Tornado in Massachusetts June 1, 2011 2:32 PM   Subscribe

A tornado touched down in Springfield, MA today and is now heading for Sturbridge and Worcester, possibly Boston. Mefites, are you ok?
posted by Errant to MetaFilter-Related at 2:32 PM (104 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

radar at 5:32 detriot time shows the corridor is south of boston
posted by clavdivs at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2011

From what I've heard nobody has been killed.
posted by Justinian at 2:39 PM on June 1, 2011

Do you have tornado warning sirens in Massachusetts?
posted by raisingsand at 2:40 PM on June 1, 2011

i spent the day doing bundles of kindling from the previous nights storms...hang tight Mass.
posted by clavdivs at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2011

Currently on a bus in Arlington headed for sign of Oz yet.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2011

Nice of you to check in, though :)
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2011

I lived there for 18 years and never heard one, no idea if they exist or not. My friend's house got knocked around by trees but she and her roommates are fine.
posted by Errant at 2:43 PM on June 1, 2011

Gonna see the Wailers tonight in salisbury, hell or high water.

Sky's like a bruise out here by the coast, ominous and orange / gray. Looks like it's about to storm, and we'll be glad to be indoors.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:43 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Springfield to Worchester? It can't get there from here.

Stay safe, everyone!
posted by BeerFilter at 2:47 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have tornado warning sirens in Massachusetts?

No, just hyper weatherpeople.
posted by Melismata at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yup, we're fine here in Hadley—but I was down in a basement during a tornado warning for the first time in my life, so that was sort of a thrill. (Fortunately, the cats spend their nights in the basement, so they think of it as a fun/secure place and trotted down with us willingly.) Thanks for asking!
posted by languagehat at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Statement as of 5:46 PM EDT on June 01, 2011

The National Weather Service in Taunton has issued a

* Tornado Warning for...
extreme northeastern Providence County in Rhode Island...
southeastern Worcester County in central Massachusetts...
this includes the cities of... Worcester... Milford...
Norfolk County in eastern Massachusetts...
this includes the city of Franklin...
extreme northeastern Windham County in northern Connecticut...
south central Middlesex County in southeast Massachusetts...

* until 630 PM EDT

* at 541 PM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar was tracking
a tornado near Millbury... or 11 miles south of Worcester... moving
east at 35 mph.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:55 PM on June 1, 2011

My weather radio reports a funnel cloud moving about 11 miles south of Worcester, toward north Providence at about 40 mph. Spotters saw either a hook or funnel cloud in Worcester but I'm not sure if it touched down. As for me, a weather-nut/survivalist/mother, I've got some water and flashlights in the basement, but I don't think we're going to see anything here in Boston proper.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:59 PM on June 1, 2011

Jeepers. Stay safe, all!
posted by rtha at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2011

Sky's like a bruise out here by the coast, ominous and orange / gray. Looks like it's about to storm, and we'll be glad to be indoors.

Yeah, what a weird sky. First it was dark. Then it was very dark. Then very, very very dark. Then it sort of morphed into this weird purple, which it is now. Usually it only goes as far as the very dark.
posted by Melismata at 3:06 PM on June 1, 2011

Videos of the tornado -- 1, 2, 3, 4.
posted by ericb at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

All is well just north of Springfield (Northampton, Easthampton, Holyoke, etc). The storm was really strong and power went out briefly, but I haven't heard any reports of major damage in this area (where I and I believe quite a few other Mefites live).

No, just hyper weatherpeople.
Seriously. I once wasted a real opportunity to punch Brian Lapis. I'll regret that my whole life.
posted by dayintoday at 3:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, tornadoes are in all sorts of weird places these days, even California!
posted by Melismata at 3:13 PM on June 1, 2011

I'm west of Fitchburg. So far just breezy here. 7News is reporting a second tornado in Westfield. Stay safe Mass MeFites.
posted by dorkydancer at 3:21 PM on June 1, 2011

Here's a sentence I didn't expect to be typing: What clavdivs said.

It looks like the big scary storm cell is going to pass by to the south of us. It's super dark but scarcely even raining here. Hang tight, South Shore Mefites.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:32 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

The tornado won't go to Worcester.

