I spent today at an all-day series of seminars connected with whatever it is I do -- if you're guessing something along the lines of media engineering, here's a nice gold star! Hang onto it, you'll want comforting later and that's about the best I can do. I am usually happy-silly but even I get whacked in the face by reality every once in awhile.
There is -- always -- something about the EAS system at these gatherings and for all my extreme leeriness of Big Gummint, EAS, warts and all, is a low-cost, workable system. The basic structure is a multiply-interconnected "tree" and it's pretty hard to break. The "Amber Alert" is one of the cheapest, most effective and least-intrusive of the citizen snitch programs and has proven itself remarkably resistant to abuse; and storm warnings are promulgated about as rapidly as possible, either via the National Weather Service tripping EAS alerts, or stations working directly from NWS releases trying to be even faster than EAS. --In the event of an actual emergency, good effing luck: all the system can do is tell you stuff and if you're not ready to react properly to bulletins like, for instance, "The radioactive cloud is over Little Rock, heading North-Northwest at approximately 25 mph," then you're gonna die.
Seriously -- if things really go to pot, the future belongs to that LDS family down the street and the crazy survivalist guy a block over who has a basement shelter stocked with food and water, if it belongs to anyone at all. It would belong to me except I'm either going to be hard at work engineering media, or pitching in at the Red Cross (etc.), a decision I came to a long time ago. I haven't much family and I'd rather go out helping those who do rather than slink away to save my own lonely hide. (So that's why the Objectivists won't have me over for Christmas! Dang!)
One of the speakers was, for want of a better term, a Homeland inSecurity wonk. He seemed like a pretty good guy; like most workin' bureaucrats, he's no strutting brownshirt, just a man trying to do a difficult job. I have serious qualms about some aspects of the job but darned few about the man.
And that, at long last, brings us to today's topic: the National Strategic Stockpile. Do you know what that is? It's big ol' piles of useful meds, prepacked for rapid deployment and stationed so a supply is never more than 12 hours away from any major population center. What's in the boxes now is mostly antibiotics that can hack known forms of what we'll call "weaponized enthrax," plus items to deal with a few other known bio-threats. Sounds pretty good, right?
You bet it is -- for the lucky 324,000 who are first in line, assuming what is politely known as "civil unrest" doesn't break up the calm and orderly distribution. That's how many doses are in one standard package, period. We can hope there's another 324K doses on the way, and if the agent happens to be enthrax, the highest probability is there's a 48-hour treatement window, plenty of time...again assuming people don't become a tad, shall we say, over-excited.
Quick sidebar: I consider this to be a very low-probability event. If you don't think every crop-duster in the States has already been vetted six ways from Sunday (and has become more than a bit watchful him or herself), or that any ijit fool enough to overfly a crowded city, especially during a big event (auto race, rally, whatever) won't get waved off and receive a fighter escort if they don't comply forthwithly, you've been asleep. Restricting airspace during big events was SOP even before 11 Sept. All it takes is one klutz with engine trouble to mess up nice Pan-Am Games.
But fine, let's say it happens; Badguy duJour has a really good day and dusts my population center during something like, oh, a 500-mile automobile race. There's a good chance over a million people will be exposed (or think they have been). 1,000,000. If everything works out really well, 324,000 of them will get treatment likely to save their lives, and perhaps only as many as 15% will die. If people become vexed at the situation, that first 324,000 could well be the only ones to get dosed -- politicians and public-safety workers first.
That leaves over two-thirds on their own. Maybe dead.
That's your government, lookin' out for you, 'cos they care. Sure makes me feel good about where my taxes go!
My advice? Same as it's been for years: avoid targets (I live in one but I'm not all that clever, as described above). Avoid target-rich events. If Bad Stuff happens, move with alacrity away from the area and seek treatment elsewhere. (This last would be a bad idea if you have been exposed to something infectious. Your call). Riots are the biggest danger once the initial exposure is past.
In the discussions at the seminar, the notion of civil unrest in this connection never came up. It's not our job. The speaker did suggest we needed to "avoid producing panic" but offered no suggestion as to how to do it.
I guess not panicking is up to you. Okay?
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