Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Capital Shield

On October 13th and 14th, Montgomery County CERT (including DisasterMan) participated in CAPSHIELD, hosted by the Military District of Washington, practicing responding to mass casualty incidents.Photographer Matt Laur got some amazing shots.

"Capital Shield '11 Trains in Lorton: Some of our best prepare for the worst," Lorton Patch, Oct. 17, 2010

"Capital Shield 2011: protecting nation’s capital," Army.mil News, Oct. 19, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Flying Saucers

This is kinda cool. An Australian company is developing a large balloon that can lift and transport up to 150 tons, which is a lot more than the most powerful helicopters. The saucer-shaped Skylifter would be slower than helicopters and airplanes, but comparable to land vehicles, at a speed of about 50 mph. (Depending, no doubt on winds.)

One use envisioned for the Skylifter is to transport disaster relief supplies or even whole hospitals to otherwise inaccessible areas. Their artist's-conception pictures show one with Red Cross logos.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Terrorists in the Trees

Suicide squirrels have launched a nationwide assault on freedom-loving Americans, including our most vulnerable. (Won't someone please think of the children??) Below is a column by Mike Licht at the Notions Capital Blog, updated to list the recent strikes.

Despite billions spent on homeland security, the Obama Administration is Bush-league when it comes to defending America’s vital power grid from home-grown terrorists. Known to experts as Sciurus carolinensis, these sly, suicidal saboteurs infiltrate transformer stations at will, denying thousands of loyal Americans their God-given right to power up their Chinese-made flat-screen TVs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Washington National Airport Emergency Drill

Another day, another (simulated) mass casualty incident. On Sept. 18, DisasterMan participated in an emergency exercise simulating a plane crash at Washington National Airport. Pictures and videos from this exercise and others are in the photo gallery.

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Animals Attack

Illegal aliens are trying to penetrate our homeland's borders. No, not human, nor extraterrestrial-type aliens, but rather a Noah's Ark-worth of beasties.

Last month, we had the guy trying to smuggle 18 monkeys under his shirt. Now it's 14 Giant African Land Snails. They grow as large as 8 inches long and 4 inches tall. They're illegal because they're an invasive species. (Plus they're just gross.)

Other live animals found in people's luggage include snakes, crocodiles, turtles, frogs, scorpions, spiders, cockroaches, a tiger cub hidden among stuffed animals, and a chihuahua in a carry-on duffel bag, which was sent through the X-ray machine. (At least that's better than sending a baby through the X-ray.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Discovery Channel Hostage Incident

(At the time, DisasterMan worked close enough to Discovery HQ to see the siege from his office window.)

The incident:
The gunman, James J. Lee:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Live-Blogging the Discovery Gunman

Update, 9 pm: Police are still blocking the street. I guess they're still looking for other bombs.

Update, 5 pm: The Washington Post is reporting he's been shot and the hostages freed.

2 pm: A gunman stormed the Discovery Channel HQ in Silver Spring. He reportedly fired one or more shots; took hostages; and claims to have bombs. See the "DC Area Emergency Info" tab above for links to local media sources, including live video.

Turns out this guy is James Lee, who held protests at Discovery a couple of years ago.

Here are Lee's demands:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wrath o' the Gods

Yesterday we had heavy rain, lightning, thunder, tornadoes, power outages...
"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!" -- Bill Murray in Ghostbusters
Thankfully, our local alert system warns us of pending danger.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys

News flash:
"Mexican authorities searching a man with a bulge under his shirt at the airport ... found 18 monkeys hidden beneath his clothes."
Will those terrorists stop at nothing? And why do monkeys hate freedom?
"Look, pilots, we know that times are tough, but when security asks you to remove your belt and shoes, you probably shouldn't laugh and drop your pants, ok."
Well, at least they could see he wasn't smuggling any monkeys.

Friday, July 16, 2010


At 5:05 a.m. Eastern Time today, Gaithersburg, Maryland was hit with an earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter Scale.

No word yet on whether chasms opened and vomited fire, but here's a picture of the wreckage:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pain in the Ash

South African police have arrested four men allegedly trying to sell radioactive Cesium-137 that could be used in a "dirty bomb." Cesium-137 is commonly used in medical gauges, and is very dangerous if removed from its sealed canisters. In 1987 in GoiĆ¢nia, Brazil, scrap metal scavengers unwittingly exposed such a source, and it resulted in 4 deaths and 249 other cases of radiation poisoning.

There's no danger of a nuclear bomb being made from it. However, it could be an ingredient in a "dirty bomb," which uses regular explosives to spread radioactive dust and soot. It wouldn't take much to create a very big problem.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We're All Going To Die!!!

