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In Memoriam: John Solomon

November 3, 2010

The obituaries keep coming in. John Solomon has died. After valiantly battling leukemia, he succumbed on Monday, November 1, 2010. He will be missed.

I met John online. He started a blog called In Case of Emergency, Read Blog to help with research for a book he was doing on personal preparedness. His and my blog had the same title; both being focused, to some extent, on preparedness issues, it was inevitable that we’d meet.

I grew to love his posts. I said so frequently.

I grew to admire his zeal. I strive to replicate it, though worry that no one can.

I never met John. He never knew my real name. I worry that cheapened our relationship. Who wants to be friends with a character from an old Clash song?

If I know anything about John Solomon, it was that he loved his family and he loved his work. In my mind, the indelible image of John is a fuzzy profile picture of him in his CERT gear, arm around his daughter.

I’m crying for a man I never knew, and who never knew me.

But I know his passion and I feel the same. I envy, “his willingness to offer candid assessments of where we stood as a country as far as preparedness, and … his honest feedback about … FEMA,” as no less than FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in an official statement on Tuesday.

I know the world is poorer for having lost John, but is the world poorer for not knowing Jim Garrow? I’m not vain enough to think that I’ve had the same impact as John did, but I am pragmatic enough to know that Jimmy Jazz will never change the world.

I’m not saying what I’m going to say in some misguided attempt to replace John. I could never do that, and truthfully, I have no desire to do that. I hate to tie the two statements together, but the first has lead me to the second.

I said before that I envied John’s passion. More specifically, I envy John’s passions. His dual passions, preparedness and family. His ability to do both, be both. I want that.

My kids can’t be proud of the work that Jimmy Jazz has done. My kids can’t be proud of someone who is cowed because someone someday might disagree with something he’s written.

I’m proud of the content of this blog. I stand by it all. All.

My kids should know what their Dad does, because I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know how much time I’ve got (not that I’m planning to go anywhere). Life is too short.

My name is Jim Garrow. I work at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Nothing I’ve ever written here has been vetted, reviewed or approved by my work. None of this is the official or unofficial policy of the Health Department.

That said, I’m closing this blog.

I originally started this blog to learn about public health preparedness. I think I’ve accomplished that. So, why keep doing this? I can’t answer that question anymore.

So, how about a fresh start? I’ve started a blog over at Posterous. Focused on public information, risk communication and crisis communication, and some public health preparedness. If you’re interested, check out jgarrow.posterous.com.

Thank you for everything you’ve done with me. Thank you, John, for helping me to be a better man.

links for 2010-10-12

October 12, 2010

links for 2010-10-07

October 7, 2010
  • Good news? Bad news? It'll probably happen, and there's nothing we can do about it, but we're resilient? Comforting? Not so much.
  • Some folks know of my less-than-love-affair with ICS, so I appreciated @Eric_Holdeman's post on it from earlier this week.

    The point that perked my ears? If you don't use ICS all the time, don't use it in an emergency. Seems common sense to me.

  • Sobering news from the EMS world. Undertrained and unprepared is no way to go through life when CBRN incidents are an ever-present threat.

    Not to mention the toll it must play on first responders minds – knowing that this could very likely happen (which 72% believe), and believing that you're wholly unprepared (15% feel very confident about their department's response) – what a terribly stressful way to have to work.

Quickly Noted: The Geospatial Revolution Project

September 28, 2010

In the past, I’ve written about how mapping can be used in disaster situations to both gain and maintain situational awareness and to help facilitate the distribution of help. Last week, I got a very interesting email from a young lady at Penn State alerting me to a geospatial project that Penn State Public Broadcastong has released, called The Geospatial Revolution Project. The email is below (copied in whole simply to show off how ridiculous it is to call me Mr. Jazz).

Mr. Jazz:

Geospatial information is more than just a handheld GPS receiver used to navigate personal travel. Digital maps can unite people across the world and even save lives. After last January’s earthquake in Haiti, geographic information systems helped first responders map cities, locate survivors and distribute aid.

Penn State Public Broadcasting has recently released the first episode in a four-part online video series, The Geospatial Revolution Project. The 13-minute episode uses the earthquake in Haiti to highlight how geospatial technology is critical in providing first responders with the information they need to help disaster victims.

Check out the episode at http://geospatialrevolution.psu.edu. Feel free to embed and share this link as you wish.

