Monday, May 28, 2007

This Date in Fire History: May 28

1977. The top single of the year would be Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night.” Other performers in the top five would be Andy Gibb, the Emotions, Barbra Streisand, and Hot. 1977, however, also featured a number of clean-cut handsome young singers like Bobby Goldsboro, Bobby Sherman, and John Davidson.

On May 28, 1977, Davidson was scheduled to headline the show at the Beverly Hills Supper Club, “The Showplace of the Nation,” in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. About 8:50 PM, the comedy team of Jim Teeter and Jim McDonald were getting the audience ready for Davidson’s entrance.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club was one of the most luxurious venues of its time, offering banquet and meeting facilities for groups from 20 to 1,000. A beautiful central hallway lined with mirrors had an open, curved stairway known as the Cinderella Stairway, which was itself lavishly decorated.

The building was of what is termed "unprotected, noncombustible" construction, what we might call "ordinary" construction: most of the exterior walls were masonry. The original building, constructed in 1937, had been added to many times over the years, especially after a major fire in 1970, during major remodeling. One result of all the additions was that virtually all the interior walls had been, at some time, exterior walls. The 1970 project included the construction of the Cabaret Room, the Garden Rooms, and a 60 foot glass atrium.

That May evening, “the joint was jumping.” In addition to the Davidson show in the Cabaret Room, the Greater Cincinnati Choral Union and the Afghan Hound Club of Southwestern Ohio were each using three of the upstairs Crystal Rooms for dinners; the Savings & Loan League of Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky was holding an awards banquet, and a wedding reception was breaking up early in the Zebra Room.

The people at the reception complained about the temperature in the room; the consensus was that the air conditioning was out of order. Instead, improperly installed aluminum wiring was smoldering.

At 8:50 PM, about the same time that Teeter and McDonald were wrapping up their act, reservations clerk Eileen Druckman smelled smoke. She tracked the smell to the Zebra Room, opens the door and sees fire. A bartender grabs a fire extinguisher and races to the Zebra Room, returning just moments later. He tells a waitress to call the fire department and yells, “Let’s get the people out of here.” The Campbell County Dispatch Center, however, doesn’t log their first call on the fire until 9:01.

At 9:00 PM, busboy Walter Bailey takes the stage in the Cabaret Room to announce “a small fire.”

By 9:02, the fire has spread to the Cabaret Room. “Some 1,200 screaming people are pushing toward the three small exits, throwing chairs and tables out of their paths. Some are climbing from table to table, stepping over others,” according to the Cincinnati Post.

By 9:25 PM, portions of the building start to collapse, and by 2:00 AM, it is all over.

The “small fire” killed 165, including a member of Davidson’s entourage, music director Douglas Herro.

The investigation by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) listed the major factors contributing to the large loss of life:
  • The lack of alarm and sprinkler systems allowed the fire to grow undetected for an extended period of time (sprinkler systems were required by Kentucky code at the time, although not necessarily at the time of construction)
  • Staff attempted to fight the fire themselves before evacuating the patrons or notifying the fire department
  • There was no evacuation plan for the complex, nor were staff trained in emergency duties
    The building was grossly overcrowded – the Cabaret Room alone was at double the legal capacity
  • There were insufficient fire exits for the facility, especially in light of the overcrowding
  • The entire complex was decorated with highly-flammable materials; the interior finish materials in the main corridor exceeded the flame spread allowed for places of public assembly and contributed to the rapid spread of the fire from the Zebra Room (where the fire originated) to the Cabaret Room.

WKRC-TV, Cincinnati's Channel 12, has video clips of the fire here.

The Cincinnati Post has extensive coverage here, and the Cincinnati Enquirer, here. Both include detailed coverage of the fire, the investigation, ensuing lawsuits, and stories by and about the survivors.

The biggest tragedy, of course, is that most or all of these deaths could have been prevented. All six factors above were also cited as causes for the deaths at the Cocoanut Grove – a fire that had occurred 35 years earlier.

Adding to the horror is the fact that five of the six factors also contributed to the 100 fatalities at the Station Nightclub… 26 years after Beverly Hills. (The Station staff didn’t try to fight the fire; they couldn’t – it spread too quickly).

Of course, there are moments of irony in this story, as with any other. Sycamore Township Fire Chief B.J. Jetter uses the Beverly Hills Fire in teaching his classes at Cincinnati State. But in 1977, he was the drummer in a band scheduled to play at wedding at Beverly Hills on May 28. The wedding was cancelled.

Thirty years later, by the way, the site of the club lies vacant. Trespassers who explore the site can still find macabre souvenirs: a spoon with a tree embedded in a tree root, partially burned serving trays, smashed plates, etc. Several attempts to develop the property have failed. The last proposal, for a shopping mall, was voted down by citizens who felt the area could not support a mall. A proposal for an office park was deemed not economically feasible by the property owners.

There are, as yet, no plans for a permanent memorial to the victims, but one will probably be an integral part of any future use of the land.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Ranter's Rides...

As we continue our trip down Memory Lane, and the cars used to get there, I should point out that none of the cars listed in Part I were POS rides - they were all quite nice cars.