Dum de dum... 3 am on July 4th. It'll be a busy day, but right now everyone's nestled all snug in their beds, and the region's Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) are closed. Just for the heck of it, though, let's take a look at WebEOC. Yep, nothing much in the logs, let's look at the "Incident Scene" map...

HOLY CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Does This Smell Oily to You?

"An expressive bouquet, sassy and complex, with elements of slate, sea breeze, and benzene."

Federal seafood inspectors are checking fish and shrimp for oil contamination by smelling them. Um... 'Kay.
"We train people to ... fine-tune their sense of smell to the oil and dispersants from this particular spill ... A panel of 10 expert assessors will smell each of the raw samples and record the odor. The samples are then cooked, and the process is repeated so that the experts may smell and taste the fish in its cooked state."
Fish that passes these tests does get sent for further chemical testing, so we don't have to worry about being poisoned if an inspector has a cold. Still... That must be a heckuva job: professional fish sniffer.

Update: I just noticed in that last line, "smell and taste the fish." So even without crude oil issues, they're eating fish to find out if it's spoiled. Yep, a heckuva job.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sit-Along Cassidy

Just finished my sit-along at the Montgomery County 911 call center. Interesting and educational, but just my luck, no chases or fun stuff.

[Thick accent, barely intelligible English] "My neighbor won't let me park in front of his house. But I'm on the street." "Sir, what is he doing to stop you from parking there?" "He says I can't." "Sir, the street is county property, so you can park there." "But what if he calls me poopy-pants?" "Then you say, 'sticks and stones...'"

OK, I made up that last bit.  But people arguing (quietly & w/o violence) was a significant percentage. "I need you to send an officer. The towing company won't give my son his car, and they're being sarcastic and obnoxious..."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Idiot Terrorists, Part 3

The new issue of The Atlantic has an article about incompetent terrorists -- clearly inspired by DisasterMan's blog posts. :-) They cite the same incidents described in DM's Idiot Terrorists, Part 1 and Part 2, and also provide a few more fun facts.
The Case for Calling Them Nitwits

...it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself. And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Sky Could Fall. Seriously.

[Update: Video added. Click "Read more" to view.]

A NASA-funded study found that a solar flare the size of one that occurred in 1921 could leave 130 million people without power, and cause a collapse of the power infrastructure in the Northwest, Midwest and most of the East Coast.

Similar to the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by nuclear weapons, a geomagnetic storm could induce currents that fry anything electrical. In 1989, a storm melted transformers and knocked out power for 6 million people in Quebec. The one in 1921 is estimated to have been 10 times stronger, and it knocked out all communications east of the Mississippi.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fuggedaboutit, Part 2

A Slate columnist says, "If you see something, say something? You'd never shut up."

"I set out to see how much disturbing behavior I could encounter in Times Square during an hour and a half around lunchtime...

"I met a Brazilian tourist who had way too many shabby bags in tow, and an off-duty Indian pilot who was carrying a grocery bag around his neck like a cape, food stains running down his shirtfront. I sidled up to a guy scalping Broadway tickets because he was wearing a sweatshirt in the heat.

"Several guys ... tried to sell me a ride, including Abdullah Ghazi, a bearded young man in a yellow City Sights polo. I asked Ghazi what sort of 'unusual' behavior might grab his attention. 'Someone panicky or paranoid,' he said. 'You make a logical assumption that he's off his meds.' And how often does he see that? 'Oh! Every day.' ...

"Investigators announced that they were hunting for a man who was shown on a surveillance tape taking off his shirt immediately after the incident. This was deemed suspicious activity by the police, though Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't necessarily agree: 'It was a hot day,' he said. 'Maybe he was just changing his shirt? And this is Times Square, where you have the Naked Cowboy.'"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

If you see something... eh, fuggedaboutit

The Huffington Post reports that someone left a shopping bag labeled "Suspisious Package?" [sic] on an electrical box in Manhattan...

...and everyone ignored it.

New Yorkers don't scare that easily, and besides, much like DC, people are busy and they have places to be!

In any case, it seems some people know the lesson in my "Scary Things" section: how to recognize when something's not a bomb. (You know, like when it's a name badge, bacon, or a coin. I'm just sayin'....)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dulles Airport Emergency Exercise 2010

On Saturday, May 8, Dulles International Airport held its triennial full-scale emergency exercise. It simulated a plane crash, and 120 volunteers (including DM) played casualties. Fun was had by all.

