My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hurricane Harvey- The Rundown

I will start with a couple of disclaimers. What follows constitute my first-hand observations and experiences while contributing to volunteer efforts in the surrounding areas of Houston, TX between Thursday, August 31st and Saturday, August 2nd. Just because I didn't observe something doesn't mean that it was not happening elsewhere at that time or happened in those specific locations before or after the period of my observations. My findings are presented here not for self-aggrandizement; I am sharing because my observations were not consistent with my expectations and that perhaps we, as the general public, may hold unrealistic expectations of the response capacities and capabilities of various agencies and volunteer organizations. With perhaps one exception (which I will address later), my commentary should not serve as an indictment of any group. I am sharing this document as a 'lessons learned' so that volunteer groups and the general public may  have a better awareness of what to expect and how to best prepare themselves for the aftermath of such impactful events.

The Lead Up

For posterity, according to this CNN article, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the evening of Friday, August 25th as a Category 4 storm. Like many people in this country in far away places, I periodically consumed the news reports leading up to the landfall. By all predictions, it was going to be a hellacious event and the human and economic loss was unfathomable. I don't know about you, dear readers, but sometimes when these events happen in places so far removed from me, I think about how well- (or ill-) prepared me and my own family may be to respond to such a thing. I went through a prepper phase; none of my family joined me in that pursuit. So my expected outcomes range from mediocre to above-average depending on the specific event. In any event, my mind usually turns to: 'what would I do if it were me?' and 'what can I do as me?'. Invariably, it falls to the latter category. I make a donation and/or check on friends and relatives who may have been impacted. That's generally it.

This time was different. To get it out of the way, I'm not working full-time. I haven't been for several months. I've made some headway into starting a residential real estate career along with a few other related entrepreneurial pursuits. I just don't have money like I used to. There are drawbacks and opportunities in my circumstances. Although I'm financially-constrained, in terms of where and how I spend my time, I've never been more free. (Doesn't quite make sense and probably not what one would expect to hear of someone in my position). My wife's work and salary is what is sustaining the family at this time, and out of respect, I try not to tax her continued ability to support us with activities or expenses that are not aimed at growing or furthering my business pursuits.

Followers of this blog know what my truck looks like, are familiar with its build, and are acquainted with our exploits. The origin story, however, is probably something I haven't shared. The condensed version is this. Everything I've done with the truck- the modifications, the shake-down runs, the equipment, the road trips- was with the aim of pre-determining how it could be used to transport my family to safety in the event of any widespread emergency. And as a secondary motivation, I thought about how it could be used to retrieve someone and safely transport them back out of harms way. It just happens to be a pretty morbid preoccupation; thus, the roadtrips, and the blogging, and the offroad club are more healthy pursuits and outlets.

People close to me know this about me though, and one such person is my buddy Dave. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his family and their business, started a non-profit charity. I was in grad school at the time, and my fellowship group sponsored a few fundraisers. I organized a strongman-themed event (Will Power) which involved pulling a trolley across our campus quad area. But David and his family did something even more noble and impactful. They loaded up a box truck and drove it right into the fray and off-loaded needed supplies. I was always impressed by this and a bit remiss that I had not contributed. (The proceeds from my event were donated to the American Red Cross- around $1,400 or so.)

We hadn't talked about it much in the intervening years. In the last two years or so, he so happened to purchase a Nissan Xterra, and I have given him a hand or two in selecting aftermarket parts and installing them. I've taken him offroad a few times recreationally. Generally though, he's very much engrossed in supporting his growing family and helping run his family business (which is also growing and expanding into other product lines and business lines). We haven't wheeled together in over a year.

So I was a little surprised when he contacted me around Sunday afternoon.
"Hey man. This Harvey thing looks bad."
"Yeah. It's pretty sad. Gonna be rough down there for a while."
"What do you think about bringing the trucks down there?"

Honestly, I hadn't thought about it. The truck's fuel economy has been way down. My personal economy has been way down. The combination made the prospect of covering the 1,000+ miles (2,000+ round trip) seem well beyond my personal means to donate without impacting or burdening the family finances. We talked about that briefly.

"What if you didn't have to worry about gas?"
"Well, the only other hindrance would be J. He hasn't started his new daycare yet; so, I still have primary transport duties. If Jenn had some help in my stead, I could go."

These were small problems to have in the face of what people in Texas were contending against. There were also obvious concerns for my safety. I generally feel like I'll die when I'm supposed to die. I don't believe that there's a safe little bubble that envelopes me as long as my actions and chosen geography coincide with some pre-determined criteria. I had to talk to my parents because they were likely the first line of support for Jenn in my absence. Surprisingly, my dad was the more conservative and concerned. He acquiesced because, "'re going to do what you want to do; there's never been any convincing you otherwise. But I had to make sure you were considering the risks for your family." My mom was a bit easier. When I talked to Dad he raised a larger barrier of resistance because he assumed I was running down there alone. "Dad, you're acting like I'm just some wildcard, rogue agent driving alone into a storm. I'll be down there with 5 other people." That seemed to allay some of his concerns. So I lead with that when calling mom. After the pleasantries, "So, Dave and I are thinking of heading down to Texas." There was a brief silence. "He's such a nice young man. Be sure to update us on your whereabouts. Do you need me to help watch J?"