Because those people are animals. They will fuck your tornado ass up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:58 PM on June 1, 2011 [17 favorites]

MIL in Dudley saw funnel cloud. It passed by, but there is another cluster coming through Springfield @ 7PM EDT.
So far, Haverhill is OK. Had a helluva thunderboomer this morning early.
posted by pentagoet at 4:08 PM on June 1, 2011

Judging by the crazy, freakish weather pretty much everywhere the last ten days, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe Camping was right about almost everything, except that no-one was found worthy of the rapture and we've all been left behind for the tribulation.
posted by dersins at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been watching the New England Cable News livestream every now and then. It's pretty amazing the amount of data they've got. The guy thinks the storm in Winchendon is slowly heading to Boston, though.
posted by zix at 4:26 PM on June 1, 2011

The weather radar shows intense storms. That magenta center makes the storm cell look like a rose, a deadly, deadly rose. There is a tornado warning in Maine, which is quite rare. Hunker down, y'all.
posted by theora55 at 4:49 PM on June 1, 2011

Looks like the storm north of Worcester is organizing at this minute and could be a problem... Fitchburg and Leominster would be in the path of this storm. The key area to worry about runs from directly west of Fitchburg across it, and eastward into the NW Boston suburbs (Bedford, etc) later. The storm southeast of Worcester looks interesting but Doppler velocity products shows the circulation is kind of disorganized. I am a meteorologist in Oklahoma, but not your meteorologist and this is not meteorological advice... yada yada or whatever they say in the "lawyer up" threads.

If you're in the Fitchburg to Bedford area I'd recommend taking cover.
posted by crapmatic at 4:51 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Friend of mine, Man Dancer on MetaFilter and Klosterhiem on MeFightClub, was just leaving Springfield College (where he works) in his car when he saw the tornado that went through the school. He and a colleague ran into a nearby school where they waited while the tornado passed. It went right through the college, which is closed until further notice.
posted by Kattullus at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd heard about the college but only from Twitter, nothing official. Glad your friend is ok.
posted by Errant at 5:07 PM on June 1, 2011

No, I'm dead. Thanks for asking.
posted by docgonzo at 5:17 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

You look good for a man your age, docgonzo.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2011

I went for a semi-long bike ride starting around four and just got home now (about 8:20 EST), through Boston proper and Cambridge, and it was never more than a brief but determined downpour in the city itself. It's stopped since then.

Apparently other folks in Mass and in Providence aren't so lucky, and my heart goes out to them. Stay safe, dears.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2011

Up in Essex County, Toddler Zizzle and I are just hanging out per usual.

Keeping an eye on the reports, but not overly concerned at the moment.

kpht and her family seem to be doing more or less the same.
posted by zizzle at 5:30 PM on June 1, 2011

So far it's just rumbly and windy here in North Attleboro. Looks like it's going to be a doozie later on! Stay safe!
posted by Biblio at 5:46 PM on June 1, 2011

I live in Salem. Planes flying to Logan are still flying right over my house. Not going to worry while they still do that.
posted by mkb at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2011

All right here in the basement in South Hadley. It was a bit trying earlier when the kids were sheltering in the interior of their schools (in two different towns and two different directions) but things have been mostly OK since then. But they keep adding or extending our watches and warnings, and cells keep emerging upwind of us so we can't really breathe a sigh of relief, put the kids to bed, and have a beer. We did get a spectacular yellow/green/orange bit of illumination outside before we removed to the basement for the second time. It's tough to photograph; I'd be interested to see any successes that emerge.

Springfield got hit pretty hard, and I believe two people have been reported killed in that area. There are some startling videos out there, which you've probably seen if you're reading this.
posted by Songdog at 5:52 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, okay. We have a severe thunderstorm warning now. Instructions are to get indoors while the storm approaches.

Tornado watch still in effect and not upgraded yet.
posted by zizzle at 6:01 PM on June 1, 2011

Be safe, everyone.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:03 PM on June 1, 2011

I spoke too soon; it is now a spectacular thunderstorm. Stay safe!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:19 PM on June 1, 2011

I saw some really neat lightning about 4 hours ago around Newton. Now there's a lot of flashing and rumbling outside my window in Cambridge. Just started raining. Earlier it sounded like the local news was really reaching to make this sound more awful than it actually is. Well, I'm sure it's awful for folks near Springfield.

