Run from water!

The Dismal Wizard ruminates on the disaster location and disaster communications problems. Some of the issues but no solutions.

“It ain’t over ’til its over.” Yogi Berra.

We just had a major hurricane landfall in Florida and a category one hurricane landfall in South Carolina with tropical storm conditions in North Carolina and Virginia. When should you evacuate? Current emergency management thinking is to hide from wind (shelter in place) and run from water (evacuate). Water, the storm surge and inland flooding, cause most hurricane-related deaths during the storm. After the storm, recovery mishaps are a significant cause of death. Most involving chain saws or generators.

Rocky performs Zombie inspection of the fallen limb

Dismal Manor has a fallen limb to remove and a fence to patch so Rocky won’t go runner. Rest assured, loppers and a pruning saw will do the work. If we have a big piece, I’ll drag it up front for the city to collect with the clam shell truck.


So you had to bug out because you were in a floodway or flood plain? Where do you evacuate? You don’t have to leave the storm area or even your city or county. Just get out of the flood plain and storm surge areas. In South Carolina low country, the low country is so low you may have to drive 60+ miles to leave the flood plain. Most areas are not so extreme, traveling across town will do it.

Sources of shelter

  • If you can, shelter with family or friends outside the flood plain, that is a good alternative providing mutual assistance.
  • Commercial lodging outside the evacuation order area is an alternative. Don’t expect 5 star accommodations as power will go out and staff will be sheltering too. Select a multi-story building, preferably steel frame curtain wall, and a room above grade.
  • City and county shelters — governments will make provisions for those without other alternatives.
Rocky inspects the front garden

Where’s Waldo?

When you evacuate, how do you let folks know where you are? Who needs to know where you are? What are the use cases?

These are really 2 different problems.

  • Your immediate family can find you using mobile phone find my apps.
  • Search and rescue needs to know if they should look for you in the disaster area. If they know you’re away, that saves a rescue search or a recovery search.

Florida has been through this many times so they have Florida Safe Persons Report where you can register your location, contact information, and those in your party. Register with the state when you arrive. Update your information if you change accommodations.

Disaster Communications

As wonderful as modern mobile phones and the Internet are, they are not as robust as a copper pair switched at a telephone company central office. In the 60’s, the power may be out but we could usually count on the phone to be up when needed. Today, they are all likely to go together.

As a result, if sheltering in place, it is important to notify folks before communications fails. And to have a plan for reestablishing communications in a service-limited environment. Cell service is still easily overloaded (as was good old copper land telephone service — “your call could not be completed…”)

Use Cases

No one service satisfies all use cases. The more obvious use cases include.

  1. Immediate family and close friends. Apple and Google have covered this one with phone Find My people features.
  2. Local government would like to know if disaster area residents are sheltering in place or evacuated.
  3. Local government would like to know how to contact you while evacuated should they have questions.
  4. Correspondents would like to know if you are well. Twitter pen pals with whom you chat back and forth would like to know you are well.

Is Social Media useful?

So just keep your FaceBook up? That is at best a partial solution and you need to be careful what you say as you have no control over dissemination of information by FaceBook or Twitter or any of the others. And

  • Not everybody is on FaceBook.
  • FaceBook and Twitter are designed for addictive doom scrolling of “the feed”
  • There’s no guarantee that your notifications will make any individual subscriber feed.
  • There’s no guarantee that your peeps will think to check your posts page.
  • Those not your followers have no idea how to find you on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Emergency response will not be wasting time with FaceBook to figure out where you went. When I’ve lived in a large city, more than one David Hamby was listed in the phone book. Which was me?
  • Local bad actors will be checking social media for targets of opportunity.


There appears to be no good solution to this problem.

  • Mobile phones come with a “Find My Family” app. Both iPhone and Android have versions but they don’t interoperate. A mixed Apple/Android family would have have members split between islands.
  • People not “family” would be “off the island.”
  • Work is a separate problem with its own proprietary solution. Or not.
  • Local Public Safety is not addressed. Search and rescue won’t know you’re away.
  • Commercial apps collect and sell data to 3rd parties
  • Phone Find My apps where your phone is but not your intent.

The Apple App Store has a large number of family locator apps or emergency locator apps. All by 3rd party developers. Each on its own island. And each looking for data to sell. Stay away. And even Google is dodgy.

Solution Characteristics

An emergency locator app should have the following characteristics.

  • Services hosted outside the disaster area using national resources
  • Data privacy standards clearly published to allow data release to local government and designated individuals.
  • Available to search and rescue teams by address
  • Available to local and state government for recovery effort management for missing persons counts, etc.
  • Allows local government to contact you while away
  • Is independent of mobile phone family — works with Apple and Android
  • Is independent of social media for security reasons.
  • Is a uniform nation-wide solution.
  • Usable for natural disasters, local mishaps, and local emergencies.

Needless to say, this seems like a hard problem because of its scale and security needs.

Florida has a go at it

Florida’s missing persons system has two parts, a means to report people missing and a means for displaced persons to tell Florida where they are. The system is part of Florida’s emergency management process and is uniform state-wide. You can see the safe persons report side at Florida Safe Persons Report

By davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.