Ummm. What? I should just lead with "So Dave and I are going to..." with anything that sounds controversial.

The Plan

I frankly was not involved in much of the coordination. Dave was feeding me updates on his staff's work to arrange for donations (including the donated 26-foot Penske box truck) and contacts on the ground; I was working on childcare arrangements and shaking down the truck. It had basically been put away rough after Moab, and I needed it in the best shape I could muster on short notice and shorter funds.

My primary responsibilities were to be convoy management while in transit and hazard mitigation on the ground. We had been reading disconcerting reports about panicked citizens firing upon would-be rescuers. Threat deterrence was added to my basket.

Dave and the company president would be in the Xterra as the lead car; the box truck would be operated by his brother-in-law Shane along with a co-driver; I would bring up the rear in the Frontier along with another co-driver and relative of Dave's.

There was to be another supply pickup at a Costco in Lafayette, LA. We would continue to monitor conditions en route and determine the best point of entry. All we knew upon heading out was that certain portions of I-10 leading into Houston were shut down. We would need to rely on local knowledge as we approached in terms of the best path into the impact area.

We had a robust group chat going that culminated in a conference call Tuesday prior to departing. Dave's team did a great job of securing donations and interacting with local media to enhance their outreach. I contributed by advising of the specific items of convenience and personal protective equipment that I anticipated would be warranted based on the conditions we would encounter. Highest on that list were hip waders and life jackets. We needed to minimize contact with the water which would likely be contaminated with sewage and industrial runoff. Even though the support vehicles were equipped with snorkels, if a levee failed or other action caused the waters to rise rapidly, we would need to be prepared to abandon the vehicles. Many of the refineries were under water, and we anticipated that localized fuel shortages were a possibility. Although I had been working on cutting down weight and cargo, I rigged together a bed restraint to secure four additional 5-gallon jerry cans in the back of the truck. We would travel with them empty and then fill them at our last fuel stop prior to entering TX. Both trucks already had CB radios installed; I brought my spare handheld CB for the box truck operators. There were a few other mundane preps, but we were generally as well-outfitted as one could expect of a group of novice responders on a couple days' notice.

This brings up an important point. I've been involved in my local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and have participated in some FEMA-sponsored courses and trainings. Generally, it is not advisable for untrained persons to enter into a disaster area. I know this. The well-meaning outpouring of persons and supplies can inundate and tax the ability of responders to coordinate on the ground. And would-be rescuers run the risk of needing rescue themselves. I knew this going in.

So our plan was to simply transport the goods to a church that Dave and his folks had contacted. And once there, we would submit ourselves to contribute in whatever way or capacity that any volunteer organization on the ground could use us. Prior to leaving, I followed the suggestion of news agencies and the FEMA website to register with the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters website ( I can tell you that I did so prior to Tuesday August 29th, and, as of the time of my writing this on September 8th, I have not been contacted by anyone to my knowledge. Several plausible explanations for this. There were likely more responses to that URL than there was capacity for processing. It is possible that, due to my listing of my home state of MD, it was not believed/considered that I would be able to physically volunteer on the ground. (I did indicate in a dialog box my dates of availability and anticipated arrival in the Houston area).

My point in bringing this up is not to shade NVOAD; I am illustrating that in the immediate aftermath of an event, one can expect significant delays in response and coordination. I am hopeful that my contact information may be utilized in subsequent emergencies in the event that I can avail myself.

On the Ground

We left Wednesday morning before the sun rose and drove until well after sunset.
Fortunately, I was able to improve some of the fuel economy woes and got better range on this trip.

 On stops like this, we checked news reports, posted updates to our social media, and relayed our progress to the professional media of our progress. (Dave did a pretty cool live interview that he played for the group while we were parked at this station.)

A couple of things happened here. One, I think this is where I first encountered the media clip of the survivor who became very upset with the CNN reporter regarding her perceived insensitivity in reporting the news. It got widespread coverage as an indictment of how media can do a better job of balancing the need to satisfy interest in compelling stories with respecting the trauma that is being experienced by the subjects of their reporting. I gained something else from that story though. The woman advised that she had been waiting 36 hours before anyone even did a welfare check on her family. And then she described even greater delays in being rescued, in getting to the shelter, etc. It brought home, for me at least, that although we would be arriving almost a week after Harvey first made landfall, we might realistically be encountering people who had not received any outside support during that entire time. These are the logistics of disaster.

