Upon Coming Upon the Scene of Accident Late Last Night at the Northeast Corner of County Farm and Winfield Roads

I saw a white car creeping along the Prairie Path trail and found that odd; out of place.

Upon turning left on County Farm I discovered that the driver, a youngish blond, had gotten out and was approaching the victim of the crash, who was in a white car turned around and half-up on the sidewalk, looking around for help, maybe on the phone.

I pulled into a bank parking lot and carefully crossed the street.

Long thin red hair skinny woman 45 – 50 y.o maybe is a flight attendant. Conscious and scared. Driver-side door bashed in, but not severely. Enough for me to reach in. Enough for me to reach into the breach of the window to grasp her hand and to tell her that she was going to be OK, that everything was going to be fine, without knowing so.

She said she had had her seat belt on, but had taken it off after impact for comfort.

That she hadn’t even had a ticket in years. Seemed stunned and embarrassed. And I held her hand and repeated what amounted to emergency sweet nothings to her, you’re alright honey, everything is going to be fine honey.

And I thrive in shallow intensity. We don’t know each other, haven’t met, and I was important to her.

I thought of myself in a similar situation, and I would want the same thing. Someone to tell me positive things and put flesh on me so I know I’m still here, in all ways. After the shock of impact to be introduced to someone of the opposite gender who is nice to you.

She spoke of calling her friend to make sure her dogs were walked. I said this had just happened, no one was missing her yet, she had time and should spend it assessing her recovery.

By now the first responders were responding.

We instructed her to take the keys out of the ignition because the car was still running, She did.

She asked me if I lived nearby. I said my kids did. She thanked me softly and we adjusted our grip on each other, with my arm snaked through the mangled metal.

I told her that i would have to step away soon to let them do their work, and she nodded. I said that I honestly believed that she would be fine. That before I was just talking shit, but that now I meant it.

They asked me to step aside. I answered some questions, and they said that was that.

I left without saying goodbye.

I saw police cars snaking in and out of a subdivision, looking for the bolted offender in the silver Taurus with vehicle damage.

At North Avenue, in the Cash For Gold parking lot, I saw a state police had stopped a car of the same description. I was struck at the same time of thoughts of interoperable emergency communications frequencies and the fact that the landscape holds such mysteries.

Open Data Product Idea: Severe Weather Community Center

Monday’s short but devastating storm in Chicago reminded me again of a product based on open data that I wish someone would make: a Severe Weather Community Center. I think there would be two parts to this: historical knowledge/ learnings/ upshots and a ready-to-go infrastructure when things go south.

I picture the historical info to be incident-based (“Monday Morning Rush Hour, July 11, 2011”). This info would be pulled from a number of sources:

After a while, I’m guessing some patterns would emerge. We would see that a late Spring storm with winds of 50 miles an hour striking in mid-afternoon knocks down 700 trees, affects the trains for about 45 minutes, and makes suburbanites about an hour and a half late getting home. A winter storm coming from the northwest in early February lays 15 inches of snow and it takes 14 hours after the snow stopped before trucks can get to the side streets. We could use this more granular shorthand when we’re preparing for a storm.

Which brings me to the ready-to-go infrastructure. After a storm strikes, there’s a lot of confusion, lack of essential services, and plethora of people looking to contribute. The way Craigslist was adopted after Hurricane Katrina is the classic example of people using existing technology to meet their needs in an emergency. The problem is that, 6 years after the storm, it doesn’t seem like there is a unified solution to the recurring problem of natural disasters and weather emergencies. (I might be wrong— I haven’t done an exhaustive search. Let me know what’s out there).

The thing that comes closest is Ushahidi, the excellent platform for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. I got some experience with this system when I helped the Chicago Tribune News Apps Team manage snow reports during the blizzard of February 2011 in Chicago in their Ask for help, lend a hand: Blizzard 2011 project. That system was a pretty good for receiving inbound requests (though the geocoding was fragile), but there was no top-down aspect to the communication (“check when ComEd says the power on your house will be turned back on”). We need both in order to have an effective system.

With the data feeds listed above, especially the power outage info and the times that city service, the system could be a good clearinghouse. This is great for people who have electricity and are able to access the Internet. But we know that the communications infrastructure can perform poorly when it is taxed in an emergency. I saw from my own experience with Twitter on Monday, trying to update CTATweet, that the service was unavailable right when I needed it most.

What I’d love to see is a system of real-world places where this information could be added to and disseminated, regardless of the status of the electrical grid. This could work like the old newspaper offices. Seeing this post about the Boston Globe’s intown system, where they posted updates about current events that were being published in the paper right on their HQ window, made me smile. Papers really are essential, especially in times of need.
Front Page of The Tennessean, May 3, 2010
Update: Shortly after I posted this, I got this notice in my mailbox:
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Tree Pruning is Scheduled in Your Area
Definitely would be nice to whack tree trimming schedules against tree down reports to see if there is a correlation between tree maintenance and tree limb falls.