Getting Home…..

As mentioned a few days ago, the issue of getting home is a factor in making the decision about evacuating or not. In this case, since Hurricane Irma was highly destructive in some areas and not as much in most, those who did not suffer severe damage can’t help but wonder if they should have hunkered down instead. The sheer process of evacuating, unless done so at the earliest sign of trouble, and trying to return as quickly as possible means coping with drives that can be 30-80% longer than usual and the potential to not be able to get gas or a place to stay during the trip. This is added to the stress of not knowing what the outcome of the pending disaster will be.

For people who go into a shelter, there is often the inability to leave as soon as they would like because roads and streets may not be passable. For thousands here, even if their home did not suffer great damage, with 80% of the county without power, that meant unpleasant conditions at home at a minimum, although most were ready to try and manage. The drawback to waiting for the initial shortages and restrictions to pass before returning is if you do have damage, you are that much more behind everyone else who is making claims and getting clean-up and repairs starting.

Situations like this are something too few people consider when they make the decision to relocate to an area where natural disasters are known to occur. Tornadoes and earthquakes are two of the exceptions because there is still little ability to have much warning about those. Hurricanes, floods, and blizzards all bring the thorny question about what choice to make. This is why knowing what to do to be genuinely prepared no matter which option is chosen is important.

Now The Work Begins…..

As much as we rightfully spend tremendous effort in the safety aspect of preparation, the logistics of recovery is critical, especially in this case when such a huge amount of the state was hit. I will briefly talk about the storm itself. With the hurricane shutters, you are basically enclosed in the house although this type of shutter allows in a little light top and bottom. Since they are metal though, you also get the rattle as well as the sound of the wind and rain. We closed the last shutters about 4:00 Saturday afternoon as the wind picked up to near tropical storm strength. Irma was so large, that even though she made landfall about 80 miles south at 9:00 Sunday morning, we could not open the shutters until daybreak today. The main impact to us started about noon Sunday and went for around six hours, but the winds were still dangerous into the night. The remaining time was because of lingering bands passing through. Somehow in all of this we kept power and were/are very thankful for that.

Damage to most of our neighborhood was slight, lots of downed trees and debris, but few structural issues. The critical thing is to try and stay off the roads so the first responders, cleanup and power crews can do their jobs without interference. Having enough groceries, medicine, etc., on hand to stay out of those places for a full three days is also helpful. Shelves can only be restocked at a certain rate and allowing those supplies to start flowing normally again is important. Do you risk going a little stir-crazy, particularly if you don’t have power? Yes. Being out in a mass of people possibly vying for items still in short supply isn’t really a better alternative.

The state, counties, cities, and major players such as Florida Power and Light and big retailers (to include gas stations) have done an admirable job of being ready for the recovery and allowing them to get to it is key. Sadly, there is also the reality of looting and there have already been some thieves caught thanks to so many more video cameras than in the past.

In going back to the question about whether or not to evacuate, being able to return to your home is a factor. Right now, a lot of people can’t have access to their homes for today and possibly into tomorrow because the roads have to be cleared. Downed trees and power lines are the main obstacles. When you have spent days prepping and days in a shelter or on the road, the extra delay is incredibly frustrating.

More tomorrow as I go down to keep reassembling the house.

The Question of Evacuation……

Back to the point of us believing we would evacuate for a really bad storm of Cat 3 or higher.As it turns out, this is a more difficult choice than we expected. Not for us as we have no children at home, pets to take into account, or lack of places to go. As the mayor of Houston discovered, there are very real issues with trying to evacuate tens of thousands of people in a short time frame. And there are special issues in trying to evacuate people who are older. We had not clearly understood this part until this past week and discussions swirled around choices people were making. I won’t go into all of them because I need to see what the ultimate outcome is of Irma and her impact. I can speculate, but would rather have the definitive answers before I say more.