The parents decided the Falcon wasn't big enough for a family of five, plus a dog, so they replaced the Falcon with a 1969 Ford Galaxy wagon. This beast had, I think, a 3 billion cubic-inch Pratt and Whitney (jet) engine, got about 4 miles per gallon, and would pass anything but a gas pump. It was like driving a frickin' rocket. Needless to say, I loved it... till I managed to get it upside-down on US Route 1 on Thanksgiving weekend.

After the Galaxie came a 1974 Chevrolet Impala, which -- I have heard -- was the biggest automobile ever produced. It was a real land yacht, and again had tons of power. It was a bitch to park, though. We got the Impala after I wrecked the Galaxie, and of course, I got all sorts of grief from the parents for having done that. Can you imagine the look on my face when Mother came in and said she had wrecked the Impala? (Although it was far in the future then, my first wife would also have a 74 Impala... I should have recognized it for the bad omen it was).

We replaced the Impala with a Malibu wagon, which was much more sensible at the time. The 'Bu got better gas mileage, was much easier to park, had better visibility, and was generally a sweet ride. Plus, of course, I enjoyed the back of the station wagon on dates. Not that it was ever used that way, of course (sigh)... The 'Bu was not the best vehicle for schlepping a son to college, though.

After my freshman year, I was able to scrape together enough money to buy a car my cousin was selling... a 1966 Mustang, in the glorious Forest Green. It had 100,000+ miles on it, and the floorboards were rotting, but who cared? It was my car. My car. I drove it for a year until I got smacked at an intersection. I sold it to a back yard mechanic who restored it, and it is still running around town.

After the Stang, I was kinda strapped for cash, so I wound up with my first POS... a 65 Impair (it started life as an Impala, but the car had gotten smacked and the front end was replaced with Belair nose parts). The Motor Vehicle Department wouldn't let me register it as an Impair, but they would accept Belpala... but who would laugh at that?

POS Parade....

Well-known Canadian blogger Firestarter5 (he of "Half-Nekkid Honey" fame) has issued a challenge to his fellow bloggers:

So here is your next task if you happen to be running short of Blog post ideas. Besides wracking your brain thinking of production years, you'll have to use Google Images to find the correct picture of all the cars/trucks you have owned. The colours don't have to match, just the body style.

I shall be working on this post today. And I'm tagging EVERYONE who reads this. Remember to leave a comment giving your blog address if I don't have your blog listed on this page.

Remember, you have to list every P.O.S. you may have owned, as well as all the good ones.

As I said in my comment on his post, "Do you have any idea how many POS cars I've had over the last 30 years?"

Anyway, here goes.

The first car I ever drove was my grandmother's 1956 Hudson. I'm not 100% sure which model, but I think it was the Hollywood; it looks familiar. I "stole" her car and took it for joyrides up and down the driveway when I was about 10 years old. I remember riding into town with my father each Sunday to get the NY Times; if I had been good all week, we'd stop for a hot fudge sundae before heading home.

The next one was also illegal driving for me, my parent's 1964 Ford Falcon wagon. They bought it when we lived in NYC and had a summer house in Maine (how excrutiatingly preppie, right?). Even though I was only 15, I was much more comfortable driving than my mother was, so I got to play chauffeur most of the time.

The first car I owned was a 1963 Studebaker Lark. Mine was a cream-colored four-door. I was in the process of getting it street-ready when my brother put a rock through the back window, which allowed rain to seep in. Shortly thereafter, a part of the broken window collapsed and some squirrels moved in and really trashed it. I could have killed him. And yes, I wish I still had this car.

I think one of the things that killed Studebaker was their styling... they seemed to be well ahead of the times. Look at the front of that 1963 Lark and compare it to the '80's and '90's Mercedes - very similar, at least to me.

The first legal rides for me were my father's two vehicles - the 1965 Studebaker Commander he used for commuting, and the 1971 Datsun pickup used for weekend projects. Both had manual transmissions - the Stud had a three-on-the-tree (steering column, for the kids), the Datsun a four-on-the-floor. Dad wouldn't let me take the license exam until I could shift with one finger, leaving the rest of my fingers free for things like exploring my (female) passenger's knee.

Again, with the Commander, you can see styling that wouldn't hit the rest of the auto industry for years - a very functional design similar to many of the 70's and 80's models.

More in a bit.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Better Than Sex!

Well, okay, nothing is better than sex, but this comes close.

I have been invited to add my voice to the chorus at the Out Of Iraq Bloggers Causus, joining such forces for good as Blue Girl, Jurassic Pork, Skippy, and Strannix.

I think it behooves all of us -- Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Independents, even Lieberman -- to figure out some way to get out of the quicksand in which Dear Leader bush has mired us.

It's all well and good to say "support the troops", but only if that support is more constructive than putting some magnet on your SUV. The best way to support our troops -- in fact, the only way -- is to bring them home in one piece, while providing the maximum protection we can until they are home.

bush, Cheney, Wolfie, "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth"(little Dougie Feith, of course), Condisleeza Ricearoni, and the rest of the neocon thugs dragged us into an unnecessary, illegal, and immoral war, based on dubious intelligence and outright lies, with the primary purpose of enriching themselves and their corrupt corporate puppet-masters.