The second thing was we learned at some point on our drive that Harvey had not simply dissipated over land but had regained strength and was somewhere over or near portions of Louisiana that we would be travelling through. This concerned me greatly. I had not anticipated driving into any storm activity. I usually use the truck to get away from storm activity (i.e. literally EVERY time I've driven through Kansas.).
 We encountered a bit of rain, heavy at times, but otherwise were not deterred or impacted by any severe weather en route.
Couldn't tell if they were also responding or were in the area for training exercises.

I posted map updates such as this one to advise folks back home of my last known whereabouts.

 After a full day of driving, we sought lodging here. I don't even recall where 'here' was. I just remember we still had a good stretch of driving ahead of us the next morning. Dave did most of the navigating. I facilitated lane changes through radio relay requests and by initiating shifts of our convoy from the rear.
 After picking up supplies the next morning, we got in contact with our initial church destination and learned that their needs had been largely met. They recommended a few potential recipient groups in the Port Arthur area that had greater need. This was serendipitous. As I had been engaging with friends on social media, some of whom either lived in impacted areas or had relatives residing there, a number of replies were asking if we might have the opportunity to help people in Port Arthur. In their esteem, it was one of the underserved areas of impact due to much of the attention of response agencies having been directed to Houston-proper.
 We were met by an army of volunteers outside of Carpenters Way in Port Arthur, TX.
We unloaded about half of our supplies here consisting of water, diapers, formula, and Thomas' English muffins. On the surface, it seems like an odd thing. I suppose much like when we have an east coast snow storm (or the threat of one), there is an immediate run on bread and milk. Something similar must have transpired prior to arrival of Harvey. When we shared that our cargo consisted of the English muffins and a few other baked goods, we were met with resounding replies of "They have BREAD!"
I do not mean to make light of this. In a way, it was the kind of thing that elicited a sympathetic chuckle (definitely not a hardy belly laugh that I'm known for). But it also personalized for me the reality that typical shipments of perishable goods- at whatever their normal frequency may have been- had been completely interrupted. In the aftermath of such disasters, it can be remarkable how much we take for granted simple modern conveniences. Bread.

We talked with the volunteers about where else in the area there was need. They had specifically run out of many of the baby supplies that we had. There was a shipment that had been promised to them that had experienced transit delays. And then suddenly, here we were just 30 minutes away looking for a new destination. They told us about Sabine Pass which had been all but cutoff from the outside world and about a volunteer-run supply depot that had been established at nearby Central Mall. While we were talking, the pastor began fielding calls from individuals and other groups desperate for supplies. And we saw, in real time, these people begin to arrive to the church and walk out with the goods we had just delivered. For me, the 'why' was validated. People needed this stuff. There wasn't any before we got there. And now, at least for a short while, the needs were being met.

 The route took us through a flooded refinery field where water covered the access road to a maximum depth of 18". We continued through a partially flooded, 2-lane byway. And then we encountered this.
 My geography is not as sharp as it was when I was in 8th grade, but here, it appeared that the Gulf of Mexico had completely overtaken the roadway. It was unclear whether the road was merely flooded, or if the gulf had also eroded away portions of the road and substrate itself. There were a couple of things to note. As we drove in from Louisiana and crossed into Texas, there was a sizable alligator left dead on the side of the road. There was risk of encountering more of his brethren in this water potentially. (Not sure if they frequent both saltwater and freshwater in these parts.) A buddy of mine had mentioned the potential terror of floating hoardes of fire ants. As it turned out, it was not such a flight of fancy. I had inattentively placed my waders on a pile of flood debris as I retrieved a few other items out of the bed of the truck. My waders became the new habitat for a few such fire ants. It was...uncomfortable.
 The integrity of the road appeared to be in tact. But after some 200 yards, the water continued to increase in depth and continued beyond the range of the binoculars that I carried in the cab. I was less concerned for the support vehicles and more concerned about the box truck and potentially getting to a point where the depth might allow water to be pulled into the intake. While out there, we encountered a caretaker of one of the nearby utility's plant and land operations. (I don't recall which utility). He was standing on the high side of the topography, out of the flood waters. I was at the low point in the muck. We exchanged pleasantries. I explained what we were trying to do. He advised that the flooding we observed extended the remaining 4 miles or so of roadway into town. It was around 5pm or so. It was going to be slow going. And we lacked local knowledge of any tidal effects in the area. Was the water at its highest? Could we expect it to rise more? Further, in daylight, it was possible to more readily discern the depth of the water with the markings still partially visible through the murky water. This advantage would be all but lost once the sun set. It seemed too great of a risk to end up marooned in Sabine Pass. At that point, I thanked him for the insights and turned around to make the slow march back to where are other two vehicles were waiting. That's when I noticed a third with them.
 It was a Coast Guard truck. Now, full disclosure. There were barriers that partially blocked the roadway. Sometimes the barriers had clarifying signage that verbalized that the roadway beyond was partially flooded, but passable. And sometimes, it seemed that they didn't have enough signs with those words and a partially closed road was intended to convey the same. In our experience, the major roadways staffed with a police vehicle were the absolutely dangerous routes that no one was allowed to enter. So, in that context, I thought we were busted.

