When seconds count
When I was a teenager, a tornado came through our neighborhood. It did not touch down, but it was definitely overhead, judging from the damage. Power lines were torn from their moorings, baseball backstops were twisted, chimneys were toppled and water was sucked from above-ground swimming pools. We had no warning, other than the ominously green sky, which only hinted that we should head home. We certainly had no idea what was about to transpire in just a few moments.
As natural disasters go, we were very lucky. No one died or lost their homes. Not everyone is as fortunate. I spoke recently with Richard Klein, the president and CEO of Klein Electronics, about a product the company is introducing this month. (See page 50.) The company is headquartered near San Diego and was right in the path of one of last fall’s wildfires that charred Southern California — the second time in four years that such carnage ensued. Klein told me of having to hose down the roof of his building while wearing a surgical mask. He told me of the ash that collected inside the building and on cars outside, just as snow collects on a Chicago lawn in the dead of winter. He told me of friends and colleagues who lost their homes. In one case, the family was able to grab only a few photographs as they fled their home — and lost everything else.
He also told me of a couple that lost their lives in heartbreaking fashion. Apparently, with flames already beginning to engulf a neighbor’s home two doors away, the couple raced to their car, only to be trapped inside the garage when the overhead door caught fire. They died of smoke inhalation. Another neighborhood couple was more fortunate — with flames bearing down on them, they jumped into their swimming pool and bobbed like apples for four hours until they finally were rescued.
As writers Donny Jackson, Mary Rose Roberts and Doug Mohney report in this edition, much progress has been made in emergency-alert technology — not to mention radio communications in general — since the last time Southern California fell victim to widespread wildfires. In fact, as Jackson reports, automated alerts pushed out to residents were largely responsible for the success of large-scale evacuations that resulted in a half million people finding safe haven in San Diego alone.
At times, all of us contemplate whether what we are doing in our chosen professions is making a difference. Clearly, those responsible for emergency-alert technology should have no such worries.