It all begins with the
Years ago, during the Northridge earthquake, I lived and worked
in Santa Monica. I worked in custom cabinetry and also helped restore
antiques damaged in that earthquake. At the time, immediately after what
became known locally as the MLK earthquake, a couple of friends were making
good money strapping houses to their foundations. How very strange, I
thought, that houses were NOT required to be anchored to their foundations
BEFORE the quake, in earthquake-prone LA. Alas, we humans
often take decisive measures only after a devastating disaster.
From earthquakes to fires, Southern California is a danger zone.
Fifty years before these epic fires, I recall seeing a newspaper photograph
of a famous race car driver standing on his roof, battling fiery embers
with a garden hose. Bravery or foolhardy; I do not know, but the
image stuck with me
Suppose every house in SoCal had a sprinkler system, plumbed with
metal pipe not PVC, running to the rooftop. Water could be stored in a
cistern, much like those where the ancient Romans stored theirs. Where
would this water come from, you ask? During heavy rainfalls, as occurred
last winter, the water would be saved, not lost, not allowed to run down
channels into the Pacific Ocean.
All over Switzerland, one can see thousands of water fountains,
according to a recent story on Zerohedge. “Elegant yes, but if and when
central water systems are destroyed these fountains are a decentralized
and robust system for providing everyone with drinkable water.”
Imagine having water in abundance nearby to fight a cataclysmic
fire. Hillside houses worth many millions could have such a system
designed into it for a fraction of the cost of replacing the structure.
Wealthier clients could have the system run directly from their swimming
pools, powered by electricity, along with an emergency, secondary diesel
Middle class neighborhoods like Santa Rosa could have one (or more)
large, centrally-located water tank. Sprinklers could run to the
rooftop of every home. Children would sleep safe and stress-free, knowing
their home is safe from fire. A state like California, that prides itself
on social responsibility, should consider community projects such as these.
Taxpayers should have their homes protected, shouldn't they? With billions
of dollars to devote to sports complexes and high speed rail projects,
certainly a few millions can be found to fight devastating fires that
wreck entire communities and destroy lives.
“The word from Santa Rosa officials is that if anyone wants to rebuild,
the fees can be as high as $88,000.00,” said accountant Anne Berg. “Also
the paperwork will be massive. It’s like rebuilding in a warzone. And
who can afford to fork out that kind of money unless insurance pays?”
Thus, wouldn’t preventive measures be in order NOW? Not only would
these small, above-ground, emergency water reservoirs serve in a fire
emergency, providing rooftop sprinklers for scores of homes, but the freshwater
would be there as an emergency in an earthquake. Just like in
Switzerland. Because larger earthquakes, like the so-called Big One, with
the power to shift fault lines several feet, will break waterlines like
spaghetti. Repairs might take several days or even weeks. Critics
may claim that no water can be stored during prolonged droughts but, surprisingly,
water can be found for golf courses, car washes and rice production in
During Spring break, students could be recruited to clear brush
in exchange for free college credits or student loan reduction. An ounce
of fire prevention is worth a thousand gallons of water, an old firefighter
said to me once. Brush clearance is prevention. Similar to the old
Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), these kids would be serving their community
and having fun and fresh air too. Even old guys like me might volunteer.
After all, better that the hills are alive with the sound of music and
adolescent laughter, rather than the roar of flames, the stench of death,
and the smell of smoke.
From Fires to Floods
Years later I lived in South Florida. I witnessed Katrina come across
the state as a Category #1, and saw it strengthen and flood New Orleans.
Hurricane Wilma came across the state a little later, as a Category #2
and ripped up roofs and toppled wooden power poles along Dixie Highway.
Some areas, entire communities, suffered without electricity for weeks.
How very strange, I thought, that Florida allowed wooden power poles well
into the 20th century. They have all since been replaced.
After Hurricane Irma wrenched roofs from thousands of homes in Puerto
Rico recently, I wondered if there might be a simpler way to save roofs.
If you save the roof, you save the home from devastating flood damage.
Where I work on Kodiak Island, as a commercial fisherman, we use 400 meter
long black nylon nets to catch salmon. Many old nets lie moldering on
pallets in warehouses. These nets are strong enough to catch whales, having
witnessed it firsthand myself. Suppose a small portion of that old net,
say 60 feet by 100 feet, was draped over a home, over the roof and down
the walls, a day before a hurricane was due; would that work? Then suppose
the ends of the net were tied to the foundation, secured with stout bindings
in a score of locations. The winds would whip, whistling through the net,
but the roof would remain intact and homes remain dry. Then, after
the storm, the net would be removed, folded and stored away until needed
next time. These nets would provide a cheap solution while saving millions
in repairs and thousands of poor people would benefit.
Once again, it all begins with the roof
worth many millions could have such a system designed into it for a fraction
of the cost of replacing the structure. Wealthier clients, like
Sir Richard Branson, who lost his roof in Hurricane Irma, could have the
net system designed and built right into the structure. Next time,
Richard Branson might avoid such
devastation to Necker Island.
Then Sir Richard
could start a non-profit charity organization called Virgin Nets. Imagine
how wonderful this simple act of kindness would spread throughout, impoverished,
hurricane-ravaged islands. Not only would Branson be knighted but blessed
as a true benefactor than just another billionaire. After all, as some
old dotards have discovered: Kindness
Postscript: An abbreviated version of this column was sent to a
dozen of the largest California daily newspapers and to over two dozen
editors there. NONE of them deigned to respond, and the fires there still
rage and homes still burn.