It has been on my mind to write a novel based upon a New Madrid earthquake. The plan is to create a realistic but readable account of survival after a catastrophic disaster, like Lights Out, Alas Babylon, or One Second After I want to give good information, but still have a good fiction story. This is based upon my knowledge and experience as both a professional emergency management planner and my knowledge of personal prepping. I want to give the prepper a view of the governments emergency management perspective, while still being true to my roots as a prepper.
My plan is to serialize the writing, and post it here a few chapters of After the quake at a time to get your opinion of the ongoing work. Please let me know what you think.
Hey, stop pushing me; I have to get up in the morn….
Why is everything shaking? What’s going on!
Oh lord, it’s an earthquake. HEY, don’t try to get up, just ride it out!
My wife is screaming and trying to get to our baby, but the violent shaking combined with the darkness, and crashing noises conspire to do nothing but make conversation impossible
The shaking seemed to go for hours, but it had to have only lasted a minute.
Once the shaking stopped it, panic grips me; the battery powered nightlight casts a feeble glow. I could see my wife sprawled out on the floor, and my son’s crying did little to calm my racing mind.
Mercifully, the panic ended quickly as my determination to protect my family forced my frozen muscles to cooperate. Maggie was angry at me for telling her to stay, which I took as a sign she wasn’t seriously hurt. She has a couple scrapes, and the makings of a fine knot on her head where she hit the door frame as she fell trying to get up, but was strong enough to push me away and head right for the baby.
A quick glance at the boy was enough to tell me that situation was well handled by his momma, and I grabbed up some clothes, my nightstand flashlight and cellphone and started pushing everyone out the door.
Maggie was not happy to be told she has to go outside. It’s dark, she says. I cannot seem to bring myself to tell her about the danger of aftershocks, so I just yell at her to do it, her eyes flash and I think to myself “ooh, I’m going to pay for that later”, but really, I just have to get them outside.
Once I get them out the front door, I dash back in for some essentials. In my hurry to not forget anything, I waste more time hurrying and scrambling back and forth. But my prior planning does help, and I remember the big stuff. I turn off the main circuit breaker to the house; grab my 72 hour bag, and the box of flashlights I keep near the basement door.
I hope I make the right decisions, but I am really afraid of aftershocks, and I cannot see well enough to gauge any damage.
Meanwhile outside, the neighborhood began filling with people in various stages of dress, some with cell phones, a few with flashlights. Everyone was scared, and not too many seemed to know what was going on.
I used my light to quickly check the baby and my wife. Her head looked fine, and while she was mad at me for yelling at her, she calmed down a little when I handed her the wad of clothes I snatched up on my way out. I ask her if she can stay with the baby, and watch the small pile of equipment I brought out of the house as I went and talked to the neighbors.
Without waiting for a reply, I grabbed the biggest lantern I had, turned it on, and started asking everyone to come over to the light.
It did not take much coaxing, to get a crowd. Darkness can be scary, and people can mean safety, so once a couple families were huddled together, social instinct caused everyone else to begin to wander over.
“Okay guys, I am pretty sure we just had an earthquake. Before we start figuring out what happened, I would like to know if anyone is seriously hurt? And does anyone have any medical experience.”
My next door neighbor Cathy volunteers as she is a nurse, and takes charge of the few injured people.
A lot of folks were getting upset; we had no cell service, which was causing some discontent. Since fear and anger are very close emotions, I wanted to help get some organization working to prevent fear from taking hold.
“Did everybody get out of their houses? Earthquakes can have aftershocks, and we need to make sure nobody gets trapped. Can I get a couple of volunteers to help me go door to door to ask everyone to come outside? While that is happening, I would like to ask everyone else to do two things. Don’t go back inside your houses until it gets light out and we can get them checked for structural integrity. I would also like if everyone would think about some organization. If this was a big New Madrid earthquake like I have read about, we could be in a big emergency, and it might be helpful if we had some leadership to ensure everyone was taken care of. Let’s meet back here in 45 minutes and discuss decide on what we want to do.”
“Who the hell put you in charge” yelled a voice from the back
“Nobody’ I said “That’s why I asked to talk about it, right now I am going to check houses – would you like to come with me?”
About 6 guys volunteered to help, so we organized into two person teams, and I gave each team a flashlight from my meager stash (if they did not already have one). We decided amongst ourselves on how to split up the neighborhood, and the other two teams started to canvass the neighborhood. Before I left with my partner, I asked the last man if he would mind taking some of my firewood and building a small bonfire near the edge of my yard. I figured people would naturally congregate to a fire.
Maggie was not happy I was leaving, but I had a couple of GMRS radios in my bag, so I handed her one and told her she could keep it touch I also handed her my small mobile Ham radio for her to monitor since the local cell tower was either broken, or busy with calls. As I leaned down to kiss her, I whispered “Remember I keep a .38 in the emergency kit just in case” Her eyes got wide, but she nodded and drew the bag closer.
The lights went out, then flickered briefly as the emergency generator powered on. Immediately after an unusual claxon sound jarred the two night shift ops officers from their normal 3 am routine. Since the operations center was filled with such a wide variety of computer consoles, warning panels, and phone lines of all types it took the men a few nanoseconds to classify the sound. Wordlessly the Ops staff glanced at each other as they simultaneously realized what the sound signified.
