Oh Serbia; As The Rains Fell

Part 2: The During

1200889_vuccic
via Vreme 1221

The Ides of May will be hard to forget for most Serbs, for a while at least. But the government was trying to sweep the water under the proverbial carpet as it fell. It seems that the government’s solution for not being up to the job of dealing with the historic floods was to pretend they were in control by trying to hide what was really going on. In the article, linked in the caption of the picture to the right, from a television presentation of government meeting regarding the flood, the lack of leadership is apparent based on PM Vucic’s inability to stick to one train of thought decision within 1 meeting and does not need to be noted more than to say, it is sheer luck and the ability of those on the ground in the disaster zones that more property, persons and equipment were not lost. For those members of the Emergency Services that were in the zone trying to make a difference, listening to the PM was more like playing “Red Light, Green Light” instead of being part of a cohesive government action.
To add to the poor leadership choices that were being made, or more precisely not being made, the government also focused more attention on attacking people than they did to meeting their legal obligations for the safety of those same people. Less than 1 month after the flooding and what can the government say they have done successfully? Signed a loan agreement with UAE. Questioned at least 17 persons and charged at least 3 for supposedly inciting panic, by sharing information via Social Media. Ironically, numerous reports are that rescue teams were able to save several hundred persons due to information shared via Social Media. What panic ensued from reports on social media? That has not been properly presented. What was the information that was SO insightful as to create panic? Passing information regarding where rivers were breaching banks and by how much; and how many people were either affected or had succumbed to the disaster. While it is commonly known that sometimes initial figures can be inaccurate, it has also been proven that initial reports seem to be more reliable than not. Much discredit that comes afterwards is to the fact that someone in the government spoke that shouldn’t have or that information was accurate and shows ineptitude on the part of the government.
One would think that the government would have more important things to do during a natural disaster than to threaten, question and arrest people whom more than likely were making every sincere effort to help out their fellow man. And if passing along unverified information or numbers that the government hadn’t confirmed or didn’t want released is a crime and was worth more attention than flood response, then members of government are guilty of not only inciting panic, but also dereliction of duty and negligence. If the reports are true, as PM Vucic states in the article linked in the above picture, then the government kidnapped almost 100 children from their homes and separated them from their parents without consent of the parents. This conduct if in fact occurred as descried by PM Vucic, is inexcusable, immoral, unethical and illegal. Yet, there is no word on the location and condition of these children and their parents.

20140518-serbia-flodds-Main-1via-www.ifrc.org
via-www.ifrc.org

During the course of the floods it was very apparent that many cracks were shown in the government and their ability to handle such situations. Just because something might only happen every 100 years or might never happen is no reason to be so absolutely unprepared for such situations. As was stated in our previous article in this series, the basic skeleton for handling natural disasters is the same. But without the skeleton you are a jellyfish carried on the current without any choice, instead of a man able to determine his own course. It is never a good government that acts as a jellyfish, in lieu of a man. The reality is that while the jellyfish cannot be blamed for where it goes or the damage that it causes along the way, leaders are completely responsible not only for their direct actions, but also for the actions of those following their direct orders. If one hasn’t the fortitude for such repercussions then one should not be in public service position. Also, if your primary motivation for holding public office is your own ego and personal gain you are going to be a failure in such situations as floods. One does not out ego Mother Nature! The best that one can do is to find the most harmony from respect of her power and cycles.

time.com Zepce 16May2014
via time.com Zepce 16May2014

One of the most apparent concerns to surface during the floods was just how divisive egos are in Belgrade. Yet, these fissures are not just withing Belgrade proper or within the municipality, but also have expanded to create in some places not just crevasses but canyons between Belgrade and outlying regions and municipalities. When one determines how they deal with another member of government based in a manner that publicly appears to be solely based on political party affiliation the whole public should not just be concerned, but also outraged to the extreme. Secondary, most people that are in any public office or that have any experience with public service know that you have more ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacking’ than you ever have supporters. That being said if you are going to pursue a career in the public sector you have to be able to handle criticism and extreme scrutiny of all decisions and actions that can in some way shape or form be blamed on you. If you are a good leader you learn to live with it. If you are a great leader you know that the best method for handling such individuals is to productively and positively engage them. However, it appears that PM Vucic instead censored them or by order or implication or facilitation directed the hacking of sites critical of actions and members of the government. That action is the action of a weak and or fearful leader. Which makes the whole nation weak and fearful. Serbia does not need more fear or weakness.

