Sunday, May 8, 2016

Fort McMurray - Lessons Learned and Hopefully Not Lost

Seems that we never see the fragility of our choices, actions, and their impact on others or the course of the lives of both (all) until we endure some perceived hardship. – Wesley Pierce

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. – Winston Churchill

Hope is not a strategy – Various

The Fort McMurray fire is now a week in the making and the sense of urgency and bravery required to protect the 80,000 people who lived within the town have produced a miraculous result to-date with only two lives lost (although “only” brings no comfort to the families who lost the two young people killed in a car accident during the evacuation process).

The lives of the evacuees have changed forever in ways that many of us could not fathom ….

…. and sadly ….

…. in ways that we will eventually forget as the shock passes, evacuees find new ways to live and the media moves on to another disaster.

Unless we know someone personally affected, we will move on while the lives of those who fled with just the shirt on their back will never be the same.

Many commonalities are present in such calamities.

Human resilience once again shines, with survival instincts, acts of bravery that frankly I can’t even wrap my brain around and acts of kindness that would soften the hardest heart being present.  It is a HUMAN trait (not just an Albertan or a Canadian one) to serve others when the need is dire.

Would many (or any) of us have the courage that the first responders are showing in the face of a fire that has been named “the beast”, especially knowing that many of them have lost everything they own (and one lost a daughter in the evacuation)?

Would many of us want to have to deal with the mind-bending decisions that are now being pressed upon Government officials?  Difficult decisions need to be made regarding how to pay for the disaster, how to take care of those affected, how to adjust to the economic impact and how to assure the people (both victim and observer) that the Government is doing everything they can. Most of us would melt if faced with the scale and impact of such decisions.

Then there is the inevitable looting by the ignorant minority who seek to prey on people when they have been knocked down for the moment.  Equally sad are those who are executing online scams to steal money from the masses whose hearts have been torn by the tragedy.

There are the pathetic people who cherish such disasters for political purposes, gloating openly as they witness the suffering of others.  Many climate change proponents gleefully touted karma as the reason for this fire, using the disaster as an opportunity to slam the oil and gas industry, to insult people who don’t agree with climate change, to taunt people who are better off than others, etc. 

And then there were some people from the non-governing political parties who went as far as to condemn the government for doing nothing when in fact, all levels of government were doing the best they could with what they had and knew.  Social media reveals the best and the worst of humanity.  I won’t bother to share their Twitter feeds – they don’t deserve to have their messages promoted.

Then there are those who had little to start with, barely hanging on in Life and now the little they had has been wiped out without the safety net of a good job or insurance that many of us take for granted.

But as they say, this too shall pass and we always rise above disaster (insert political rah-rah speech here).  We cry alone or with others, we stare out unseeing in shock, we reach out to others for help or to help, we thank God for our Life, we curse God for our loss, we pray to God for help to get through things or we use events like to to prove that God doesn’t exist.

Over time and after the shock has passed, our moments of weakness and vulnerability eventually transform into resolve – resolve to be stronger for each other, resolve to rebuild and resolve to move forward.

And hopefully, resolve to never allow this to happen again.

It is the latter resolve that I think becomes a point where we often let ourselves down or allow our expectations to be let down by others..

It is a sad reality that few accidents or disasters are never predicted.  We are told that we should be surprised when if we had been an informed populace, we would not have been surprised at all.

I remember my former father-in-law (a USAF colonel), telling me in the early 1990’s about the pending threat of commercial aircraft being hijacked by terrorists and flown into commercial buildings on US soil.  The warnings were contained in many briefing notes for more than one President and yet President Bush claimed to be surprised on the morning of 9/11.

I discussed this in older posts:

Meanwhile in Alberta …

The fire that decimated Slave Lake in 2011 sounded a warning bell to Albertans regarding the dangers of living in Alberta’s north, especially when many experts warned of the ever-increasing threat facing people living in the boreal forest.

A report issued the following year sounded an even larger warning bell that disaster was likely more a “when” and not an “if”.