Gov. Patrick is speaking right now - we've had 2 confirmed tornado touchdowns. State of emergency declared. 4 fatalities?
posted by giraffe at 6:19 PM on June 1, 2011

We're getting smacked with a nice big band of storms right now, but other than a dramatic bit of lightning, it doesn't seem too problematic.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:21 PM on June 1, 2011

A few early pictures from Springfield. Monson appears to have been hit pretty hard, also.
posted by Errant at 6:34 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in Boston. The first wave missed us, and the second wave was just mean thunderstorms by the time it got here. It seems to be tapering off now. The dog's shaken, but otherwise we're okay.
posted by Plutor at 6:48 PM on June 1, 2011

This is serious flashing zip zap rumble blam business! But no tornado so far. Just thinking I won't need to water the plants tomorrow, on account of how the heavens were rent in two and did it for me.
posted by little cow make small moo at 6:49 PM on June 1, 2011

posted by nathancaswell at 6:51 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

A beautifully loud lightning storm, but all's well here south of Boston.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:52 PM on June 1, 2011

OK here, just south of Springfield. At last check 1 casualty (car hit by falling tree), hospitals reporting many injured. Spent a bit of time in the basement with the mrs and the cat. The video of the first tornado forming over the CT river and then moving into downtown Springfield was scary. Mrsturtle is from the midwest, so wasn't phased, but this yankee girl isn't used to this crap.
posted by spinturtle at 6:58 PM on June 1, 2011

Dodged the earlier storms by staying at work up in Lowell for an extra hour. Just had some storms roll through with some pretty constant thunder and lighting here in central MA. I found this tweet pretty interesting when talking about todays tornados.
posted by lilkeith07 at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2011

Crazy thunderstorms and wind here in the suburbs of Boston, but Western Mass has a lot of destruction. We haven't had a tornado of substance here for such a long time, it's surreal when they appear.
posted by xingcat at 7:09 PM on June 1, 2011

No, I'm dead. Thanks for asking.
posted by docgonzo at 5:17 PM on June 1 [2 favorites +] [!]

Not funny, dude. Not even.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2011

They were west and north of us. Still scary though, being the transplanted Okie in Massachusetts and all that.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:17 PM on June 1, 2011

Had the day off here in Easthampton. Absentmindedly noticed it was raining hard, only to go out for errands afterwards to hear everyone talk about massive hail, their dented cars, and the destruction in Springfield/Monson. Apparently, I am terrible at noticing exceptional weather.
posted by missmary6 at 9:01 PM on June 1, 2011

docgonzo writes "No, I'm dead. Thanks for asking."

Pretty spry for a dead fella.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 PM on June 1, 2011

Got to drive up north today to spend the day working in tornado-watch-land, despite living safely south of it. Didn't arrive until after the hail had stopped, so nothing eventful, there or here, aside from enough thunder to scare the cat (takes more than it used to, my cat's getting hard of hearing in his old age).

Springfield looks like a mess, though. Hope everyone's okay.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:37 PM on June 1, 2011

No, I'm dead. Thanks for asking.

if you're dead and you're here, then it is logical to conclude that metatalk is hell

not that this surprises me
posted by pyramid termite at 10:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, my brother is gonna be confused to wake up tomorrow to a text that says "Don't get tornadoized, yo."
posted by mollymayhem at 12:18 AM on June 2, 2011

Not funny, dude. Not even.

Oh please. What do you expect on here?
posted by hal_c_on 8 hours ago [+]

I would have agreed with you before April 16th.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:46 AM on June 2, 2011

These check-in posts are getting a little carried away.
posted by smackfu at 6:40 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Uh oh, according to photo #7 on this page, there is also an invasion of Vogons.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:42 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

So... how is everyone in the Commonwealth of Emergency?
posted by pracowity at 7:02 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, are the TV reporters excited. They all want to be the tornado Shelby Scott.

We don't have tornado sirens, but I was wondering if they'd set off the fire siren if something was spotted.
posted by theredpen at 7:28 AM on June 2, 2011

Fine in Northampton.
posted by plinth at 7:44 AM on June 2, 2011

Horace Rumpole: "but then he said everything sounded like "Baba-booey, baba-booey.""

