This I Believe

Teresa - Homosassa Springs, Florida
Entered on July 20, 2006

I believe I am ready.

I believe I am ready. If a hurricane comes my way, I am ready, I have a plan and I know what I need to do.

Before Katrina turned her course last year, I had no plan, only panic. A Cat 4 is no turn up the grill, ice the beer storm. It is Death riding the Gulf of Mexico like a pale horse.

As events unfolded over the next few days, I was paralyzed with horror. Like when you see a bad car accident on the Interstate, wanting to look and yet needing to turn away all at the same time.

When I watch football on Sunday I often shout suggestions to the television screen. As if my somehow yelling “throw the ball now” will make it happen before the inevitable sack.

I had lots of things to yell as Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast. “Open all of the traffic lanes in the same direction” and of course the one that I repeated for hours as I watched them file into the Super Dome, “Don’t go in there!!!!!!”

But if it happens to us, happens here, I know what to do. I’m ready. You see, I am a piece of a puzzle, a component on a team of first responders, collaborating to help our community as quickly as we can.

I know you hear the words, first responder, and you instantly call to mind those daring fire fighters, police officers, and the like from 911. My job is not nearly as glamorous as theirs, because I serve in the field of Public Health.

The land that I call home houses both forest and coastline, peppered with ancient names that roll off of the tongue like, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka, and Withlacoochee. My county, Citrus, is touched by the Gulf of Mexico for miles. And like the rest of Florida we have rivers, lakes, and spring-fed ponds. We are blessed with water.

Everyone knows water is desirable when it acts like we expect it to. When it doesn’t cross the boundaries we have come to accept and occasionally dictate.

But once, just once that I can remember, a storm so small it remained nameless caused a 10-mile storm surge choking off one of our major throughways making evacuation impossible.

The first day I went to work for this great State of Florida, I signed a piece of paper; it says yeah Jeb, whatever we need to do, deal me in. So for me evacuation may be a luxury, like ice after the power has been off for two weeks.

I could be called upon to go and work in a shelter, and that’s okay. I know what needs to be packed and can be ready in an instant. The cat, bundled off to friends who live inland. Of course I won’t go without my neighbor, who takes out my trash and does all of my recycling.

A more likely scenario for me won’t be being called into a shelter, but still needed here, close by, for when the storm dies down. And I know that I am ready for that too.

Battery-operated radio, candles, water, flashlights, and tiki torches. My pantry shelves groan under the weight of soup and canned spaghetti. I have a fondue pot that doesn’t need electricity and a manual can opener. I don’t own a generator, but I am ready.

I also have a quart of Jack Daniels laid in under the sink. Because when you’re in the dark, alone, with gale force winds snapping 100-year old oak trees and transformers popping, I know courage may need to be artificially induced.

When the storm subsides, I’ll be a part of a team that’s been drilled and honed to what we hope is perfection. After all it won’t be our first rodeo. We know what needs to be done. I’ll deliver ice or take water samples or I will slog through sewage and pray it doesn’t’ go over the top of my boots.

I know both pair of boots, the good ones and the old ones, will end up drenched, because water proofing really only goes so far. I know that I will end up wearing my sneakers, which don’t have steel toes, don’t make me feel safe, but if luck holds, will be dry.

When it’s over, really over, and we look to close our shelters, I’ll hop into my four-wheel drive and canvass neighborhoods, ensuring roads are clear and services, like power and water have been restored.

Then we can set our people free. Some of them may actually leave the shelters lucky enough to have a place to still call home. Others will go to a campground dotted with FEMA trailers.

And I’m ready to be there, until the last cot is folded up and our well-worn Trivial Pursuit game is packed away.

So whatever Mother Nature twirls up our coastline, whether it’s a mild are you ready-set-go drill of a storm like Alberto, or something much, much more ominous, I’ll be ready, this I believe.