Monday, September 18, 2017

Lots of help needed in the Keys but we got turned away.

The below was posted by Albert Tieche on Facebook. With his permission I am reposting here. This is not only a well-written story of one's frustrating experience while trying to do good, but explores how modern government discourages risk taking, thwarts efforts of people to be self sufficient and take initiative, even in times of crisis. It ask, what is the proper roll of government? Rod

Lots of help needed in the Keys but we got turned away. Here is what happened:

Albert U. Tieche
by Albert U Tieche - Don and I were turned back at the roadblock going into the Keys on Thursday afternoon, Sept 14. It was very disappointing because we were well prepared. We had 150 gallons of gas in the boat tanks with a transfer pump built in, 60 gallons of water, 250 lbs of ice in a giant cooler, enough food for several weeks, 2 gas-powered generators, a chain saw, tow chains, lots of tools, tubeless tire patching kit, portable air compressor, personal protective equipment and a SatPhone. We had a portable toilet with chemicals plus sleeping quarters in the boat we were towing. We were also prepared to legally protect ourselves and our property if that situation arose.

We had acquired detailed satellite photos of the conditions at Don's house on Cudjoe Key and his immediate neighbors' houses. Don's place is on stilts as are his neighbors. That helped. His place had some damage but it was minimal due to his good prep work last week. Nothing structural, so the house was livable. Some of his neighbors had more serious damage. All of them had 4' of seawater in their ground level areas. That water damage would have to be remediated. All had damaged or downed trees.

We knew from the good sat photos that one of Don's neighbors, who had been camped at the roadblock for a while, had driven a sedan the 100 miles from the roadblock all the way to Cudjoe Key. We could see his car in his driveway in Wednesday's sat photos. It was not there on Tuesday. So we knew US 1 was passable, just as the news reports said it was.

However, it turned out that the neighbor had actually defeated the police roadblock in a way we could not replicate. We learned that piece of info right AFTER we were turned away. (ATT restored cell service to their customers on Cudjoe Key on Thursday afternoon. The neighbors began to get word out to us because one of them had an ATT cell phone.)

It is an unfortunate situation. We could have helped the people who rode the storm out in that neighborhood and others, too. We were very well prepared and well provisioned. We stayed overnight in Ft. Lauderdale with friends who also have a house on Cudjoe Key.

This morning, Friday, the emergency management people told us by phone that they will not allow
any Lower Keys homeowners to return until the 911 system is restored and the medical facilities are functional. They said they cannot guarantee everyone's safety until that happens. Only First Responders are currently allowed in. (And God bless the First Responders!)

It appears the Emergency Management people are moving the roadblock further into the Keys every few days as electric service is restored to the Keys piece by piece from the mainland. But, from Big Pine Key to Key West is where the worst damage was done. And Cudjoe is in the middle of that. News reports say it could be as much as a month before electricity is restored to Cudjoe. I don't see how EMS can plausibly keep homeowners out that long. Mold growth will get started within a week in flooded houses that have not been quickly "torn out" and sprayed with the proper chemicals. That's the voice of experience.

Did I mention that Don and I both have personal experience at flood remediation? And that we have both been safety trainers and project planners in our professional lives? Did I mention that I have done Disaster Preparedness and Recovery training for companies and local governments? But, I digress.

Of course, we were not asking for anyone to guarantee our safety. We were prepared. I do understand that if authorities had allowed just anyone to go in, there might have been people who went in totally unprepared, got in some sort of physical distress, and then needed help. Non-resident gawkers might have gone in to "see the damage" and created problems. If that did happen, the press, that has been allowed in all along, and are reporting non-stop, would have immediately blamed "officials" for any hardships that befell any unprepared person who went in. That's what the press tends to do. They usually blame the government, not the individual. Officials know that and fear that criticism. Rightfully so.

It is unfortunate that officials are not willing to make any distinctions between fully prepared, able bodied people who can help the situation and unprepared individuals who may well cause more problems than they solve. I understand that it would be difficult for officials to make such judgements for each case. But, just because it's difficult doesn't mean you can't do it. In our case, our provisions and equipment were easily viewed at the roadblock, But the cop was not the least bit interested in our level of preparation and provision.

Having been denied access by road, we have developed a workable plan to make the run to Cudjoe by boat from the area of the roadblock-maybe 50 miles by water. Every house in Don's neighborhood is on a canal with access to both the Atlantic and the Gulf. All have small private docks. Many of the homeowners have boats that can make that run. I don't see how the Coast Guard could stop a homeowner from boating in and docking at their own docks. If the roadblock goes on for weeks, that may be the only way to get in and start repairs and clean up.

UPDATE SATURDAY MORNING: Homeowners will be allowed back in to Cudjoe Key on Sunday morning, Sept. 17.

It comes down to a difference in how one sees the role of government: 

I believe in freedom of the individual and that government should not prohibit property owners from taking care of their property in a situation like this, even though there are risks to the individuals. Local governments properly are charged with building and maintaining infrastructure and keeping the peace. And our local governments do that pretty darn well, even in major disasters.

But, modern government officials seem to now behave as if their job is to guarantee the safety and well being of all individuals at all times, even if that means denying property owners the right to protect and repair their property for an extended period of time. That is beyond what government should be allowed to do.

I cannot imagine government officials in the 1800's standing at the gateway to the west and telling people in wagon trains that they are prohibited from going further west because the government "cannot insure their safety" on the trip. The thought is comical.

With this particular disaster, there is room to improve. Keeping homeowners from doing repairs to mitigate damage for extended periods of time is not a proper role of government. Well prepared homeowners should have already been allowed back in. As someone volunteering to assist a homeowner, I would have been willing to provide ID and sign a liability waiver on the way in.
These two competing views of the proper role of government undergird much of the division in our modern culture. Some think governmental power is basically unlimited if they have good intentions. Others think governments must be limited and that they overstepped their bounds in this situation. Governments often seem to regard citizens as helpless creatures. The citizen response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston demonstrated the good things that citizens can do very quickly. They came from all over and saved people and property. The citizens did very well. But, I think common sense got cast aside by authorities in the aftermath of Irma in the Keys. It was easy to "close the Keys" because there is only one road in or out for over 100 miles. So they did. And they kept well prepared homeowners out because it was easier than making judgement calls on who was prepared to go in and who was not.

The decisions made by Emergency Management about homeowner access to the Keys in the aftermath of Irma need to be reviewed and critiqued in the interest of continuous improvement. They have done a lot of things right. But they made some bad decisions, too.

Albert Tieche is a Project Manager at Tieche Training and Development and a former Administrator of Elections for Davidson County, Tennessee. He lives in Nashville. 

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