This is the 21st century. That joke is as hilarious as Prince Albert in a can.
posted by Plutor at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2011

Just watched the CNN montage and wow, that was some pretty awful tornado damage for Mass. This isn't tornado alley and we're just not as used to it; people also don't always know the signs of "tornado weather," like that sickly orange light, or what to do. It pales in comparison to the recent damage and loss of life in the Midwest, but it is really strange for this state.

We are on the coast and though it looked tornadoey for an hour or so last night, we didn't get any locally. We didn't even get the thunderstorm we were hoping for to cool things off. The air was like wearing a damp pair of jeans.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2011

We got a lot of strobe lightning just after dark in the Cambridge area. Most strobe-y lightning I ever remember seeing, but there were very few ground-strikes--it was a lot like heat-lightning gone nuts--and the wind and rain were not crazy. Also, about an hour beforehand, the clouds did this strange thing where it looked like 1980's Ghostbuster-type special effects: there were blobs forming on the underside of the cloud ceiling.
posted by not_on_display at 9:36 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the lightning over Cambridge last night was insane.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2011

I would have agreed with you before April 16th.

posted by modernnomad at 9:55 AM on June 2, 2011

MetaTalk: like wearing a damp pair of jeans
posted by not_on_display at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by modernnomad at 9:55 AM on June 2"

[rolls eyes]

STOTB, I agree with you that the original comment wasn't really that funny, and your responses to it were hardly over the top. I'n sure someone will chime in with how we're humorless/need to get a grip/they like black humor to deal with tragedy/this is what MeTa is like so deal with it/(insert other defensive statement here)
posted by HopperFan at 10:24 AM on June 2, 2011

This video is amazing - massive devastation, trees completely stripped and splintered, engines and cars tossed about, and the accents bring it home that "This happened here."

Scary stuff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I flew over it last night, on the way from NYC to London. Oh man, the drinks and mini pretzels did fly, and we were treated to the sight of Satan painting jagged yellow fire over roiling ebon cloudscapes. It was a jolly lively ride for a couple of hours, there.
posted by Decani at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

... and the accents bring it home ...
"Oh my God. Fucking this, fucking that. Oh my God."
posted by ericb at 12:25 PM on June 2, 2011

It was wicked nasty.
posted by Miko at 1:02 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's New England. F-bombs are formal punctuation, somewhere in the 5-way intersection between a period, a comma, a semi-colon, an elipse and an exclamation point.

Never been in a 5-way intersection? They have them in Massachusetts. Now you understand the copious cursing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:21 PM on June 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

Lightning strike on the Pru.
posted by A dead Quaker at 2:27 PM on June 2, 2011

I'm fine and so is Worcester. Just got back from a deployment to Springfield, the damage there is absolutely breathtaking. I haven't slept in almost 36 hours, though, so I need a cocktail and possibly a solid 14 hour slumber, and I'll report back.

For those who might be thinking that the post or the hype is over the top: There were at least seven tornadoes yesterday, including two that cut swaths across a pretty sizeable city. In Massachusetts. The last time this happened was approximately nineteen-never. It's a big deal.
posted by rollbiz at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Glad to hear everyone so far is safe and well.
posted by Errant at 3:24 PM on June 2, 2011

The last time this happened was approximately nineteen-never. It's a big deal.

Massachusetts actually seems to get tornadoes more than you would expect. Not every year, but every 10 years or so, that really kill people.
posted by smackfu at 3:33 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, amazing videos posted in this thread. I am a few towns east of Worcester and my area was just hit with torrential rain and strobe lightning. I was worried for a bit earlier in the evening because the sky was a sickly yellow and there was a group of birds behaving weirdly, flying around in strange circles. I don't like it when animals freak out, that is never a good sign. But whatever badness went on in this area was a few miles southwest, it sounded ugly.