And sadly, some observations by Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean in the Legislature less than a month ago that fire hazard in the Alberta north required closer attention were met with cries of fear mongering.  Brian Jean lost his home in the Fort McMurray fire but I was struck by his courage to serve others despite his loss.  Such leaders are rare – I wish we had more of them.

And given that few things are truly surprises, there is another event coming that should not surprise us but will be interesting to observe.

Once the shock has passed and everyone settles down with resolve to move forward, the opposition parties in the Alberta and Federal Governments have a difficult decision to make.

If they support the respective Governments in power and properly serve the people who need help, then they run the risk of helping the Government look good and be a lock for the next election.

If they run against Government initiatives or delay them with an intention to make the Government look bad, they have an opportunity to overturn the Government in the next election as long as they can pin the failure on the Government and not on their own evil action.  If delays or failure can be pinned on them instead, then they also run the risk of helping the Government to be re-elected.

Intertwined with this comes the difficulty for those who make up a political party, with some who exist to serve the people and some who exist to serve the Party or themselves.

It is the latter ones I am concerned about, the ones who will do their best to block Government efforts to help the people but who will do so in subtle ways so as to not appear to be serving their own needs instead of the needs of the people.  For some, the temptation that arises when one is attempting to balance serving the people versus serving one’s self will create great structural tension and torment for themselves.  For some, there is no torment … to the good or detriment of the people.  For some, the use of divisiveness amongst the people will serve as a powerful tool, turning the people against each other and the Government, suggesting that not enough is being done when the reverse is true.

And not to leave anyone out, everyone in governing parties must be careful to appear to be serving the people while not blaming disasters on previous governments as the latter strategy can cause a governing party to be thrown out of office if executed improperly. In conjunction with this, parties that once led government but who no longer do so must not protest too loudly that not enough was done to prevent such disasters as they know where blame will be redirected.

I wonder how many of those politicians (and their mindless minions) will be angered that such questions are even posed.  These people will venomously hide behind patriotic themes and messages such as “this is not the time for such things” or “we have higher priorities” while intentionally deflecting observers away from their true intentions.

The people of Fort McMurray need leaders at all levels of society who exist to serve the people, with corporate, personal or political benefit put behind them.

We need transparency from those in power as we solve the immediate concerns of the evacuees, we embrace lessons learned and we evaluate future risks.

And we need to serve those in need, now and always, with a sense of urgency that places their needs above our own.

I think we need to demand all three.

I would like to be surprised for once by a truly people-serving Government from all sides of all Legislatures and across all parties.

What do you think?

Or are you content, once the shock has warn off, to return to same-old same-old when it comes to how prepared we are at all levels of society and how well we are served by those who claim to serve us?

Holding people accountable for the future of the great people of Fort McMurray can wait until "tomorrow".

For today ….

Do what you can to serve the people of Fort McMurray.

Support everyone who lifts and serves them, including volunteers and the Government.

And honor the bravery of those who put their Life on the line tirelessly and for no reward or recognition.

Someday, your Life may be in their hands.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – Emergency Preparedness

I have written often about the importance of emergency preparedness and how being informed can be the difference between Life and death.  Relying on government alone is insufficient and one must find a balance between preparedness and paranoia.

Some past musings about emergency preparedness include the following:

In the modern information age, we never have an excuse to not be doing the best we can for ourselves, our families, our community and our nation.

Are you doing your best to be informed and prepared?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

I close with this quote from my friend, Wesley Pierce:

We really should stop perverting the wisdom that is innate in us all and look for the wisdom in our inevitable hardships, not just to lay blame for our own shortcomings.

Addendum 2 - When the Data is Embarrassing (June 9, 2017)

In a report released this week regarding the fire at Fort McMurray last year, a number of embarrassing things were revealed leading up to and during the catastrophe.  Had you asked people if they were ready to fight a fire, they would have said "yes" with great certainty.  Despite this assertion, whoever was in charge of coordinating readiness failed Fort McMurray.  The people, on the other hand, rose to the occasion as humans often do.  What are the lessons here?  Details regarding the report can be found here - Fort McMurray wildfire reaction marred by communication gaps, says report (Calgary Herald).

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