Critters, cowboys fare well in county emergency plan

December 08, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

I'm sitting here trying to decide what I need to put in my "go bag." Canned food and bottled water, sure. Clean socks, a first-aid kit, Sterno, Swiss Army knife and a flashlight. But I still have a little room in the side pockets and I need Washington County's advice. What's more essential, a value pack of Snickers, or my Dirt Bike Girls of the Deep South calendar?

Unfortunately, these are the type of questions that Washington County's disaster/evacuation plan neglects to answer. The county paid an emergency planner to develop a 17-page evacuation plan, which basically said, "RUN!" But after The Herald-Mail filed a Freedom of Information request to see the document, it was hastily revised and bumped up to 49 pages, and has essentially been revised to say, "RUN FAST!" Oh, and take your dog.

Here at the paper, they pay me to provide keen analysis, so my first observation would be this: It probably doesn't do a lot of good to have an emergency disaster plan if the public has to file Freedom of Information paperwork before they are allowed to see it.


Imagine, you're sitting on the roof with your family at your side and the Potomac up around your second-floor windows.

You: "Help! We need to see the evacuation plan!"

Washington County Commissioners: "No."

You: "Aw, please? The water's up to the soffit."

Washington County Commissioners: "Sorry, your attorneys will have to file a Freedom of Information Act request, after which we will have 30 days to consider said request and file the requisite paperwork at which point, after paying copying fees, you will be allowed to evacuate - provided you have a 'go bag.'"

Just be careful who you allow to pack the go bag. I'm not letting Andrea anywhere near ours. My luck, I'd be hunkering down in a cave somewhere, and I'd open up the survival bag to find a packet of mustard and 14 pairs of shoes.

But there is some very good news in Washington County's disaster plan. At least it's good news if you happen to be a critter. A stunning degree of care and consideration went into the provisions for pets and livestock.

According to the newspaper, 21 pages of the revised 49-page report "are devoted to the safety of domestic pets and livestock."

Fair enough. We have to watch out for our defenseless animals. After all, when was the last time you saw a hamster capable of filing a Freedom of Information request?

The report, and I am not joking, says it is imperative that we "Develop a group of volunteer cowboys and/or cowgirls who will assist in the rapid-emergency movement of herds."

You have to wonder, why didn't the Red Cross think of this? Here they've been wasting their time passing out food and water, when there are cattle that remain undriven. I don't know where you drive them to. Some gymnasium, I guess.

Say what you will about Washington County though, it is not sexist. The reference to "cowboys and/or cowgirls" is touching in its sensitivity. Baseline, this report has kept NOW off their back for another week, so that has to be considered a win.

It ought to satisfy PETA as well. The evacuation plan details the sheltering of animals, and includes a "pet sheltering intake form," pet tracking and profiling information and a "pet release to owner" form.

Like, who drew up this evacuation plan, Noah? Washington County appears to be just one ark short of getting its own book in the Bible. That's probably what happened to the unicorn - forgot his intake form.

I hope the terrorists never get wind of the subtle truth behind this plan - we Americans care more about our animals than we do about each other. Osama figures this one out, and next thing you know there's a car bomb plowing into your doghouse.

No surprise here, but this plan was underwritten by a state arm of the Homeland Security department. That would be the same Homeland Security Department that busts down some airline passengers for having toenail clippers in their carry-ons, while allowing others to board carrying machetes. The same Homeland Security Department that is throwing money at every jurisdiction in the country with cash and the instructions to "do something."

Well, this is what you get.

Also, no surprise, some serious backpedaling from the report is occurring. Being aware and alert on one's own, as one state official noted, is a matter of personal responsibility because, "You can't count on the cavalry coming in right away."

Au contraire. After all, we are the home of the Volunteer Cowboys.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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