Vass asked about emergency preparedness, which is an interest (and former occupation) of mine. If you click on the tags, you will find a number of stories in which cars and other objects burst into flames (this seems to happen often in my vicinity), and in which I locked myself in my bedroom, set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet, etc. (Moral: Do NOTHING before coffee.)

Information about the physical aspects of emergency preparedness (what to have around, where to store it, what training to get) is widely available and also localized. What you need depends on what you're likely to face. I have no idea what to do in case of tornados, because we don't get them where I live; a resident of Louisiana doesn't need to know about earthquakes. So I'll skip that part and instead discuss psychology, which is universal.

My experience is that not very many people are interested in emergency preparation, on any level, but that the people who are interested are very interested. And also that the people who are not interested tend to think that the people who are interested are deluded - that there is no actual value in being prepared, but that it functions as a mere security blanket of false comfort. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "Well, if it makes you feel better..."

Naturally, I find this quite annoying. I have used my training and equipment many times, and have very likely saved at least one life. It does make me feel better, but that's not its sole purpose. I also find it aggravating that the security blanket implication suggests that anyone who needs it is a coward. People interested in emergency preparedness frequently either have dangerous jobs or live in dangerous areas - that's how they got interested in the first place. If you ever take a class geared toward people who are there voluntarily, rather than being required for work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on not being foolishly heroic. That's because the people taking the class tend to rush toward the danger, rather than running away. You don't need to warn people about things they'd never do anyway.

(Those of us who are interested can also annoy those who are not. That tends to go in the direction of "Just wait, you'll come running to me to save you when things go south.")

The most important aspect of preparedness is psychological. The place you start is believing that bad things happen, that at some point they will happen in your vicinity, that you may well be capable of doing something that will have positive results, and that you want to do so. People often don't believe (or don't want to contemplate) any or all four of those ideas. But once you consciously believe all those things, everything else follows.

(Number three is conditional because there's always the possibility that, for instance, the first thing that happened in the earthquake was that a brick fell on your head.)

The first time or first few times you're in an emergency situation, it's natural to freeze. It's also natural to freeze if something completely unexpected happens, no matter how experienced you are. If you deal with similar situations regularly, you stop freezing. However, the important thing to remember about freezing is that it's normal (so don't blame yourself) and it's temporary (so don't panic).

The freeze reflex is there, I believe, to force you to evaluate the situation rather than blindly plunging into counterproductive action. If you recognize it as that, you can use it to your advantage. So you're standing there thinking, "Oh my God, what's going on?!" Remember that this is the freeze response. Stay where you are (or take cover, as relevant) and see if you can figure out what's going on and what you can and should do about it. You only need a few seconds to evaluate. Take those seconds.

Many emergency situations are simple. Many useful and lifesaving responses are simple. Call emergency services. If someone's bleeding a lot, stop it. If someone's in danger of being hit by incoming traffic, stop the traffic and (if they don't have a possible spinal injury) remove them to a safe area. If someone does have a possible spinal injury, don't let them move. If things are falling, take cover. Stay away from live wires, including any conductive substances the wires are touching. If someone's having a psychological crisis, stay calm, listen, and let them see your sincere concern. Don't be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. If someone says they intend to harm someone, believe them. If you're not sure whether or not someone is in trouble, ask. Etcetera.
Literally. This year's Hanukkah party was livened up when I smelled something burning. A search of the house (not my house) revealed that a decorative peacock feather wreath had fallen on to a sturdy metal candelabra and was merrily flaming away. I smothered it with a wet dishcloth.

A few Christmases ago (my step-family is Christian) I was at their place when a candle on a mantelpiece fell against a huge oil painting hung over the mantelpiece, setting that on fire. I smothered that one with a cloth napkin.

And then there was the incident which can be found by clicking the "naked and dripping wet" tag. There is a reason why I have a fire extinguisher in my car!
This weekend while driving in Pasadena I turned the corner and saw a plume of smoke. An SUV in a parking lot had flames erupting from the hood. No one was visible anywhere nearby.

I pulled over across the street, grabbed my fire extinguisher, and ran to the crosswalk. Two security guards ran up from the general direction of the burning SUV, and began stopping traffic.

I ran up to one and said, "Is anyone inside that vehicle?"

He said, "No. And I don't think you should get near it-- a fire truck is on its way, and that fire is getting bigger by the second."

I retreated across the street. There was a loud explosion from the SUV. The whole thing became enveloped in flames. The fire truck pulled up and extinguished it. They broke the windows and opened the doors, and smoke billowed out in great gray puffs. I then had a very bad moment when it occurred to me that I should have asked the guard the follow-up question, "Did you check?" But the firefighters didn't pull anyone out and I waited for quite a while, so I assume there had not been anyone inside.

When I later recounted this to Adrian (who is still in Denver), it occurred to me that perhaps burning vehicles are less uncommon than I imagined, and it is not so odd that I would have encountered this phenomenon three times.

"How many burning vehicles have you seen in your life?" I asked him.