I hope that I might add some useful insight to the discourse.

Cross-posted at Out of Iraq Caucus.

Follow-Up to Gun Nuts...

Want to know why I'm so convinced you gun nuts are all whackjobs?
MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) -- Police say two people, including the likely shooter, have been found dead inside a church surrounded by law officers after three people were shot. Dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded a church Sunday where they believed they had cornered a shooter or shooters who wounded two officers and a civilian in bursts of automatic gunfire, police said.
"He was just shooting at anybody he could," Duke said. "We believe the shots
were from a high area, based on where the victims were shot."
Duke said the victims were shot with automatic weapons.

Of course, let us not forget some of the other "highlights" of the gun-rights issue:
  • Virginia Tech: Seung-Hui Cho was able to purchase weapons after being involuntarily committed for psychiatric problems
  • Nickel Mines, PA: Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five young Amish girls and -- thankfully -- himself in an Amish school house
  • Tacoma, WA: Dominick Maldonado opens fire in a shopping mall with a pair of assault rifles, wounding six.
  • Salt Lake City, UT: Sulejmen Talovic, an 18-year-old Bosnian immigrant, opened fire on shoppers, killing five and injuring four others.
  • Kingston, NY: Robert Bonelli entered amall with a replica of a AK47 and began firing his weapon. No one was killed and only two were injured.
  • Atlanta, GA: Mark O. Barton killed 12 and injured 12, using legal but unlicensed guns
  • Moses Lake, WA: Two students and one teacher killed, one other wounded when 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis opened fire on his algebra class.
  • Littleton, CO: Harris and Klebold shoot up Columbine High School

Yeah, let's keep weapons readily available so that anyone -- whackjob, would-be terrorist, bank robber, wife-killer -- anyone can have one.

Gun Nuts, Terrorists, the NRA and bush

Commenting on my post about the NRA supporting terrorists, Sebastian says, "...gun owners have never been thrilled with Bush. Hang out on some of our blogs, you won't hear us singing his praises much. "

Uh-uh. Nope. Au contraire, mon frere.

No effin' way are you right-wing gun nuts gonna hang your boy bush on US. The NRA has always supported bush and the rest of his neocon cabal, and of course the gun nuts all support the NRA. [All emphasis added]

The National Rifle Association`s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) has endorsed George W. Bush for President of the United States.... President Bush and Vice President Cheney both love to hunt and fish.... Four years ago, NRA members went to the polls and stopped Al Gore`s plans to continue the war on America`s gun owners. But now, we face a greater threat than even the Clinton/Gore Administration posed. John Kerry and John Edwards are the most anti-gun presidential team in our country`s history.... Vote to re-elect President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
George W. Bush, 54, apparently learned hunting and alleged sportsmanship the National Rifle Association way, from his father, former U.S. President George H. Bush. NRA vice president Kayne Robinson boasted at a members-only meeting in early 2000 that Bush, if elected, would be «a president where we work out of
their office
.» That got some attention, along with the role of NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre in raising $250,000 at a recent Republican Party fundraiser honoring Bush, and the Bush record as Texas governor of signing bills allowing people to carry concealed handguns and take guns to church, and barring cities from suing gun-makers.
But who gets George Bush's obedience? The NRA and its fellow "any gun is a good gun" followers. NRA tells George that the Second Amendment somehow says that EVERY SINGLE TYPE OF GUN must be available to everyone with the absolute minimum of registration. Congress can try and demand more national security with standards for getting drivers licenses, but apparently selling guns made for shooting through cops police vests is just not a concern...

Republican-controlledCongress delivers long-sought victory to gun industry as House votes, 283-144, to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits; NRA lobbied intensely for measure, which passes with 59 Democratic votes; Wayne LaPierre of NRA hails 'historic' moment; Senate has approved identical measure, which is aimed at ending lawsuits by individuals and municipalities trying to hold manufacturers and dealers liable for negligence when weapons are used in crimes; measure does allow cases involving defective weapons or criminal behavior such as knowingly selling weapon to buyer who has failed criminal background check; Pres Bush says law will help stem 'frivolous' lawsuits; dispirited gun-safety advocates vow to challenge constitutionality; sponsor Cliff Stearns notes boost from Pentagon letter backing measure as safeguarding national security by limiting lawsuits against companies that supply weapons to military.

Editorial criticizes Pres Bush for giving no more than 'passive support' to renewal of
assault-weapon ban,
despite pleas of most law enforcement agencies, while at same time trying to outlaw legitimate damage suits by gun victims against 'irresponsible'
manufacturers and dealers...

