Living and Learning

Cascading Failures

San Jose just had a flood. Before we had a flood, though, we had lots and lots of heavy rain and strong winds for a few days.  This coincided with an overflowing reservoir and some bad judgements by some civic engineers which resulted in a floodplain full of homes and cars being under water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know for sure that the city and water engineers made bad judgements, but somebody certainly did. They had been releasing water from the reservoir since the beginning of January, but the additional heavy rain, combined with a waterlogged ground, and the limitations of the Coyote Creek as a spillway, caused cascading failure.

No-one anticipated this. We are in northern California where there has been a drought for four years. Floods are something that happens to other people. It happened so fast that there wasn’t time to give adequate warning for evacuations, and hundreds of people had to be rescued by boats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEveryone is wondering how, in the middle of Silicone Valley, there were not adequate communication systems for warning the people. When the crisis was in full swing, I tried to find online a map of affected streets, but all I could find were some news reports with pictures of mucky water and a list of five streets. I watched the TV news, but they didn’t seem to be in direct contact with the city powers-that-be or the emergency services.  I have to assume that everyone was too busy dealing with the immediate emergency to attend to communications, but that in itself seems to be an oversight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll this reminded me of a similar flood that happened in Calgary, Alberta in 2013. It was also a sudden inundation, caused in that case by a combination of spring rains and run-off from the mountain snowpack. Many homes were affected. The communications to the general public were, in that situation, much more thorough than I experienced in the San Jose flood. We got clear and regular information on television and radio and via an online dedicated website. The mayor was on television repeatedly over a forty-eight-hour period giving updates, information, analysis, and advice.  I don’t think he slept. Information was coordinated between the city, emergency services, media, and residents. It was still a disaster, but it was a well-communicated disaster.

Anyway, while I was trying to pay attention to the local emergency last week, my head was just fuzzy and incapable of rational thought, and at other times I had only alarming thoughts that led nowhere useful. I was worried about a friend who had to be evacuated, and I wondered if I was in any danger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was sick. I had the latest version of the flu or a bad cold. I’m not sure which. I used to think that if you had a fever it was the flu and if you didn’t it was a cold, but they changed the rules, so now I never know.  I even went online to find a chart that spelled out the difference and my symptoms seemed to straddle the line between the two, so I still don’t know what I had.

My roommate came home from a weekend away to find the city in a state of panic and me in my pyjamas.  She wondered aloud what we would do in the event that flood waters reached our street. I explained to her that the water would fill the underground garage before it filled our apartment. She was alarmed because she has a lovely new car down there. I pointed out to her that our cars are insured, and I went back to sipping my ginger tea with honey. I am a bad landlady. I also have a much older car.

Anyway, as crappy as the last week or two have been for me, they have been a lot worse for the evacuees. They now have to wait until they are given the green light to go back home and then start throwing out their contaminated furniture and personal possessions. I really, really hope they don’t also have the flu, or a cold, or whatever.

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