We had to be there at the crack of dawn, 5:30 a.m., then get breakfast, and get moulaged (made up with fake wounds). The exercise started at about 9 a.m. It rained for a short time beforehand, so we had lie on wet ground, but they gave us blankets to lie on, and the temperature was very comfortable. (Except when they poured fake blood on us. That stuff was cold!!) It wrapped up in time for lunch.

Pictures from this exercise and past ones are in the photo gallery:

Dulles Airport Drill 2010 National Airport Drill 2007Dulles Airport Drill 2007

Friday, May 7, 2010

Idiot Terrorists, Part 2

The bumbling nature of some freedom-haters was detailed in a prior post, Idiot Terrorists, Part 1. Al Qaeda's 1993 bombing on the World Trade Center is another example.

Mohammed Salameh was the guy who famously got arrested when he returned to a Ryder outlet -- twice -- to try to get the deposit back on the truck they'd blown up. But that's not all:

  • Salameh was used as the driver for the materials in the bomb, and possibly for the bomb itself, despite having failed his driving test four times, and getting into three accidents in the prior few months.

  • The second accident, a month before the bombing, involved his car jumping the curb, tearing the undercarriage, and landing him and another conspirator, Ramzi Yousef, in the hospital. He checked out the next day, but Yousef was laid up for 5 days.
  • Yousef ordered some of the chemicals used in the bomb from his hospital room.

  • Since Salameh's car was unusable, another conspirator, Nidal Ayyad, used his corporate account with his employer to rent another for him -- which Salameh then crashed two weeks later in the third accident.

  • Ayyad also used his position and company letterhead to order other chemicals used in the bomb, and he used a computer at work to write the letter claiming responsibility for the bomb.

  • Salameh called Ayyad at his office number several times from the storage facility where they had the chemicals used for the bomb -- and where they still had all a lot of leftover materials when the FBI raided it.

  • The fourth guy involved, Ahmad Ajaj, was arrested at an airport trying to get into the country, when he was found to have four passports in different names and military manuals for making bombs. He was still in prison when it went off.

If it had been a suicide mission, they'd have reason to not care about the trail they left -- but it wasn't! They may have at least planned to flee the country afterward -- but good old Salameh stayed and kept trying to get his deposit back. With rocket scientists like this, who needs waterboarding?

Next installment: Idiot Terrorists, Part 3
Prior installment: Idiot Terrorists, Part 1

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Size Matters

Breaking news:

"A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener is facing an assault rap after he allegedly beat a co-worker who joked about the size of the man's genitalia after he walked through a security scanner.
"Rolando Negrin ... and his co-workers had been training with new 'whole body image' machines -- the controversial kind that provide very revealing images of a traveler -- when Negrin walked through the scanner. 'The X-ray revealed that [Negrin] has a small ***** and co-workers made fun of him on a daily basis," reported cops. ...


[Click on the picture for a larger, uncensored, NSFW version. (It's not that guy's, just a sample.)]

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Idiot Terrorists

A lot of would-be terrorists are stupid or incompetent, and that's good. Sometimes, it thwarts their plans; it at least makes them easier to catch afterward.

The recent bombing attempt at Times Square is an example. The Oklahoma City bombing utilized barrels of ANFO -- ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil. It's a powerful explosive commonly used in mining. Ammonium nitrate is also used as fertilizer. The Times Square bomber used fertilizer -- but it was the wrong kind.

Also, it was inside a metal gun locker, not mixed with fuel oil, and not exposed to the firecrackers and fuel canisters he also used.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earthquakes - Fun Fact

Ah, so that explains it.
(AP) A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes...

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair.
Those strumpets!

Update: A student at Purdue tested this by having a bunch of women "dress immodestly," then looking for anomalies in seismic activity. "Boobquake" became an Internet sensation, and over 100,000 women participated. Men can breathe a sigh of relief; no evidence of a correlation was found

"What I learned from Boobquake," Jennifer McCreight, Guardian.co.uk

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pets in a Disaster

An essential part of preparing for an emergency is planning for your pet(s). With Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people in New Orleans were forced to leave their pets behind. They were not allowed to bring them to shelters or on evacuation buses. Many pets died, and with others it was often hard for owners to recover them.

Emergency management authorities are required to have a plan for handling pets in an emergency. Some have more of a plan than others. Fortunately, in the DC area, there's a partnership with the Humane Society to set up emergency shelters for animals in a disaster. (Note: Red Cross shelters do not allow animals, except service animals like seeing-eye dogs.)