Thankfully this was not the case. The Coast Guard had been monitoring this area to ascertain at what point the road might be deemed passable for their purposes. They were actually awaiting my return for reports on the observed depth. (Someone had been out the day before and noted that the water had been considerably higher. Chest high or on the order of approaching a 5-foot depth). My colleagues had been explaining our presence and the Coast Guard representatives seemed interested in helping. In the middle of our conversations, a local resident in a much more lifted pickup encountered us as well. Although he advised that our group should have no trouble navigating the depths, the Coast Guard was reluctant to allow us to head back. It's one thing for a resident with local knowledge to pass through there. He has a right (and the capability) to return to and from his home. For us, there was less of a compelling right or need to travel there, but there was an undeniable need for the supplies we had.

What we worked out was to transfer an initial load of goods into the pickup. The Coast Guard then dispatched one of their boats to receive additional supplies. The pickup would then return to a rendezvous point after offloading his initial load and would receive the cargo that was transferred by the Coast Guard boat. The concern was that if one of our vehicles failed, it would further impede access to Sabine Pass which was already pretty well choked off as it was. So although it was not a sexy outcome, it was the most reasonable considering the resources that once again had serendipitously availed themselves to the mission.
 After supplying Sabine Pass, we continued back into town to now head towards Central Mall. We had passed this road once previously. One side of the highway was mildly flooded in some spots, the other side was disastrously inundated with water overtaking the entirety of some residences first level. The water line was just below the gutters of one home along the route. The above photo also highlighted the risks of earlier travel along this road. When the water was higher, it was probably not possible to note the transition between the elevated road surface and the lower-lying drainage culverts. The pickup to the left of the photo was one of several we encountered that seemed to have suffered similar fates of essentially driving blind.

This video illustrates that condition. There is a median strip that divides the sides of this road between two apartment complexes. I repeatedly 'found' it on my driver side as we headed further into the flood waters attempting to reach the mall. I did not want to find the drainage culvert on the opposite side that had swallowed a nearby marooned sedan. Once the depths started to crest over my hood, we had to retreat. The trucks were taking on water and I lost power steering once my serpentine belt became saturated (and subsequently slipped off the pulleys altogether).
 We found a drier route and arrived to the mall. One section was a staging ground for the National Guard. I positioned my truck a safe distance away as not to interfere with their operations. I nonetheless caught the attention of a couple of service members who were very much intrigued by the odd little vehicle for MD. We talked a little while about what was going on, the truck's build, and what was happening next.
 They directed us over to the civilian staging area where various volunteers had been camping and had set up a supply depot. That was our true destination. It was while we were talking that I noticed that the truck was eerily quiet and the fan was barely turning. Fortunately, she had not overheated but I noticed that there was little to no tension on the fan as I reached in to spin it by hand.
 While the team offloaded supplies, I tore down the engine bay to access the tensioner pulley and return the belt to its proper orientation. There seemed to be one guy, Sean, who knew what was going on and was providing information to many of the volunteers that were arriving and departing from the area.
 After I completed my repairs, I joined the conversation and was surprised to learn he was a civilian volunteer from out of town that was unaffiliated with any volunteer organization. He had simply arrived a few days prior, saw a need and started fulfilling it. At this particular location, they had more baby supplies than there presently was demand for; however, they were in desperate need of water replenishment. Our remaining cargo of two pallets of water had effectively doubled what they had available to supply the entire surrounding area. He was aware of a church in Pasadena, TX that had an abundant supply of water, but was in need of baby supplies. They could fulfill one another's needs but had no means of facilitating the exchange. And there we were with a presently empty box truck and six men.
 I don't have any photos of the 4+ hour ordeal to get from Port Arthur to Pasadena. If you look it up on a map, you'll see that they're 85 miles apart and the drive should take roughly 1.5 hours. We navigated in the dark to circumvent road closures and through flooded back roads taking detour after detour until we finally arrived at The Church Triumphant. Along the way, we were joined by the driver of a Honda Civic that begged to join our convoy in hopes of finally making it to Houston and another pickup that had a CB radio in his truck that heard us and was hoping to also make the trek. I will readily admit that I was opposed to leaving until daybreak. I was a proponent of camping at the service/travel center and waiting until light of day. However, our group had been promised accommodations in a trailer that had just been turned over after having hosted other volunteers recently. So, away into the dark we went.