If theNRA could pick a candidate, it would undoubtedly be George W. Bush. Source: The Economist, “Issues 2000” special Sep 30, 2000] He has been a strong ally of the organization in Texas. Recent attempts to distance himself are assumed to be merely tactical. Bush follows the standard gun-owner’s line: he wants tougher penalties against gun-toting criminals, but no more regulations for worthy citizens with a pistol by the bed. He places the blame for America’s frequent gun massacres on negligent parents, a “wave of evil” and the culture of violence. As president, he:

  • would bring in no new gun controls, except possibly tougher penalties for criminals using guns
  • opposes mandatory safety locks (but supports voluntary ones)
  • supports concealed-weapon laws
  • favors instant background checks (rather than three-day waiting periods) in shops and at gun shows
  • would restrict lawsuits against gun makers, which he has deterred in Texas

The recent shootings in Michigan and Pennsylvania have again thrust the issue of gun safety into the national spotlight -- much to the dismay of the National Rifle Association and the pro-gun presidential candidates, who are now being forced to deal with a problem which they don't want to talk about. ... As a result, the NRA, Gov. George Bush and Sen. John McCain are in full "spin cycle," using smoke-and-mirrors public relations to claim to be championing gun safety legislation to deflect their poor records on the issue of gun safety. At the same time, what the NRA and these pro-gun candidates say and do on the issue of gun control are two completely different things entirely.

You friggin whackjobs who think you shouldn't have any restriction on carrying whatever weapons you want, you supported bush, you wanted bush...


I have yet to see a vehicle with an NRA sticker also showing a sticker for any Democrat. The complete abrogation of sensible (or even any) gun-control legislation is the sole purview of the Rethuglicans.

Any time a Democrat mentions gun control, you lunatics and your NRA buddies begin an immediate total character assassination that makes the Swift Boat crowd look tame.

It is you who insist that guns must be available to everybody, everywhere. It is you and your ilk that want to force employers and others to allow guns on their property... even against the property owner's wishes. It is you raving maniacs that feel a God-given right to carry guns in bars and churches and even prisons.


More Family Values From the "Party of God"

Warning: the affidavit of SD Attorney General Larry Long, referred to in this piece , is medically graphic and may be disturbing.

The GOP -- or "Party of God" (yes, they're dyslexic) -- continually bleats about its commitment to "family values", as demonstrated by Rev Ted Haggard buying and smoking meth with a male prostitute, Guiliani and Gingrich's multiple divorces (and according to the Bible, their subsequent adulterous affairs), and of course the Terri Schiavo situation. The Religious Reich is also famous for its tolerance of others and other lifestyles:
  • Jerry Falwell on 9-11: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
  • Fred Phelps, also on 9-11 victims: "The Lord God Almighty killed [the people who died on 9/11], looked at them in the face, laughed and mocked at each one of them as he cast each one of them into hell".
  • Bigus Dickus Cheney on the poor: "That's a source that didn't even exist 10 years ago....Four hundred thousand people make some money trading on eBay."
  • Barbara Bush on Katrina refugees: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.... And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them."
  • Michelle Malkin: any time she opens her mouth
  • Rush Limbaugh: ditto
  • Bill O'Reilly: ditto
The GOP and their minions have given us such wonderful, "Christian" gifts as the Iraq War, waterboarding, NSA wiretapping, Attorneygate, Plamegate, and Gitmo... all in God's name, of course.

The latest in a long -- and probably never-ending -- line of "Family Values" Rethuglicans is former SD State Representative Ted Alvin Klaudt, of Walker. His commitment to "Family Values?"

  • Eight counts of second-degree rape
  • Two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Two counts of witness tampering
  • Sexual contact with a person under 16
  • Stalking

Teddy accomplished his little perversions by telling three foster children, a cousin of one of the foster kids, and a friend of his own daughter, that they could make up to $20,000 by donating eggs to a fertility clinic. Klaudt himself, of course, conducted the necessary vaginal "examinations" [Long affidavit, pages 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20] and "collections" [pages 4, 8, 14]. Klaudt also conducted breast examinations [pages 3, 4, 9, 10, 12, 16, 18, 21].

As the case started coming together, and as his hidden perversions came to light, Klaudt threatened the victims [pages 9, 17].

Klaudt, who admitted he "had not ever received any medical training" [page 22], was arrested on two warrants, one from Corson County for the offenses committed in Walker, the other from Hughes County, for the offenses committed in Pierre, the state capitol.

Klaudt, of course, is every girl's dream of the first man to see her naked or touch her vagina and breasts. What girl wouldn't want this pudgy little turdball exploring her body?

And let us not forget one other claim to fame for the great state of South Dakota: their new abortion law last year, which gave us the unforgettable "sodomized virgin" exception:

A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Can't you just see SD State Senator Bill Napoli (R, of course) fondling himself as he formulates the only exception to the abortion ban?

These bozos -- from bush's "culture of life" that gave us a record number of executions to Klaudt, Gingrich, Haggard, Bakker, JimmyJeff GannonGuckert -- support family values?!?

Give me a break.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Today in Fire History: May 6

Note: This is being posted early as I'm going to be busy tomorrow.

"Oh, the humanity...."

Those simple words, cried out by a reporter in New Jersey, encapsulate the horror of one of the most tragic air crashes in history.

Thursday, May 6, 1937, Lakehurst, New Jersey: It was busier than usual at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. A number of media represent-atives, including Herb Morrison of Chicago radio station WLS, were on hand for the arrival of an airship bearing the registration number LZ-129, better known as the Hindenburg.

