. It’s unlikely there will ever be another Great Molasses Flood, but you won’t catch me saying “never.”

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