Again, while there, we saw the populations of people who were being served. At this point, there was a lot of backlash on the internet surrounding a well-known pastor and his congregation's response to the disaster. This was a sizable but considerably smaller facility. The pews in their sanctuary were the temporary holding area for yet-unprocessed clothing donations. Their multi-purpose room was converted into a well-organized distribution center with all manner of supplies. Their kitchen had become a canteen where staff was preparing modest meals for volunteers and the entry foyer was the nerve center and processing hub. I felt good helping a place that was positioned and primed so effectively to help others.
 I had been in contact with a friend and former co-worker that had been following my posts regarding our trip down and efforts once we were on the ground. Our plan really was that we didn't have a plan. We wouldn't unnecessarily go into harm's way, and we would only go where we were needed or asked. There were like 5 or 6 other people I had hoped I might see, but keeping with that doctrine, it was difficult to predict when and where I'd be. It just so happened that another supply center, Champion Life Center in Spring, Tx had been receiving supplies and wanted to divert some of them to places in Beaumont and Port Arthur where the need was greater. Spring was a relatively short drive from where we were and happens to be the adopted hometown of my friend Leah. I had just been talking to her that morning over FB messenger when I approached the group to inquire as to whether we would have any dealings that might bring us closer to Spring, Tx. As it turned out, that's precisely where we were headed next.

There were a few things that we had that they needed; so, those were offloaded first. Then we collected a quantity of food items and toiletries as these were being requested by groups in Beaumont. Additionally, friends of mine from back home had been inquiring about how they could contribute with many wishing to donate directly to me. I did not want to receive any funds. With all the driving and loading we were doing, I did not have time or opportunity to do an accurate accounting of funds collected versus funds spent. I didn't know how much longer we would be in Texas. And I had no way of knowing when/if we went into stores if they would have any stocks of materials that coincided with the needs we were inquiring. There was a lot of conversation about the transparency and efficacy of donations to larger, national/international charities. The topic of Haiti came up frequently, etc. People felt like they knew me and trusted that I would use it for good.

While in Spring, Tx, we did try to have a friend place an order for fulfillment at a nearby big box retailer. However, the storm had disrupted something with their IT order fulfillment system. So although the transaction went through, the order could not be fulfilled. We didn't find this out until I arrived at the store with the order # and was advised that there was no way to access or recognize the funds to even self-fulfill the order.

So, I said earlier, I don't really have much. And I try not to draw unnecessarily from the family fund. But then I thought about my own little guy whose third birthday was coming up. We had transported a lot of diapers, a lot of formula, and a lot of clothing. I hadn't seen much in the way of toddler food and snacks. So I cobbled together these two care baskets and headed to the checkout.
 We had managed to avoid I-90 when we headed over to Pasadena; it did not appear we would fare better avoiding it on the return leg. We encountered some flooded roadways. Our group was separated for a time. When I was visiting with Leah, she noticed some debris dangling from the engine bay and hanging onto the radiator skid. I had seen it too and just thought it was random flood debris. There was lots of that dangling from my undercarriage and other parts of the truck. But on closer inspection, it was actually a few cords off of my serpentine belt. It either hadn't seated properly or was damaged when it initially slipped off. I was going to need to track down another one before it failed entirely. My truck peeled off from the convoy and found the only 1 of three nearby auto centers that hadn't been flooded out and closed. Ultimately, despite that delay, we ended up ahead of our convoy mates who had to backtrack 15 miles or so after having first been informed that a road was open only to find it was under 4 feet of water.
 We travelled alongside these service members for several miles until traffic came to a grinding halt.
 We were in a 10-mile backup that lasted 4 hours. The cause was the restricting down of one passable lane in each direction as you encountered the town of Nome, Tx, former population of about 538 according to a sign I later sought to make out in the dark. As far as I could see, what was left of the town appeared to be completely underwater to a depth of several feet. The road through town, although elevated, was itself under as much as 2 feet of water in places. And somewhere along the route, a woman went into labor on the opposite side of the highway.

Here is where I will levy some criticism.

The faith organizations listed above were essentially the only actors that I encountered directly contributing to relief and recovery. There was, of course, police presence to ensure public safety and to deny access to unsafe areas of town. But in terms of relief, bringing supplies, and such, it was churches that were doing the heavy lifting in the areas we visited. And their efforts were supported by unorganized/unaffiliated volunteers. (Their staff people were organized. By 'unorganized', I mean the random neighbor that drives up in their pickup truck and drops off a bag or box of canned goods. I saw several and repeated instances of that sort of giving and contributions). I travelled alongside long convoys of military vehicles, but they were headed to parts unknown. We were only briefly around rescue efforts on our way to Central Mall where we turned around due to extremely high water. But those rescues were volunteers on boats and driving monster trucks. (Yeah, more on monster trucks later). I did not see CERT. I did not see the Red Cross. I'm not sure what a FEMA presence would look like, but I didn't see them. I just saw badgeless, credential-less people helping other people. And that's fine. It was encouraging. I just think we may want to revise some of what we tell the general public. We were among the groups of people who might otherwise be cautioned away from entering a zone and doing this work with the belief that other professional response organizations are present. In many cases, the scope and breadth of the damage was beyond what I think one could reasonably expect these entities to cover. So, I think our advice is wrong. That's one criticism.