The ship was inbound from Frankfurt, Germany with 36 passengers (half its capacity) and 61 crew members. The return flight, however, was fully booked, primarily by people planning on attending the coronation of King George VI, on May 12.

As the craft approached the mooring pole, witnesses reported seeing a small jet of flame in front of the upper fin. Within minutes, the ship was completely destroyed, claiming 36 lives. The cause of the disaster has never been satisfactorily determined, although theories have included a build-up of static electricity, structural failure, lightning, sabotage, and being shot down.

The Hindenburg, built in 1935 and launched in 1936, had already made 17 trans-Atlantic trips: 10 to the US and seven to Brazil. It had also appeared at the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and had made a number of other propaganda flights for the Nazis.

The ship was originally intended to be filled with helium, but an American military embargo on helium forced the Germans forced the Germans to modify the design to use hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The change did not greatly concern the Germans, however; they had extensive experience with hydrogen as a lifting gas. Additionally, the change to hydrogen gave the ship about 8% more lift capacity.

The helium embargo was somewhat ironic, in that the chairman of the Zeppelin Company, Dr. Hugo Eckner, had accepted funding from the National Socialist Party -- the Nazis -- whom he disliked, resulting in both the Hindenburg and its sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin, displaying the Nazi swastika on their fins. This apparent affiliation with Hitler and the Nazis, coupled with concerns about whether the Nazis would use dirigibles in warfare (as the Germans has done in World War I), prompted the Americans -- whom Eckner admired -- to ban the export of the helium necessary to inflate the Hindenburg.

The Hindenburg was the largest aircraft ever built, three times longer than a Boeing 747, four times longer than the current Goodyear blimp, and only 78 feet shorter than the Titanic (graphic from CiderPressPottery). The ship contained approximately 7 million cubic feet of gas in 16 compartments, with a useful lift (after subtracting the weight of the ship itself) of 247,100 pounds. Four diesel engines gave the ship a maximum speed of 84 mph. The duralumin frame was covered by cotton varnished with iron oxide and cellulose acetate butyrate impregnated with aluminium powder.

Despite the flammability of the hydrgen gas, the ship was equipped with a smoking lounge! Protected by an air-lock type entry, the lounge had one lighter locked to a table with a cord. Since all matches and lighters were confiscated by crew members as passengers boarded the ship, the smoking lounge provided the only refuge for smokers.

As noted above, no one really knows what happened that fateful day. As it approached the mooring mast, the Hindenburg caught fire. The ship's back broke and it crashed to the ground.

Among the 36 who died were 13 passengers jumping from the plummeting craft. As NPR News reported on May 4, 2007, however, the passengers who remained on board the ship all survived. 22 crew members also perished, including six who were in the bow of the craft.

The United States Navy was the primary investigative agency for the disaster, as it had happened at a Navy facility. The FBI made itself available as a backup agency, but had no direct involvement as there was no indication of any Federal violations being factors (the FBI has approximately 300 pages of investigative materials available on its website).

The loss of the Hindenburg shattered the public's faith in airships and hastened the end of these giant craft. Another factor was the almost concurrent introduction of international airliners like the Douglas DC-3.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Back to Disaster Preparedness

Paul Purcell, who seems to be at work on a reasoanably nice day (at least here in Michigan) sent me another article, which he has allowed me to share with my readers.

You may recall a few months back, Blue Girl and I ran a number of posts on disaster preparedness (we even roped in BadTux, albeit unwittingly, for his MRE reviews). Blue Girl's efforts are in her old Blogger blog.

Purcell has compiled a method of teaching disasterpreparedness that beats anything I could have done. Even if you don't plan on teaching preparedness -- and I suspect that aside from BadTux, I don't have many teachers in the audience -- you should apply these points to your own preparedness.

You do have a preparedness plan, don't you?


The Secrets of Teaching Disaster Preparedness

Headlines are full of hurricanes, earthquakes, bird flu, terrorism, and other dangers of the world in which we live. However, most civilians aren’t prepared to face a disaster or even a family emergency. This begs the question "Why not?" This article is intended for those who want to change this fact by teaching others, including their own families, to be better prepared, safer, and more self-reliant.

We’ve identified several "learning obstacles" that prevent individuals and families from being as emergency ready as they should be. We’ll list them here quickly then cover each in more detail and discuss ways to jump these learning hurdles.

Since we’re talking about educating families – the cornerstone of all reaction plans - let’s use the acronym F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S.:

Fear – "It’s too scary to think about."
Attention Span – "I’m too busy to learn or do anything new."
Media – "There’s always a weatherman in the hurricane."
Info Levels Now – "A 72-hour kit is all I need."
Lifestyle Ties – "I don’t want to change the way I live."
Income – "I can’t afford to buy the gear or take the steps."
Ego – "I’m so important that others will look after me."
Selflessness – "I’m not worried about me, I want to help others."