Aside from the importance of proper construction and things like hurricane shutters is the ability to have adequate supplies to remain off the streets for at least 3 days – 4 is better. You may risk going stir crazy with no power, TV, etc., but the first responders and repair crews need to be able to move about as well as people who have to check on others such as older relatives/friends. The aftermath of people who don’t really need to trying to get gas and groceries can cause serious problems. Once traffic can flow, supplies can also flow, but it can take up to a week for that to happen.

Okay, I need to do a few more things in prep, but wanted to post this because I don’t know when we will lose power and connectivity.

The Importance of Hurricane Clips/Straps…..

With Irma heading this direction, whether to stay or go is a difficult choice in many cases. There are those who have neither the resources nor the physical ability to evacuate and having pets complicates the situation. In looking at people who do have a choice, several things come into play, but let me focus on hurricane clips, also known as straps.

One of the good things to come from the terrible destruction of Hurricane Andrew was an in-depth study of what went wrong from a building code perspective (enforcement is a different issue). The Army Corps of Engineers was very much involved in the study and since I’m not an engineer, I’ll put this in simple terms. If a house is built so the walls and roof can remain intact as a “unit”, the odds of severe damage are greatly lessened. Some seemingly innocuous pieces of metal were developed called hurricane clips or straps and these are installed every so many inches on roofs in order to provide this “remain as a unit” effect. When we moved into our current house, the covered terrace was across two-thirds of the back and we wanted to extend that across the entire back. The company we used at the time had an architect who drew the plan to where you really couldn’t tell it was an addition. However, since it included a section of roof and especially because it tied into the existing roof, it had to pass code inspection. The inspector who came invited Hubby to come up on the roof with him and he showed him how the hurricane clips were installed (properly). Our house, like so many in South Florida, is of concrete construction with steel beams specifically chosen to meet the revised building codes for this environment.

Another important issue is storm shutters and I’ll save that for a future post.

Stories To Be Told….

For those who don’t live in the area, “Hurricane Andrew” is often referred to as, “Oh right, the hurricane that wiped out Homestead.” Yesterday was the 25th year since the massive destruction and as was to be expected, there has been a run-up to, and lots of coverage of, events as people looked back to that time. We were not here. In fact we were overseas, and unlike today, there was no Facebook, Twitter, streaming news, etc. We also did not have friends or family in the area.Our information was limited and by the time we did relocate, the housing boom was in full swing. (I’m not going into the subsequent housing bust in this post).

When I began to write for the local community weekly paper, my focus then (as now) was business, community, and the military. Not surprisingly, in speaking with business owners, those who had been through Andrew meant they had survived both personally and professionally. What I learned in talking with them was how so many people made the decision not to rebuild and relocated instead with Georgia and the Carolinas as mostly the states of choice. The destruction of Homestead Air Force Base was a huge blow to the economy as well, a secondary effect rarely understood by those who didn’t experience it. In knowing what we do of how these issues work, we can appreciate the fight it took to keep the base even as a “shadow” of it’s former self with the conversion to an Air Reserve Base. There was a historical parallel with the Hurricane of 1945 when with the end of WW II, there was the usual draw down of military forces and posts, and the severe hurricane damage to Homestead Army Airfield made it an easy choice for closure. A decade passed before it re-opened. Although converting from active Air Force into Homestead Air Reserve Base (HARB) meant it was much smaller, retaining it was vital. That struggle paid off and today, there are multiple military units and federal  agencies such as U.S. Border Protection on the grounds. Among all the other efforts to recover which can be seen throughout the area, this is a example of holding on to what was a foundation in order to rebuild.

Sometimes It Isn’t Silly…….