This is perhaps the more damning. There is another group that I will not mention and I would rather people not try to do any sleuthing to identify the subject of this anecdote. We did end up servicing a faith-based group in a more remote area outside of Houston. At the end of our work, the conversation turned to an area where they were expanding to build an additional church, and the representative made a comment of the difficulties they encountered due to their church's stance on homosexuality. They perceived that the delays they had encountered were an affront to their specific beliefs in this respect. It bothered me. They kind of tip-toed into it and around it. I suppose not knowing their audience, there was some hesitation, but it was there. Exclusion. Further we were offered accommodations at a nearby compound that either the church or the family maintains. And once there, it got weird. There weren't enough beds for all 6 of us and three other volunteers. I had wanted to continue on back to Port Arthur to deliver the balance of the water that they needed and to observe the camp at night. The family patriarch kept making a big to-do about only 'natural brothers' sharing a bed. There were two such natural brothers among the other three volunteers. The accommodations were large, stately and lavish. And this seemed oddly juxtaposed against the impoverished community in which we found the church. My truck had arrived their first, and I spoke to a woman who had lost everything, including her car when she attempted to escape rising floodwaters and the intake ingested water. She has since been living out of her car in the church's parking lot. And here we were, outsiders, being treated to palatial accommodations 30 minutes drive away. I didn't stay.

This is my concern. In my experience, as stated before, the faith-based organizations were the most active and best-positioned to receive goods and volunteer services in the communities we visited. And the organizations that I previously chronicled by name were all, as far as I could tell, faithful stewards committed to serving all who were in need. I intend no criticism of those 3 aforementioned church groups. The risk, however, in relying solely on the benevolence of such groups is that there is a potential for bias and exclusion in the practice of a church's theology as was evidenced (or at least alluded to) in my anecdote regarding this other group. And I worry about the capacity and desire of such groups to willingly extend their services to ALL in their community and how receptive ALL in the community may be to taking of these benefits if they feel that the congregation is otherwise discriminatory against people of their demographic or orientation. I'm not a religious man. I'm a spiritual man. I go where my spirit compels and enables me, and I try not to be constrained by any bias or prejudice. I believe any dogma or doctrine that would impose otherwise is simply not for me and not anything to which I need adhere. My spirit rejects it. So while I do not regret that we serviced this group, I regret that there might not be other alternatives for people in that particular area who may need aid and find that aspects of their existence are in conflict with that church's ministry and practice of theology.

 I excused myself to return alone the rest of the way to Port Arthur. I stopped at a gas station along the route and picked up the small cooler and purchased the last of the individual bottles of water they had. This was all the water they had left at the end of the day. Plus my cooler.
 I camped not far from this gentleman whose truck you likely saw on much of the news media emanating from this area. He and several others brought their engineering marvels to help with recovering residents. I saw a similarly built truck plucking residents and volunteers out of the water in the apartment complex that I described earlier. I thanked him for his service after taking the picture.
 The evening prior there were maybe twice as many people and vehicles. There were tanks and other vehicles staged on this side of the mall the night prior; they were gone when I returned this evening. It is possible they were relocated to the far side of the mall; I did not perform a full loop when I returned.

 I positioned myself a little bit away from the groups of vehicles so that I could sleep without being disturbed by pedestrians going to and from their vehicles.
 The guys in this pickup had two boxes of hot meals they were distributing. They claimed it had been given to them by the National Guard to distribute to volunteers. I am a spiritual man with a skeptical mind. My skeptical mind inquired, "Bruh, you just gonna eat this random Chinese food out of the back of a truck?" My belly said, 'yes' and my spirit reassured that this was not the way nor the day that I would die.
It was good. Or I was hungry.

My convoy mates arrived early the next morning and delivered the last of our water to Central Mall. Sean, the volunteer, volunteer-coordinator was not on site. Others had taken up his charge of directing trucks and volunteers to where they could deposit goods. The depot was crudely organized, but people were trying. That's what mattered.

We began our trek home that morning. The return leg was without incident.

After Action

More than a week after landfall, areas surrounding Houston were still suffering under significant areas of inundation.

Supply chain and logistics of material and personnel transport were severely challenged due to flooding, detours, and traffic volume. Goods were making it into supply hubs with some difficulty. It was considerably more difficult to distribute the goods out to communities where needed.

Travel was further exacerbated by non-emergency personnel who began also travelling on the shoulders or engaging in impromptu lane reversal (i.e. travelling eastbound on the westbound side of a highway) as was being done by emergency convoys.