Why is it important to increase the level of civilian preparedness training over what we have through sites like That question can be a series of articles on its own, but the 4-part short answer is one, most free websites have only the bare minimum info; two, the fewer victims we have in a disaster the better off we’ll all be; three, all business continuity plans rest on the ability of employees to return to work; and four, the term "civilians" includes the families of first responders. The more prepared the family, the more able is the responder to report for duty.

As we cover each learning obstacle below, you’ll find a brief description of the problem followed by a few specific tips on how to deal with that particular issue. When teaching, remember that people have different learning styles. Visual learners do best by watching. They are receptive to videos, PowerPoint, or live demos. Auditory learners prefer verbal communication such as podcasts, or books on tape. Kinesthetic learners benefit from hands-on experience. Try to incorporate a little of each into your presentations.


Fear is probably the number one reason people don’t prepare. Too many people focus on the dangers they may face in disasters, rather than the benefits of self-reliance. Worse, many so-called experts dwell on nothing but the threat since they have little to no new preparedness information. Let’s look at ways to teach readiness while avoiding fear:
  1. Take a tip from insurance salespeople. They focus on the benefits of the policy rather than the reasons you might need one. Accentuate the positives of preparedness, not worst case scenarios.
  2. Use "mundane" threats to get people to prepare for more dire situations. For example, people living on the coast understand hurricanes and are receptive to helpful tips regarding evacuation. However, you might get a negative reaction with a "nuke in the harbor" scenario.
  3. Teach preparedness without mentioning a threat. For example, focus on financial planning. It’s more economical to buy groceries in bulk and cook at home, and it’s also healthier. Guess what? This means you’ll have more food at home in a shelter-in-place situation. Also, encouraging families to take up camping as a hobby inadvertently helps prepare them for an evacuation.

Attention Span

With microwave ovens, ATMs, email, and so forth, we live in a world of instant gratification. We have become a society whose mantra is "Just give me the condensed intro, not the whole pamphlet." We rarely take time to do a thorough and detailed job of anything, and the notion of adding things to the list, even something life-saving, is out of the question. (This is also the reason that once something is no longer repeated on the nightly news, it becomes a forgotten issue.)

  1. Most people don’t realize that being prepared for disaster takes only subtle modifications to your life and doesn’t require extensive study or training.
  2. People in this category appreciate "helpful hints," so break things down into bite-size pieces. Use simple (though detailed and thorough) checklists and bulleted lists rather than wordy text or long speeches. For one such list, see "50 Emergency Uses for Your Camera Phone" at
  3. Show them how some aspects of preparedness can save time. For example, having more food in the pantry saves shopping time. Also, being current and comprehensive with your insurance policies and personal documentation will save months worth of time getting your life back on track after a disaster.


News channels can be a double-edged sword. They’re great for emergency warnings, but sometimes contradict themselves. For example, weather stations will pass along evacuation warnings in advance of a hurricane, but then they’ll send a reporter out in the middle of it to give a live report. Some people see this and think hurricanes are no big deal. We’ve seen the same in minor chemical spills. Let your preparedness students know that:

  1. Things are always smaller and friendlier on TV than in real life. A picture of a snake isn’t the least bit alarming. However, turn one loose in your classroom…. (No, don’t actually do this!)
  2. News sources live and die on ratings, viewers, and subscribers, and therefore take risks. However, these are usually controlled risks, since, for example, the weather reporters are usually in a side area and not in the direct path of the eye of the hurricane. So don’t do what they do, do what they say.

Info Levels Now

Most "emergency" sites on the internet with "readiness information" have nothing but variations of the 72-hour kit checklist. The other end of the spectrum finds all the "survivalist" info concerning edible plants and living off the land. These two extremes can mislead the public in two distinct ways. One, the simplistic info might tell people that a 72-hour kit is all they’ll need and the government will come protect them. Two, the other extreme relates to fear since it tends to tell people that "things will be so bad that you’ll need these survival skills." The extremes should be avoided. Shoot for the more realistic middle ground.

  1. "72-hour" kits are the absolute minimum. Recommending only a 72-hour kit is like telling a family on a vacation road-trip to get only enough gas to get to the next exit where there might be another station.
  2. If you teach outdoor survival skills, remind people that these skills aren’t the very next option after their 72-hour kit runs out. They’re there for the most severe cases in isolated incidents.
  3. Bridge the gap between these extremes by providing instruction on how families can use simple measures to stay safe and secure for up to four weeks, either during an evacuation or extended shelter-in-place. A good example is the four weeks of food and water stored in the pantry. Four weeks is a more realistic figure and fills the void between simple kits and survival skills.
  4. For more thoughts, see "The Disaster Dozen: The Top Twelve Myths of Disaster Preparedness" at

Lifestyle Ties

Essentially, this is another form of fear. It’s the fear of changing one’s lifestyle to incorporate readiness, and it’s the fear of losing one’s current lifestyle in the wake of a disaster. Two points come into play here.

  1. One of the main goals of true readiness training is the preservation of our lifestyle as we know it, and not just mere physical survival. Therefore when discussing disasters, cover their aftermath and what it will take for families to return to normal. Don’t cut the subject short.
  2. Realistic preparedness doesn’t involve major changes, but incorporates subtle modifications to the things we already have and do. For example, the simple habit of topping off your vehicle’s gas tank three times a week is easy to develop and ensures you have as much fuel as possible in an emergency. Simple task, powerful results, no appreciable change in your lifestyle.