I make no secret of my dislike of bureaucracy and have written previous posts about it. It doesn’t matter what period of time you look at, while the term “bureaucracy” is relatively modern, the fact of it dates back thousands of years. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if in caveman drawings, there wasn’t some sort of rule laid down as to whom could draw on which rock. Anyway, I agree with needing structure and processes for many things. The overriding issues when dealing with bureaucrats tends to fall into two categories. The first is confusing processes that normal people can’t understand. This comes about for a number of reasons and range from annoying to downright out-dated. The second, more insidious aspect is power, be it petty or masking potential corruption. Let us not deal with the potential corruption part. Sadly, there are plenty of people in the world who desire power in any form they can get it. Therefore, if an individual needs a service and the bureaucrat in question can deny that for whatever reason, the bureaucrat may choose to do so “just because they can”. On the other hand, there are situations that seem absurd and fall into the category of something that was once valid, but no longer is. The example here is when someone is required to fill a form out using “Black pen only”. Why should that matter? Back when copiers were not as sophisticated as today, ink colors other than black would not show up well in copies. In many cases, this is no longer important, but no one has taken the time to go change the rules.

So, if faced with a situation where a bureaucratic response seems wrong, the first step is find what the actual processes and requirements are. There is also the possibility the bureaucrat is simply interpreting something incorrectly. In either case, if the processes and rules are written in difficult to understand language or in a lengthy document, it often discourages an individual from pursuing the point. I’m not going to say that’s deliberate, but it is effective. Anyone who takes on such a task needs to be prepared to persevere. Changes can be made and battles can be won, but it will rarely be easy.


“What You’re Telling Me Is Impossible”…..

Musing content ahead.  We all make mistakes at times and most of us form opinions that may also turn out to be incorrect because the source we used to form that opinion was flawed in some way. Those are errors we can acknowledge and learn from; it’s part of maturing. On the other hand, many of us have known individuals who hate to admit mistakes and may try to slide responsibility to others. When someone you are supposed to be able to trust lies to you repeatedly, that is another category.

The movie, “Shattered Glass”, is based on a real-life situation of a young reporter for a very prestigious magazine who wanted to be a star. Being in a deadline-driven profession, especially when you have many competitors, comes with a great deal of stress. Maybe this young man simply reacted to a stress event the first time he fabricated part of a story. The movie doesn’t go into that aspect. There was a change of editors at the magazine and the young man in question belonged to a core of writers who were loyal to the previous editor. So, when the initial allegations were made that the young man had seriously erred in an article that was published, most people in the magazine thought it was a jab from the new editor. As it turns out in the course of the movie, the young man had fabricated at least part of more than half the articles he’d written to include during the tenure of the previous editor. One of the senior editors who was refusing to believe they could have all been fooled by him was finally forced to acknowledge the depth of betrayal. When asked why she couldn’t see it, her response was, “Because what you’re telling me is impossible.”  Sadly, we, like those in the movie, can occasionally encounter individuals who for reasons of ambition, or a need for attention, or malice, or other motive will  lie skillfully and repeatedly. I hope you don’t ever have to deal with it, but should you be in such a situation, be willing to accept the possibility.

Reverse Mortgages…..

For reasons that aren’t particularly important, the subject of reverse mortgages have been recently discussed among my friends. When I wrote, Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid, I touched briefly on the topic. At that time, reverse mortgages were fairly new and there were some issues that seem to have since been smoothed out. As with any major financial decision, consulting an expert is strongly advised. In general, a reverse mortgage is good for certain categories of individuals and not suitable for others. In a nutshell, a reverse mortgage is sort of what it sounds like. A financial institution “mortgages” your home for a percentage of the appraised value (usually a pretty high percentage). You can take the money of that value in multiple ways which I’ll get to in a moment. You do not repay the mortgage until you move from the home. In the event all individuals who signed the reverse mortgage pass away, the estate is to repay the mortgage. That would ordinarily mean the house is sold by the estate and like any other sale, if the value is greater than the amount owed, the estate keeps the balance. If the market is weak and the property cannot be sold for the amount owed, the financial institution cannot go after any source of payment except the estate. In other words, if you have heirs who don’t want to pay off the mortgage to own the house, they do not assume that debt.

Okay, getting money from the reverse mortgage usually comes with four options; a lump sum for the entire allowed amount; a monthly payment spread out over an agreed-upon time; a line of credit, or a combination of options. It’s important to remember this money is not taxable. Which option suits you will depend on your circumstances. The point to a reverse mortgage though is to allow you to remain in your home and the requirement is you must keep the home maintained, carry insurance and pay your property taxes. So, when deciding how to take the money, you have to make sure you can fund those items.

