The only difference between adventure and disaster is preparedness.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What if it happened today? Part IV

Following 9/11, it became undeniable that agencies being able to communicate with each other would not only make things easier, it would save lives. Interoperable communications is now a priority of all levels of government. Many grant funding opportunities are available through the Department of Homeland Security to purchase interoperable radio equipment. Gone are the days of agency-specific code-speak, now the name of the game is "clear language." When everyone is on the same page, rapid and sometimes life saving decisions can be made much easier.

The technological advances made in the study of volcanic eruptions have been huge, thanks in no small part to the first-hand experiences of studying Mt. St. Helens. While earthquakes and volcanic monitoring are still basically the same as in 1980, the number of tools and the degree of accuracy are much more advanced. GPS and computers are now a major part of volcanic study, as is the study of the gases being emitted by the mountain. Scientists can now detect not only carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxides, but also a host of other gases, all at resolutions much sharper than 30 years ago, giving them clues about what is going on inside the mountain.

The widespread use of GPS and DNA matching would also make body recovery and identification much faster than in decades past. Our local Search and Rescue groups spent months searching for bodies. Once the bodies were recovered, the long task of identifying them began. The tools of forensics, though not necessarily as advanced as they are on TV, are still lightyears ahead of what they were in the 80's. Comfort and closure for grieving families could be achieved much fast today.

In conclusion, would 57 lives have been lost if Mt. St. Helens were to erupt today? No one could say for sure. The day of the week and time of day would make a huge impact, no matter the decade. Would the mitigation, response and recovery to the eruption have been more streamlined? Absolutely. No disaster is without chaos, it wouldn't be a disaster if it was. But the technological advances in communications and science would definitely make the darkest days of our community a little easier to handle with efficiency and accuracy.

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