So, I checked it out, and was definitely impressed by the quality and content of the first episode. They’ve got plans for three more episodes in the next six months and, personally, I can’t wait to see them. Please do take a few minutes to stop by their website, Twitter, and Facebook page to learn more.

Kudos to everyone involved on creating a really great product on such an important topic.

links for 2010-09-27

September 27, 2010
  • Pretty cool speech by Secretary Sebelius to a conference organized by the UPMC Center for Biosecurity. The speech included information on H1N1, lab capacity and countermeasures.

    My biggest problem is the major investment of $2B in the next few years is focused on the federal government and private partners. True end-to-end public health response depends (almost wholly, I believe) on state and local response. Maybe she hasn't seen all of the reports lamenting the poor state of our local and state public health workforces?

  • Yes, yes, Jimmy, we get it, we should use social media for disaster situational awareness.

    This article is a bit different, though. It tells of Craig Fugate using Twitter to identify the status of the #sanbruno fire and explosion. Not the huge emergency management infrastructure, not the media, but Twitter.

    If the FEMA Admin is using these tools, what more justification do you need?

  • Flu's still around, and Google's still "tracking" it.
  • Here's an interesting post from John Solomon's great In Case of Emergency Blog about evacuation. He describes the differences between expected and unexpected evacs very nicely. But for me, the real difference between the two is the special populations, the elderly, the infirm, the not-easily-moved, the sick (even those with chronic conditions). Practicing evac for those folks greases the wheels, allowing them to know that they /can/ find caretakers in other places (think about how difficult it is to evac folks on dialysis), knowing that they can get meds further inland if they need it, etc.

    Even if there is lead-in time before the evacuation, just knowing these things makes these things easier. Given two days to evacuate, people will still fret and forget things, but if they evacuate regularly, the evacuation becomes a tiny detail. Mass evacuations that are not practiced can end up being disastrous (see: Rita, Hurricane).

  • Neat little flash-based game. Obviously not true to life (I had riots in the southeastern US with less than 200 cases on the whole eastern seaboard and less than 10 deaths worldwide), but interesting nonetheless.
    (tags: flu pandemic game)

The Terrorism Threat

September 27, 2010

This is a bit more terrorism focused than I’m used to, but I found a couple of sections interesting (scratch that, I found all of it interesting, and a couple sections relevant). I found Assessing the Terrorism Threat from the HLSWatch.com blog, who posted on it last week.

The article gives a quick history of Al Qaeda style terrorism since 9/11, with a focus on new affiliations and new partnerships throughout the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, Centarl and East Asia, and Africa. A good bit of the piece talks about the newly acknowledged phenomenon of radicalizing American citizens, and the dissemination of tactics through these parties to new recruits.

The first topic I wanted to bring up is in the section about future potential tactics. The second listed tactic was about “Fedayeen”-style attacks, similar to those perpetrated in Mumbai last year. While the security experts amongst my readers will probably cringe at my description, I consider these attacks as a few small groups of trained and heavily armed men cutting a path through a major city. The reason I think this is relevant is for the spectacle (which, frankly, is the point). If such a thing were to happen in the US, think of the media’s reaction. Hours of running and gunning, explosions, news choppers circling the battle zone — for HOURS on end. Is your executive ready to stand in front of a bank of cameras then?

The second relevant point is this:

However, even if America’s intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities are far better prepared to counter this new collection of adversaries, it still will not be enough. On Christmas Day 2009, it was not a federal air marshal, but the courageous actions of the passengers and flight crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 that helped disrupt the attack once it was underway. In Times Square, it was a sidewalk T-shirt vendor, not the New York Police Department patrolman sitting in a squad car directly across the street, who sounded the alarm about Faisal Shahzad’s explosive-laden SUV. It is reckless to leave the task of combating terrorism only to the professionals when the changing nature of the threat requires that ordinary Americans play a larger support role in detecting and preventing terrorist activities.

Is your organization doing that work? Are you preparing the general public (even your special populations) to be terrorism busters? I’m not a huge fan of see something, say something because it doesn’t teach the general public WHAT to look for (when looking for a needle in a haystack, it’s generally advisable NOT to increase the size of the haystack), but I’ve yet to see anyone in the States do it better, which is a shame, because every one of these reports anymore includes this specific section in the conclusion/future actions section. And yet, we continue to fail to prepare (and I think we all know the second half of that statement).

links for 2010-09-24

September 24, 2010
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