Many people see ads for high-priced "disaster" goods and gear and assume that protecting their family will be a major financial investment. This isn’t necessarily the case. If done correctly, protective measures can actually save a family money, or at least zero itself out on your household budget.

  1. In our discussion of the 4-week pantry we pointed out how storing this much food could actually save time and money.
  2. You don’t need to buy expensive gear. In fact, we recommend finding things you need at thrift stores or yard sales, and in other cases, making your own gear. For example, our "mess kits" were made with leftover plastic dishes from microwave dinners.
  3. Part of any comprehensive family preparedness training should include a section on frugality, or how a family might save money by reducing expenses and through better household budgeting.


Ego can also be called self-esteem, and this can either go high or low. In the case of high self-esteem, some people may think, "I’m so important that others will take care of me." Low self-esteem carries its own peculiarities as well. These folks might think, "No one will help me," or "Nothing exciting ever happens here, so why prepare?" Though not directly ego-related, many people hold that same belief that "Nothing will happen here. Things happen to other people."
  1. Since we want to avoid generating fear, don’t fight the "I’ll be taken care of" attitude with stories of how bad things could get. Instead, use this high self-esteem by pointing out that one reason people don’t prepare is because their friends don’t. Therefore, tell this group the truth that they can help get others to prepare by being prepared themselves, and setting an example.
  2. People with low self-esteem should be shown that self-reliance really is possible for them. These folks have low confidence levels. Once they see examples of how easy it is to be far more prepared and protected than they are, they’ll appreciate their new confidence and may continue their education on their own.


Many people are so concerned about others that they neglect themselves. This is one of the reasons we see incidents of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in people that were never in the actual emergency. This type of distant stress is caused when these folks see bad things happen to other people but they can’t do anything about it.

  1. A good reminder for this group is that you’re more able to help others if you yourself are well prepared. And guess what? "Others" includes pets!
  2. In the stocked pantry example, you’ve helped others by already having your supplies, which makes for shorter lines and more stock on the shelves when the unprepared make that last-minute scramble for supplies at the grocery store.
  3. You also help others by setting the example that preparedness is socially acceptable, much in the same way that we wear our seatbelts so our children will.

The most important point of all is that your main goal is to teach both the importance and techniques of disaster preparedness in order to make our world safer. So, we have one last acronym for you; the word T.E.A.C.H.

Treat each family member as unique.
Emphasize the benefits and not the threat.
Allow for different learning styles and speeds.
Confidence building is goal number one.
Help others to help themselves, and to then help others in turn.

About the author: Paul Purcell is a security analyst and preparedness consultant and is the author of "Disaster Prep 101." More articles by Paul can be found at: Copyright 2006 Paul Purcell.


While Purcell doesn't mention it directly, I would add that obtaining CERT training would also be of great help. As I have noted before, CERT -- Community Emergency response Teams -- give citizens the basic skills they need to care for themselves, their neighbors, and their communities in the early stages of a disaster, when government services might be overwhelmed or tied up elsewhere. More information on CERT training is available at


In an AP article yesterday, National Rifle Association executive director Chris Cox is quoted as saying a bill introduced by Frank Lautenberg to prohibit suspected terrorists from buying firearms "would allow arbitrary denial of Second Amendment rights based on mere 'suspicions' of a terrorist threat."

Cox goes on to say, "the word 'suspect' has no legal meaning, particularly when it comes to denying constitutional liberties."

This is particularly rich, insofar as the NRA -- and the rest of bush's base -- see absolutlely nothing wrong with denying constitutional liberties based on such concrete factors as an "Arabic-sounding" name... or opposing bush's illegal and misbegotten war in Iraq.

As the NRA also opposed the assault weapons ban, it is obvious that the organization believes that terrorists have an absolute right to fully-automatic weapons.

"When I tell people that you can be on a terrorist watch list and still be allowed to buy as many guns as you want, they are shocked," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports Lautenberg's bill.

What is WRONG with these people?!?

Cho and VT - Paul Purcell's Take

I have mentioned Jonathan Bernstein's Crisis Management newsletter a few times in the past (and if you think you may ever wind up dealing with crisis communications -- even when little Bobby knocks a line drive through the neighbor's window -- you owe it to yourself to subscribe).

One of his regular contributors is Paul Purcell, author of Disaster Prep 101: The Ultimate Guide to Emergency Preparedness. Purcell recently published his take on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. It is reprinted below, with his permission. My commentary -- which Purcell has not seen or approved -- follows the article.

Seung-Hui Cho, Virginia Tech, and Homeland Security

In today’s news, coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre continues as does the debate over whether or not the shooter’s twisted, angry, “multimedia manifesto” should have been aired, and/or whether or not the content should be pulled. Both sides of this debate are heavily weighted, but let’s look at a few key issues.