This is the ops officer’s worst nightmare, and the foundation of their catastrophic plans. They have spent hours planning and practicing for this event. No words needed to be said as they began working to perform the emergency notifications.
A voice answered the phone after just a one ring. The single sentence “Was it the New Madrid”, told ops that the man on the phone felt the tremors himself.
“Yes sir, the seismic computer says it was an 8.2 centered near lake county at 3:02am. We haven’t got in touch with the regional director yet, no one has called in any damage reports either. We are on emergency power here, but we don’t have any apparent damage.”
The on call took the briefing wordlessly, paused a second, and then gave his orders. “I am activating the Emergency Operations Center and will notify the Director. Notify the RDs, and get the pit staffed. Use the satellite phones if you have to, and go ahead and call in the extra ops officers. It looks like we are going to battle stations.”
After hanging up with the State on call officer, the staff starts the process of notifying the regional directors of the three grand regions of Tennessee, emergency management staff, points of contact with the other state agencies, as well as attempting to connect with the county emergency management staff from the West Tennessee counties that would be the hardest hit.
Controlled chaos would best describe the situation, as one officer answered calls and works to both get situational reports, as well as give them. The other officer dials out notification calls as quickly as possible. The automated system designed for mass calling is not working, and the operation officer does not know if this is due to call volume or physical damage, and at this point, he really does not care. What is important is to gather as much information as possible as soon as he can because soon the State’s emergency operations center will be filled with responders that will need that information to accomplish their missions of saving lives and stabilizing the situation.
Luckily the watch point officers have a multitude of tools, and are able to use satellite phones and amateur radio consoles whenever their traditional methods fail. The two men use the tools available to them as best they can, but until help arrives, they are it.
About half the neighborhood is standing around the fire, an old style coffee percolator is being overworked trying to supply coffee ten times over its design limits, but the fire and the caffeine have are useful to calm the crowd. It is amazing to see the wide range of response to the earthquake. Many haven’t even bothered to come back after the initial shake up, and are holed up in their houses. Much of the rest have the opposite response. They are fearful and cling to their coffee cups like life preservers, wondering what will happen next, and waiting on FEMA to magically appear. I am trying to take mental notes on what I see, and am looking for a different kind of response. Amongst the many that are over (or under) whelmed I see a few with set jaws and observant eyes. I hope they are looking for the same thing I am.
In my mind it’s very clear that the next few hours will tell me if the quake was a minor inconvenience or a really big problem. I need to find others that are aware of what could happen, and make plans without scaring everyone else or getting labeled as a crackpot.
“HEY GUYS! Can I get your attention?” I say “Until it gets light out and we can get more information, it’s hard to tell how much damage we had, but just in-case, has anyone thought about organizing?”
The prissy soccer mom from three doors up the road spoke up first, “What do we need to organize for, if it really is an Earthquake FEMA will help us, and if it’s not, then you’ve just wasted our time.”
Cathy rebutted “FEMA probably would help, but they say it can take up to 72 hours for them to get organized.”
“Well, even if it takes them a couple days, I have a generator, and can take care of myself” said another man.
“I don’t know if they will come or not, but I would rather have some sort of group just in case of looters” I nodded my head at him, and wish I knew his name, but I did recognize the yellow bumper sticker with the Gadsden snake emblem on the back of the speaker’s truck.
“LOOTERS!” another man screamed “We won’t have looters, this isn’t New Orleans, This is Tennessee, next thing you will want to put up roadblocks and carry guns. I won’t have that in this neighborhood”. Unfortunately I did know this guy, his name is Tim Barnes. We have had words about my chickens, and he went ballistic when I first got my beehives… The last thing I want is to let THIS guy get started.
“I don’t want this to turn into an argument, but if this was a New Madrid quake, and if there is a lot of damage, people could get hungry, and we are near the highway, it is possible that a lot of desperate people could come into the area. But for now, I was thinking more along the lines of organization to help with clean up and to prevent issues.”
“You are one of those survivalists; I have had my eyes on you ever since you started bringing all those animals into the subdivision.” Tim said, “I bet you’re happy this happened; now you get to try to be a big shot…”
The conversation devolved from there, I don’t know how being labeled a prepper became such a pejorative term, but after his outburst no one wanted to take the risk of being singled out. They all gradually moved away from the fire and soon only a few families remained.
“Hey big shot”, I turned around and saw Mr. Looter grinning ear to ear. “My name is Dustin, sorry this didn’t go so well, but it seems some folks just can’t be reasoned with.” We shook hands, and I agreed. “Dustin, I’m Tom, this is my wife Maggie. I have seen your truck in the neighborhood, and with your sticker and all, I figured we had a lot in common, but I just never seemed to find the time to stop by and say hello.”
“That’s alright Tom, I probably would have shot you for trespassing.” I have to admit, if it weren’t for the twinkle in his eye and the way he said it, I would have wondered about Dustin, but after all the stress of the night I just had to laugh. I could see that I was going to like this guy.
“Anyway, I got to get home, the sun’s coming up and I want to see if I have any damage. Maybe later I can introduce you to a couple other guys I know, maybe knucklehead over there represents most of the houses over here, but I know for a fact he doesn’t speak for all of them…”
With that, the little fireside chat broke up completely, I threw the dregs of coffee on the fire, and with a quick squeeze on my wife’s shoulder I started walking over to check out the house and decide what to do next.