Oh Serbia, But Not For Her Politicians

Part 1 The Beginning

Serbian Floods 1
www.balkaneu.com

It seems that not only the world, but Serbia’s own government has forgotten about the disaster that befell the country less than a month ago. The rain that fell on the Balkans in early May led to the largest natural disaster in Europe in over a century. Floods ravished towns and villages from Croatia to Serbia. While Croatia was moderately impacted do to its upriver locale, Bosnia and Serbia were not so fortunate. The land and people that still have scars healing from the wars that broke up Yugoslavia were freshly ripped apart with rushing rapids spilling over river banks and rain soaked hills crashing down under the weight sending lives and hopes flowing out of sight with the deluge.

From various sources and reports it appears that voter apathy during the last election resulted in an incompetent and impotent government, at least so far as natural disasters are concerned, which is the one time, above all others, that citizens need their leaders to step up and do right by them. Yet, there was an apparent stunned ‘deer in the headlights’ freeze that occurred in Belgrade, thus snowballing the impact of what was an unpreventable act of nature. I am sure I can speak for most intelligent persons when I say, the flood was not the fault of the government; that being said, there is much in their action and more weighted their inaction that is their responsibility.

Serbian Floods 2
www.cnn.com
Obrez, Serbia, on Saturday, May 17

It always amazes me that when weak governments are faced with such situations as acts of nature, especially ones that can be observed in their formation and development, government inaction is always based on the fear that knowledgeable persons panic. The exact opposite is the case! Knowledge prevents panic. An informed public is a calm and responsible public, of course that is only true when the information given is honest and truthful and given in a timely manner. As we know, this is not how Vucic or the rest of the government acted. As a matter of fact it appears that they almost did the exact opposite. Instead of looking at elevation maps and previous flood zones as well as consulting with meteorology and geology experts and issuing timely warnings and watches, in which, the police and military, as well as, civil leaders of each locale could prepare and assist in maintaining the safety of their residents and coordinate with their regional and national counterparts to ensure not only that all affected persons could evacuate in a timely manner, that they also would be removed to areas that were not under threat, specifically, not to remove persons to other locations down river or in the possible flood zones of other rivers, nor into the danger zone of landslides due to excessive rain undermining the structural integrity of hills and mountains. It would appear that the existing foundation of an Emergency Response Team or plan or even thought was not in existence in Serbia. While I understand that the current government is ‘somewhat’ new, there should have been in place for some time now the existence of an Emergency Management and Response team that was not political in nature; thus that it ranks were filled with experts in the various fields needed to ensure proper reaction to various Emergency situations with a focus on natural disasters. I have since seen a news article that remarked about Serbia working on plans to be ready for an earthquake; I sincerely hope it is better in application than their flood response was! But that merely reiterates the initial assessment that there was not already in place any comprehensive natural disaster plan.

How does one know you might ask; simple, the skeleton of all response plans to natural disasters is the same. You have to know your high risk areas and your safe areas and what your risks are. You have to know your infrastructure, its sources, its limits, its centers, its age, its repair status, its redundancy capacities and all available backups to all parts of the infrastructure. You have to know your transportation capacity and capabilities for each type of event. You have to know your medical capacities, your hospitals and their level of care, their capacities and triage/mass incident abilities, as well as any special care or focused treatments that could be highly valuable during specific events. You have to know your lodging/feeding capacities for evacuees, how many locations can be converted and the capacity of each as well as the level of lodging/feeding that it can facilitate along with the coordination of volunteers that can assist in the setup, operating and clean up of said sites. You have to know your manpower resources, their locations, their abilities, their training levels and the location and numbers of specially trained and or focused teams, to ensure maximum use for minimal causality numbers. You have to know your equipment resources and capabilities, you have to also have prep locations to move equipment to prior to known disasters to facilitate rapid response in the face of the disaster; focusing on using the proper equipment for the various situations to ensure maximum response with minimal damage to property or equipment or person. You have to know your communication resources and have the systems in place to ensure flow of information even if other parts of your infrastructure collapses and insure that all members of Emergency Response Teams are trained in the use of all possible, not just probable equipment systems. You have to know your monetary resources and set up priority with regard to acquiring and upgrading equipment while understanding the limits of your personnel and the ability of your support systems to run such acquisitions. You have to require and provide training for essential personnel, while also encouraging and facilitating the training of support staff and volunteers that will be as important in implementation as main teams are in time of need. You have to set up and run various training scenarios, these should be on local, regional, national levels with focus being on different aspects of need so as to constantly assess and redefine your progress and development to ensure maximum results. You have to keep up to date with other partners within the region and world, facilitate the inclusion of your teams in training under partners and encourage outside teams to train within Serbia; this provides not only exposure to different and broader experience, knowledge and ideas, it also establishes report that can be vital when disaster occurs.