"None," he replied. "So I leave for a week, and you get an earthquake and a flaming SUV... you just can't be left alone, can you?"

Public service announcement # 1: Vehicles do not normally catch fire following a crash! If a crashed vehicle is not burning and there are no other urgent safety hazards, do not attempt to extract the occupants or exit the vehicle! Crash victims should stay where they are and not move until medical personnell can make sure their spines are stabilized.

Public service announcement # 2: If a vehicle is already burning, especially if the engine is on fire, be aware that the fire can and probably will spread really fucking quickly. (This goes for non-vehicular fires as well.) I've now seen this happen twice. Get the hell out or get anyone inside out as fast as you can.

Scientific Livejournal Poll!

Burning vehicle poll )
Flimsy Staples bookcases cannot bear the weight of even a quite small and light adult woman, should she be so unwise as to stand on top of one to reach the top of the curtain rods and unstick the curtain. Goddammit. And also, ouch.
Several people have inquired about this icon. Here is the origin story for "naked and dripping wet."

When I was in grad school, I had a job interview at 7:30 am. I am not a morning person. I mean, I am really not a morning person. So when, having woken up that morning at 6:30 and found that my nice burgundy pants that I meant to wear to the interview were still not dry from having been washed the night before, I decided that it would be a really good idea to dry them as I showered by draping them over my tall halogen lamp.

Just as I began to shampoo my hair, the fire alarm went off. I dashed into the living room, and found that my pants, still draped atop the lamp, had burst into flames. I yanked them off the lamp, and they came apart into three flaming pieces, one of which remained in my hands but the other two of which flew off in opposite directions and set my carpet on fire in two places. I hurled the piece I was wearing into the kitchen sink, turned on the faucet, grabbed the second piece, which was by the front door, and hurled it into the hallway, where it set the hall carpet on fire and made the fire alarms for the entire building go off.

I ran into the bathroom, grabbed a totally inadequate towel to attempt to cover my nakedness, retrieved the third flaming pant piece from the carpet, flung it into the sink, dumped water over the carpet fires, went into the now smoke-filled hallway, grabbed the still flaming last pant piece, and hurled it onto the fire escape. People kept opening their doors, then closing them. I got more water, put out the hall fire, then went to the fire escape where the pants were still burning, but had not set the fire escape on fire because that was metal. Then I put the last flaming pant piece out.

I didn't get the job.

When I was later telling my grad class about the incident, one of my classmates interrupted to say, with a lascivious look in his eye, "So the whole time, you were naked and dripping wet?"

"Pretty much," I said.

The postscript to this story is that the apartment manager fled to Mexico along with his family and everyone's files seven hours before the cops busted in his apartment for selling crack out of his apartment. Consequently, I told the new management team that my burned carpet had been like that when I moved in, and that marked the only time I've ever gotten my security deposit back, although it was also the only time I've ever damaged an apartment I rented.

I have other tales of disasters that occurred while I was naked and dripping wet, but I have to get to work now. They all happened pre-morning coffee.
rachelmanija: (Ed among the ignorant)
( May. 26th, 2005 04:30 pm)
I posted this on someone else's LJ, but it was in response to a locked post, so I'm re-posting it here:

Once upon a time in Santa Cruz, which for those of you not from California is a college town filled with granola hippie artsy types, a group of hipper-than-thou theatre students decided to put on a performance piece that would really freak out the squares and prove how cool they were. The piece was called "The Mud People." They would strip naked, cover themselves in mud, and crawl from one end of the campus to the other, fetching up in the middle of the theatre department.

On the Day of the Mud People, the Mud People arrived bright-eyed, bushy-- um... perhaps I shouldn't go there... and early. They stripped naked in the woods (for UC Santa Cruz is built in and around a forest), covered themselves in mud, and began to crawl. They crawled and crawled, over gravel and brambles and other uncomfortable things, but soon became puzzled by the lack of mundanes to freak. Where was everybody? But the Mud People, of course, were too cool to use a pay phone (and had no change, anyway, for they had no pockets) so they just kept crawling. Hours later, they arrived at their destination, baffled and annoyed that they had met absolutely no one but an unflappable senior or two and a number of unimpressed squirrels.

The theatre department too was utterly empty. Thoroughly disappointed, the Mud People showered, dressed, and went home. It was not until the next day that they discovered what had happened. Being too cool to check the calendar or discuss their plans with others less cool than them, they had been unaware that the day they'd chosen for their grand event had been an administrative holiday.
The one with the liver-eating guy who could squeeze into your house through the vents?

This morning while I was in the shower, a movement caught my eye. I glanced at the windowsill, no more than three inches from my shoulder.

A TENTACLE was squeezing through the tiny crack between the closed window and the wall. A boneless red thing with a hideous blind snout, pulsating and writhing and pushing itself through.

At first I thought it was a centipede, but as I stood, frozen in horror, watching it invade my home, I saw that it was an earthworm. (More than four feet up from the ground!) When the whole thing emerged, I swept it into a box and dumped it in the garden.

I got dressed first.


rachelmanija: (Default)


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