Large, national aid organizations had not yet established meaningful presence/operations in outlying communities that were also impacted.

Local groups such as CERT, likely themselves significantly impacted by the storm and its aftermath, did not appear to have retained capability or resources to mobilize in the areas observed.

HAM band radio traffic on 70cm and 2m was all but non-existent. (In fairness, it only occurred to me to turn the HAM radio on during our last full day [Friday] in Texas. No one else in our group was equipped with a HAM radio or licensure.) There was some conversation I picked up on a frequency that I could not reach via simplex. I monitored both bands for between 4-6 hours.  I am therefore presuming that ARES/RACES activity, at least in the areas of Nome and Beaumont was minimal.

Communication and coordination amongst smaller charitable groups appeared to have been conducted/facilitated largely via social media. Additional investment and study should be made into how to track and aggregate this information to enhance coordination and updates of availability and needs.

Additional utilization and empowerment of unaffiliated volunteer resources should be considered prior to the next disaster. Pre-registration approaches following a disaster did not prove beneficial. However, such a database or registration approach may be of benefit prior to the onset of an emergency event to catalogue contact information of interested volunteers for the purpose of contacting these individuals for training opportunities and to assess response capabilities.

These were my humble thoughts and responses to what I saw and observed in the course of attempting to help others.

The impacted areas will need continued and sustained support, financial and otherwise, to recover from this disaster. Please consider making a donation to any of the three referenced organizations. Of what I saw, they were doing the work.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Moab 2017 and some catchup

I am sooo far behind.

I got a pathfinder towards the end of the year and changed jobs twice. My spare moments were spent working to keep both trucks in good running shape and to start building up my own business.

So I'm just gonna hurriedly post some photos and text and call it square. K?

 This was the biggest convoy I've been apart of, and we were going back to Moab. We met up in a small town in PA which allowed us to connect folks coming from PA and Jersey to link along I-70.
 Ben trailered his rig out on the new to him F-250.
 Our first stop just outside Columbus, OH and Hofbrauhaus Columbus.
 I feel like we barely survived to take this photo. At our overnight stop in Missouri, a violent storm rolled through at like 4am. Some folks immediately left us. Some were unscathed and showered during the storm. I was somewhere in the middle. We were able to get out of dodge ok and eventually the convoy regrouped at Ozarkland.
 Our next meal stop for Day 2 was Blue Skye in Salinas, KS. We stumbled upon this gem last year by Yelping, as we were 2 hours ahead of schedule and continued to drive further on the route until it got to be about lunchtime. So now it is a mainstay of any trip I take heading west.
 Our group split up again as we crossed into Colorado as most of us had made independent lodging arrangements.
 I crashed at the residence of the president and first lady of NORAC. Bill was already in Moab prepping for the arrival of the participants, but Kelly and her daughter hosted J and I.

We got up the next morning and started to drive the last leg to Moab. Ben was able to catch up on the road, and we continued with our plan to hit up Kannah Creek. Dukes and Abbey were already there. Angel and Melissa later joined as well.

 Melissa and Angel.

We took the scenic route into Moab.

 We stopped by the NORAC condo.
 Oh yeah. I drove out there with a busted steering rack. I forgot that part. So this was when we finally got to the condo and thoughts turned to who had drawn the short straw of having to help me with the replacement. Hint* it was both of them. But mostly Dukes.
 The Hefty Pathfinder showed up at our condo to drop off Cornelison's new skids. I fanboyed all over this truck. Sure, it is really Chris Hefty's wife's truck, but he modded it and brought it out to wheel. Which is kinda like the case with my pathfinder. So I just like seeing family vehicles still get modded and the rationale that gets used to alleviate scrutiny of the covert enhancements.
 Mod day at our condo the next day.
 Later that afternoon at the kickoff event. Blueberry has been...enhanced.
 Pretty sure this is Dave Lyons' rig. He and Bill Eirish's trucks have been twinning a bit lately ever since Bill came over to the Frontier side.

 Genuine Patrol. AND he wheeled it all week from what I understand.
 Turtleback. Pretty cool concept.
 Day 1 Secret Spire meetup.

Last year, Derrick Metz brought us in a different way to Secret Spire. After some driving around late into the evening, I was able to figure out where the turnoff to get to the original trailhead I had been shown back in 2012. I'll have to see if I can find a similar lineup picture from back then.

Throwback to 2012

2012 Throwback

 What a change for this truck.
 Iconic backdrop.

 Me and the little guy at the Secret Spire.
 Since I had the youngling with me, Ben volunteered to be a co-leader and help spot anyone that just needed basic encouragement to help minimize how often I had to leave the little guy with his Paw Patrol video.

 We had a semi-serious recovery to take on, but the folks asked not be embarrassed on social media. Things happen. For once, it wasn't me stuck or busted. So that was good.