The next concern after resolving all the above issues are that you have to ALWAYS have a Plan B that can be applied instantly! For example if your telecommunications goes down how will you coordinate with teams in the field and command posts as well as keeping those affected informed to lessen the number of causalities. If your primary roads or railways are damaged or destroyed how will you move persons out of danger zones. If the initial disaster instigates a secondary disaster how will you focus your resources and divide your manpower to handle both events. All of this is primary knowledge for anyone that has any training, education and or experience with natural disasters, yet it appears to have been almost wholly non-existence at the Interior Ministry.

Tectonics – Shemtonics

Ice_Age_Europe_mapThe last factor that we will discuss that leads to most errors, limits and misunderstanding within the pursuit of historical knowledge is change. What do I mean by change? Maybe another word could be movement. Both change and movement impact where and how we live and settle and grow. Man has not always lived as we do today. Nor has man always lived in just one location, even ‘civilized’ man, and certainly not the hunter-gather ancestors of the Stone Age.

As the title implies we are going to discuss two ‘natural’ events that have HUGE impact on human location, movement, and lifestyle. The two natural events that we are going to discuss are Plate Tectonics and Ice Ages. Both events have a greater impact on our history than we give them credit for, mainly because we do not believe that modern man has lived through an Ice Age and most of the movement of Plate Tectonics is a very slow and gradual process. Yet, geologists will tell you that we are in an Ice Age, just that we are in the glacial minimum cycle of the current one.

volcano eruption
via themalaysiantimes.com

I understand that at first look that Plate Tectonics might seem like a reach for studying human history, but the plates are still moving and those movements cause volcanoes and earthquakes and those events cause other natural disasters like tsunamis, floods, even mini Ice Ages. So while the movement of the plates is so slow that we do not notice in our lifetime. We do notice when their movement impacts our lives from the aforementioned events. Pompeii was buried under the ash and debris of Mt. Vesuvius’ 79AD eruption, thus ceasing to exist and falling into the pages of history. The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 not only killed at least 230,000 people in 14 different countries with 1.6 million persons displaced; poor coastal fishing villages were the hardest hit, some literally washed off the map. Across the Indian Ocean remains of an ancient port city at Mahabalipuram on the south coast of India were uncovered when the layers of sand that had buried the area were washed away by the tsunami. This shows us that while Mother Nature can take away she can also give back.

Indonesian tsunami bbc
Indonesia via bbc uk

Our other natural event that impacts human lifestyle are Ice Ages. Yes, I used the plural, cause I have a very open mind. That way if we find something new that predates the experts fact sheet, I can accept it based on its own merit and not debunk it cause it hurts my ego. What happens when Ice Ages occur is that new glaciers form and existing glaciers expand. When this happens a very noticeable amount of water is removed from the water cycle and thus from the bodies of water around the world. Why does this matter? It means that the coast lines change. They move further out, in other words, land masses appear to grow. For man, this means that fishing villages have to move to be near the coast again. Having less water in the water cycle will also show in lakes and rivers and watering holes. The temperatures are lower so there is less melt water in the summer and more snowfall in the winter. Less water will also mean less precipitation in certain areas thus changing the whole ecosystem and with that man in those affected ecosystems will have to either adapt or move. The big changes come when the Ice Age ends. When this happens, sometimes gradually and sometimes suddenly, usually though some combination of both, the water levels will increase a lot. The resulting impact is not only the loss of the physical presence of ‘new’ villages in certain coastal areas, but also the probability of high human loss in those new coastal areas, with the sudden changes.

The point to note is that Mother Nature can remove all traces of human presence in specific areas, like Pompeii, or in very broad areas, as in the Boxing Day Tsunami. And not every instance is recorded in written or even oral histories, so when we are given stories that tell of the amazing feats of Mother Nature they are worth listening too. Again keeping an open mind and using all resources available we might just find the most amazing discoveries yet. But again we have to have an open mind and shelf our arrogance. We have to accept what the evidence says and we need to not only be open to but actually encourage new conclusions when we have new knowledge or evidence or better or different testing methods.