It's the Environment, Stupid.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The aftermath of the pac-nw storm

I got the low down from my mom on the storm in the greater Seattle area with severe rain and high powered winds that knocked down trees and cut power to nearly 700,000 homes and businesses for much of last weekend. This type of weather is not unusual for this time of year. I remember several turkey days and x-mas days past that we didn't have power due to a blasted winter storm. Although the fierce storm that hit last weekend is ranked up there with one of the worst in recent history.

From reading several newspaper articles and speaking to a few friends and family who survived this one, we (as urban/suburban Americans) don't seem to know how to cope without power. We don't understand how the grids work or that people are working around the clock to repair downed lines and blown transformers. Most people just complain that they can't do their christmas shopping, and can't get their coffee or fuel (I was told that quite a few folks found pockets of powered up neighborhoods and waited in line at gas stations for 2 hours, and waited another 2 hours for their coffee at Starbucks.) There was an article in the Seattle-PI today about how the power outtage was Seattle City Light's fault because they don't keep up with tree trimming, and the utility came under fire for sending people home early despite storm warnings. (anyone else having con-ed flash backs?)

Now I know it is a serious situation, especially for children and the elderly. There were nearly 10 deaths attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning because people were running generators inside their homes or garages with the windows sealed up tight. Some people are still without power. But there seems to be little talk (in all this talk) about the increased severity of winter storms, or the fact that Seattle's eastside is considerably more built up than ever before (thus more property and goods that are vulnerable to damage), not to mention the trees that have been left standing (and not cut down for further developement) are taller because they've been allowed to continue living.

Undergound power lines and (selective) tree cutting should be considered to prevent damage in the event of future storms, but there should also be more planning for increased storm water management to reduce flood water damage, better sub-urban and ex-urban planning, mandatory high performance building standards so homes don't get as cold in the winter (or as hot in the summer) and the state/public utilities (or even private enterprises) should look at the potential for distributed power generation that could serve to alleviate some of the 'inconveniences' of disrupted power supply. These are the type of actions I mean when I speak of adapting for future calamaties, things that are preventive rather than reactionary. While we can't prepare for the unknown, we can take certain precautions so we're not completely caught off guard for the next big storm.

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