The next day was an easy trail again. Not even a trail really. We went over to the White Wash Sand Dunes. With a little more time and prep, one can actually drive almost entirely off highway from town to the Sand Dunes. You enter the trail network via Secret Spire and then take an offshoot onto Crystal Geyser. From there, you need GPS waypoints because the trails drops off and picks up a few times where it crosses other access roads. Anyway, I wasn't quite savvy enough to bring us out that way, but if I'm ever back out there again, I'd like to look into how to link the three systems together firsthand.
 I didn't get much in the way of photos on this day. I got a bit of video bombing along the desert flats in the PA PreRunner. I'll have to add those up to the YouTube channel.
 It was a short day of us pretty much trying to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand. When everyone had their fill, we ended the day early and aired back up before heading back into town.
 Day 3 was my most challenging day. We were on Metal Masher, a red trail. I thought this was the one that featured the big drop, but that's actually Steelbender.

 Jenn had flown in the night before; so, I drove back out to Grand Junction to get her and bring her back into town. This was her first trail in Moab. She was not a fan of the narrow switchbacks heading up to the main trail.
 I think this might have been my first time wheeling with the Gorilla since it had it's one-ton axles swapped in.

 I haven't tried to load videos to Blogger in a while. Hopefully these play ok.

 When you're this big and bad, people kinda expect you to take on all challenges.
 Even though the terrain was more challenging (stress), I was relieved not to be responsible for any other vehicles (less stress).

 Chema was supposed to be the main trail leader, but the SAS'ed Frontier suffered two broken drive shafts earlier in the week. Truttman and Grooters joined him, and they did a terrific job getting our crew through some of the more challenging sections.

 Always something. He's alright.

 Stopping for lunch.
 Titan infusion. The skinny pizza cutters create an illusion that perhaps it is stock width.

 After this ATV had to be winched up this climb, Angel and Ben decided that they too wanted to become mountain climbers with their rigs as well.
 Day 4 was a chill day. We decided that 5 days in the desert wheeling might be a bit much for significant others; so, we planned for Thursday to be a family day. So we started the day off with brunch before heading to a vineyard just outside of town.

 I feel like this was the first time I saw Scott the whole trip. They took a few more days back east to get the Titan ready and drove out after we had already left.
 Y'all remember this? It lives out west now.
 We got off to a late start our last full day in town. We didn't really have plans, but decided we might go to Arches. It was my third time out in Moab, and after the prior two trips, people would always ask me if I had also visited Arches. I always indicated that I had not. "Really. You were right there! How could you not?!"

So we went.
 I thought I would be bored to tears driving along a paved road taking in the same scenery I had seen up close while driving on the trails. I was wrong though.
 Yes, there was primarily paved roads which 99% of guests were using.
 And informative kiosks and displays.
 And then I saw THIS sign and I was a 12 year old boy all over again.
 "Honey, we have the truck that meets these requirements."
 So we went about 3 miles down and back. It was mostly a dried riverbed with a bunch of deposited rocks. In the well washed sections, it was relatively easily passable. IN places wehre several larger rocks had been deposited, it was a bit more challenging. Since we were not accompanied by another vehicle, we didn't press our luck too far by venturing much further.
 We found another spot to get off the pavement and see the Tower Arch.
 "Honey, this is one you couldn't even see unless you are an avid, well-provisioned hiker...or in a truck like ours"
 Came across another guy out doing the same thing in a full size truck.

 She actually seemed to enjoy the little jaunt more than she had Metal Masher. She didn't like nearly dying on Wednesday. But on Friday, this was more her speed.

 These guys were finishing up their trip as we arrived to the Tower Arch.
 We left Saturday morning without much of a plan at all. We were just gonna take our time heading back east and stop wherever we saw something interesting. In Vail, we decided to stop at Vail Brewing Company for lunch. They actually don't serve lunch in the brewery, but food trucks are setup outside.
 After grub and a pint, we started heading a bit north to head towards Mt. Rushmore. Along the way, we saw signs for Buffalo Bill's grave site. "Why not?" We had been playing a bit of highway tag with Ryan Miller from GLX. Periodically one of us would stop and the other one would make up ground and overtake the other. Probably happened 2-3 times. We'd hail one another on the CB and do a status check. We lost them for the last time when we stopped here.
 At another point, I think the next day, we saw signs for Oregon Trail ruts. "Hey, I played that computer game; let's see it in real life!"
 So we did.
 Five years ago, I had tried to visit Mt. Rushmore only to be thwarted by terrible weather and fog that obscured the monument. This year looked to be a repeat, but with Jenn's encouragement, we pushed on. And we were able to salvage a good visit.
 The Jeep parked next to us while we were touring the grounds. We should have gone on adventures together.
 From there, we headed to the Badlands.
 And saw these wizard cows.

It was a really cool place and a great cap to the trip.