It's best to not rely on that alone, however. Other options for hosting your pet may include friends, family, kennels, veterinarians offices, and hotels that allow pets. The Humane Society has information on how to prepare, as well as directories of pet-friendly hotels.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Emergency Driving Distractions

Last week, I saw an ambulance with a laptop mounted between the seats. It faced the passenger side. I said, "I'm glad the driver doesn't use it while driving, like the cops do," but I was told that's sometimes done in ambulances too.

In the cops' case, they're constantly typing in license plate numbers they see, on the off chance it will be a stolen car or the driver will be wanted. Contrary to what you see on TV and in movies, cops typically drive alone -- so they're typing with one hand while driving with the other! Needless to say, that's dangerous.

Today's NY Times has an article on this, "Driven to Distraction: Gadgets in Emergency Vehicles Seen as Peril."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Riot Control

Got a presentation from a police firearms instructor again. This time he showed us this target for firing riot-control ammo, namely shotgun-launched beanbags. Only the green areas are safe to shoot; hitting a red area might result in serious injury or even death. Doesn't leave a whole lot, does it? The instructor said cops prefer Tasers for exactly that reason.

Cops also prefer Tasers to pepper spray, because the spray gets all over, potentially affecting innocents and the officers themselves.

[Wikipedia articles on: bean bag rounds, Tasers, and pepper spray.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There but for the grace...

The plane a tax protestor crashed into a building in Austin today hit 9420 Research Blvd. In late 2000, I worked in 9430 Research Blvd., right next door. What are the odds?

Also, for about a year I was assigned to an IRS building in the Washington, DC area. It's covered by the post-9/11 restricted flight zone, however, so it's somewhat safer -- unless attacked from the ground. (D'oh!)

For that matter, I worked on Capitol Hill for a couple of years. Again, in the restricted flight zone and somewhat safer from the air (key word: "somewhat"), but a prime target for ground attack.

Now I work someplace no more likely to be attacked than any other office building, so all I have to worry about are floods, fires, power outages, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, extreme heat and cold, chemical spills, train crashes, and disease. Oh, and a rising sea level due to global warming. (But not earthquakes or volcanoes!)

Update: Oops. Earthquakes too. Still no volcanoes, though!

Update #2: And sharks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Coming Ice Age

"Snowmaggedon" doesn't just disprove Global Warming; it shows we're entering an Ice Age! :-)

The show "In Search Of," narrated by Leonard Nimoy, warned us of the coming Ice Age in a 1978 episode. (Available on YouTube.) Here are some excerpts:

[Scenes of blizzards, glaciers, and snow-capped mountains, and dramatic, axe-murderer-approaching-type background music.]

"Climate experts believe the next ice age is on its way. ... When the weather turns on us again, how thin is the margin between life and death?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Live-blogging Snowmageddon 2010

9:00 am
Running a Red Cross shelter. Awakened by a call at 7:15 saying they'd pick me up at 7:30. Fortunately, the shelter has plenty of coffee and cereal.

We've got two RC volunteers; a nurse and a social worker; two cops; and a few guys who shovel the sidewalks. Only missing one thing: clients.

9:30 am
TV reporter saw a guy come out to "go for a run," but he got scared and went home. Damn, it looked like such great jogging weather.

The rule (we tell ourselves) is that calories don't count on a DR (disaster response). So... lots of cookies, no jogging... I'll have some insulating padding when this is done.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mad Cattlemen

From the NY Times:
The USDA will announce Friday that it is dropping a ... program in which each animal on a farm would be tracked with a unique identification number and stored in a federal database. The Bush administration created the program in 2004 after a report of Mad Cow Disease in 2003.

Government officials said the program would have made it easier to track disease outbreaks ... but critics said the program imposed costly and onerous requirements on small farmers and feared that the government would eventually make it mandatory and use it to pry into farmers' lives.
1) What happens between a farmer and his cattle is nobody's business but his own.

2) I've been right to avoid beef all these years. The government could have been tracking me, and my aluminum foil hat wouldn't have helped! (Remind me to make some shirts and underwear.)

3) What if terrorists spread Mad Cow disease? Why do farmers hate freedom?

Socked and Sacked

Liverpool Paramedics Upset Over Novelty Sock Ban

The Liverpool Echo -- Uniformed staff have been barred from wearing socks with images of cartoon characters, jokes and garish patterns after bosses branded them "unprofessional."

The strict uniform policy... also bans wrist watches, visible body piercing, excessive make-up and certain tattoos. And staff have been warned they could be disciplined and ultimately even sacked if they flout the dress code ...

Spokesman for the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, Jonathan Fox, said: "[They] should be addressing more important issues like why paramedic training has been stalled for months."
Whiners. Management has to have its priorities.