On one hand, there are those who feel air-time for killers only breeds more killers; that it spurs on the copycats and gives the proverbial “15 minutes of fame” to those least deserving. There is logic to this as evidenced by the fact that there have been cases of similar threats on at least ten campuses around the country in recent days (though we don’t know if they were copying the incident or acting out due to the tape).

On the other hand, there is immense educational value afforded by the fact that such a deranged diatribe as this is available for study. Used in the proper way and kept in the correct context, this video collection of self-exhibited symptoms is a priceless source of psychological insight rarely found.

We owe it to those who lost their lives in this tragedy to glean every positive detail that can be used to make our world a safer place. This should be done for much the same reason that we might conduct an autopsy, reconstruct an accident, or dissect a terror attack. To do anything less would be to fail to honor the memory of the victims.

What is puzzling is the fact that several networks have said they will not broadcast Cho’s recorded rant. However, they have not hesitated to discuss in detail each minute step of the attack starting with the first murders in the dormitory, all the way through Cho’s chaining the doors to hold his victims captive as his rampage took him classroom to classroom. This does nothing but provide a tactical education to potential copycats. On top of that, refusing to air the video offers a level of privacy and consideration to an individual who was of smaller caliber than either weapon he carried, and whose rights were forfeited by his own actions.

To the peaceful majority of the general public, and to the growing population of public safety professionals, Cho’s tape and its availability offer several unique considerations and distinct opportunities:

  1. Not airing the tape, with its undeniable demonstration of the depths of Cho’s disturbance, would give too much room for creative speculation of “why.” Without showing his depravity, troubled and impressionable minds might envision him a hero in much the same way Jesse James and Billy the Kid - both notorious outlaws - were elevated to hero status simply because so few people knew how vicious the two really were. Airing the tape gives us the opportunity to show Cho for what he was and let those who may be contemplating similar acts see the true nature of such perpetrators. They are not heroes, they are not normal, they are not revered, and what mental malfunctions they may have will be shown to the world.
  2. Broadcasting the tape allows those with human resources management responsibilities, whether in an educational or professional setting, to see some of the “red flags” of potentially dangerous behavior and to hopefully learn some of the indicators that may be present when someone is about to “pull a Cho.” Failing to show the tape would let this type of education slip by.
  3. The most important aspect of all is the in-depth glimpse Cho’s diary of dementia gives both the public and homeland security into the hate-induced perspective of the terrorist psyche. Despite outward appearances and statements to the contrary, little terrorist activity is based on religion or politics. Terrorism is generally based on fear and envy; mostly the envy of the “have nots” who feel we are the “haves” and are somehow responsible for their misperceived lot in life. There is no reasoning with this type of mindset, no placating, no negotiation, no pacification, and this mentality isn’t something that can be switched off by dollars or dialogue. So it is with terrorists, so it was with Cho, and so we need to better understand those who seek to do us harm.

A full discourse giving proper attention to both sides of the “to air or not to air” debate could occupy volumes that would dwarf the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is not the purpose of this short article to come to a concrete conclusion, but merely to point out the fact that we do have treasure that can be extracted from the tragic, and that hopefully this type of valuable education can avert the next potential atrocity.

Learn to draw meaning from misfortune, always be kind to others, and above all stay safe!

About the author: Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based security analyst and preparedness consultant with over 20 years risk-management experience, and is also the author of both “Disaster Prep 101” and “The Case File.” More about the author and additional articles of interest can be found at:


A day or two after NBC received Cho's video, the Detroit affiliate, WDIV-TV, announced that it would no longer air the video (as have many other stations). As Purcell points out, such a video could prove to be an invaluable training tool for safety, security, human resources, and managerial staff tasked with workplace safety. Purcell doesn't explicitly mention this, but I suspect one consideration in his second and third points above is the insights that could be gained by psychologists and psychiatrists.

For academics and professionals, the video is a valid tool. Where I disagree with Purcell, however, is constantly replaying the video over and over for the general public. For much of the public -- not exposed to the seamier side of humanity as we are -- the video could be quite disturbing, with its overt psychopathology. It could also serve to aggrandize Cho (as Purcell points out). This is a valid concern, especially with those like Columbine killers Harris and Klebold, and others considered "losers" or "weirdos." It also causes additional pain to the families and friends of the victims.

Researchers and serious students should have reasonably unfettered access to the video, for the reasons laid out by Purcell. The psychology of the mass killer or serial killer is still not fully understood. Retired FBI agent Robert K. Ressler, in his book Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI, delved into the psyches of killers like John Wayne Gacy, John Joubert, Ed Kemper, and others, while a number of authors have written about Ted Bundy, Gary Leon Ridgeway, Albert De Salvo and similar notorious cases. But we still do not know what makes these men -- and for the most part, they are men -- tick. We have no idea what causes them to kill when others don't.

Ted Bundy, arguably the most prolific mass killer in American history (and most written about), steadfastly refused to reveal his motivations (until shortly before his execution, a delaying tactic which ultimately failed). Other mass killers, like Cho, Harris and Klebold, were themselves killed before they could be studied.

The psychology of the mass killer needs to be studied in much greater detail, and Cho's video is an important part of that education.