There are usually three areas that trip people up. There will be some costs to taking out the reverse mortgage just as with any other type of mortgage and this amount is usually subtracting from the final amount allowed. Your home may not be worth what you think it is, and therefore, the final amount may be less than you anticipated. As you age, in all likelihood, you will require more assistance in maintaining the house, and that usually incurs costs. Depending on your age, you could easily remain in your home for 20-30 years. Another important point is the bank cannot “call” the mortgage as long as you maintain the house, insurance and pay your property taxes.So, let us say whatever amount of money you received is spent and you are still in your house. That’s okay as far as not repaying the mortgage goes. If, on the other hand, you have not set aside adequate money for the minimum upkeep, insurances and taxes, the bank can foreclose. When people take the lump sum or even have a multi-year payout, they don’t always apply the money in such a way to ensure they can cover these costs.

All of this is a general overview and everyone’s situation has unique aspects, but if you have no one to leave your house to, a reverse mortgage could be a useful financial tool. The specifics and rules do change, but it might be something worth exploring.


The Scientific Method….

Serious content alert. If I had been good at math (an interesting aspect of my youth I will perhaps address in a future post), I would probably not have followed my sister’s fascination with science and leaned more toward engineering. However, because she not only fixed on science at a young age and had a wonderful female mentor (rather unusual at the time) and she married a scientist, and I went into the military where science and engineering are more prominent than people often realize, I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of science during my life. Generally speaking, in the scientific method, you develop a hypothesis, determine how to test the hypothesis, conduct the tests, gather results, analyze results, either prove or disprove your hypothesis, or determine your testing wasn’t adequate and you “go back to the drawing board”. Another important element is the ability to duplicate results by independent means. If you, as a scientist, “prove” something, any other scientist following what you did should arrive at the same or very similar results. When you have credentialed scientists who give opposite expert opinion about the same matter, a very large “Huh?” should be raised.

Hubby with his background of applied physics and nuclear engineering and I have a standing joke about cold fusion which made quite a splash a number of years ago. It was such an appealing idea, it was written into numerous novels and movie scripts. Since as the TV show “Mythbusters” often demonstrated, “Hollywood physics” are not required to hold up to reality. The cold fusion “success” did not hold up to replication and the joke between Hubby and I is, “Just because it wasn’t true doesn’t mean it can’t ever be true. After all, the laws of physics as we know them might have other secrets waiting to be discovered. (My point, not his).

So, when there are opposing scientific views, the old adage of, “Follow the money”, may very well be appropriate. If sizeable sums from either government or corporate sources are involved in a particular desired outcome, well, how one interprets data may not be entirely objective. As for “soft science”, that is indeed another subject.

This May Sound Really Odd….

Okay, as I have explained in previous posts, I’m cautious when writing my novels to make everything as realistic as possible when crafting different scenes and plot points. The Internet is a terrific asset, and as I bookmark different sites, my “Favorites” list has some very odd combinations. Lord knows if I’m being monitored, I’m probably on a watch list or two. With that said, for reasons that will become apparent when I publish Shades of Deception (scheduled for the fall), I was researching retention of organs after autopsy. I ran across that addresses body and organ donation to science.

Hubby and I have been organ donors for years and intend to be cremated. Last time I visited with my sister, she mentioned they will be leaving their bodies to the medical institute where she has worked for more than forty years. The site I referenced above explains how you can combine both organ and body donation. From the looks of the site, it is incredibly well-organized and there are aspects to this type of donation that never occurred to me. I also did a quick search to see if there were any negative reports around about them and didn’t find any. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, merely that the first pass was clean.

I intend to check into them some more and will re-post if I find anything alarming. If not, we may very well change our end-of-life plans. I totally understand this is not the sort of thing everyone agrees with, but for those of you who are interested, you might want to take a look.