I feel so badly for the folks who were hit hard - even tho I grew up listening to my folks talking about the tornado of '53, this just isn't an area where you expect this kind of peril.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:21 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the middle of the earlier strobe light effect, my wife and I were commuting home and were treated to the site of clouds on the left moving right, while the clouds on the right were moving to the left... sort of swirling basically. It didn't have enough steam to become anything more thankfully. Seeing that backdropped by the EAS, strobe lights, and green sky was just about the scariest situation I've ever been in. I don't know how the folks in the mid west do it.

posted by jwells at 5:49 PM on June 2, 2011

Just peachy here. Last night, just before the storm struck, my new cow orkers and I were standing on our back deck trying to get photographs of lightning striking the various communications towers in and around Newton. It was fun and pretty and not terribly ominous at all.

I feel stupid because I've been living in the Boston area for 14 years, and I thought that tornadoes just didn't happen here. Back in Florida, sure, tornadoes were fairly common, and I've seen my fair share. But here? What? The sky looked incredibly tornado-flavored as I headed home to Waltham, and I started to worry a bit. The winds were picking up, but it was a delicious relief from the recent heatwave. I was kind of nervous during the worst of it last night. Whenever there's a thunderstorm, I immediately turn off all of the lights in my apartment and rush to the largest window in the house so I can watch the storm. But the thunder was so powerful that it was shaking things off of shelves and the hail sounded like a thousand fists pummeling the glass of my window. Then the power went out for about an hour. Then, nothing but the whine of sirens from the various emergency services responding to calss.

Storms are beautiful things to behold. Last night crossed just beyond my comfort zone, and unnerved me. I'm glad all the Mefites are safe. Those poor people out in the Springfield area though. *sigh*
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:25 PM on June 2, 2011

I was in Momson today. There was a house that was upsidedown. It took you a second to realize it: Why does a second-floor door have stained glass in the bottom half? And then, Oh. I see. That's the front door.
posted by Diablevert at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2011

It's New England. F-bombs are formal punctuation,

I've lived in 4 New England states and I just think it's fair to say that that's not a "New England" thing. It's a Mass. thing. I moved here 18 months ago from Maine, before that NH, before that CT, 10 years in all, and I just can't believe the number of times in a day I hear "fuckin'" used in a sentence. It's not spread across New England, it's concentrated in the Bay State.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on June 2, 2011

Yeah, we swear a wicked lot. It's paht of our fuckin chahm.
posted by Errant at 8:05 PM on June 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you think Massholes are bad, you fuckin' need to hear the shit that comes outta the mouth of the bastards living here in friggin' Row Dylelin, they all swear like a sunofabitch, according to the pastor at my parent's church.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:13 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, not as much swearing in VT either. And when there is swearing, it's usually at the Massholes passing you without their blinkers on I-91 (Or the Quebeckers on I-89.)
posted by maryr at 9:23 PM on June 2, 2011

Massachusetts actually seems to get tornadoes more than you would expect. Not every year, but every 10 years or so, that really kill people.

Yeah, what I mean was that it's incredibly rare for us to have an actual outbreak of several tornadoes, especially in such a concentrated area. So rare, in fact, that I don't think it has ever happened before (in recorded history at least).

Anyway, I was out on a Disaster Assessment assignment for the Red Cross yesterday. We got to Springfield at about 4AM and started assessments around 5:30AM. I was first sent to the Island Pond Rd. area, but the damage there was so severe that PD could not reasonably assure our safety from live wires and falling debris (it was windy yesterday). We then got sent to the Plumtree Rd. area. South Branch Parkway is almost unrecognizable as a neighborhood, the tornado more or less followed the shoreline and absolutely devastated that area. We got then sent out to the Walnut St. area, closer to the origin spot. If you've been seeing the destroyed duplex complex near the Springfield College dorm, that's where I was. It's a high-density, low-income neighborhood, and it's pretty torn up.

Seeing what I saw yesterday, I actually cannot believe that the death toll was not higher.
posted by rollbiz at 6:34 AM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

I will probably be assessing in the Sturbridge/Southbridge/Brimfield area tomorrow, so I'll report back if that's the case.
posted by rollbiz at 2:29 PM on June 3, 2011

rollbiz, if you have the time and inclination, could you explain what Disaster Assessment entails and how what you're seeing compares to other assessments you've done, for context? Thanks for any information and obviously also for your work.
posted by Errant at 2:51 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have weather sirens on the UMass campus that you can hear all across Amherst.
posted by WhitenoisE at 5:44 PM on June 3, 2011

Errant: Sure!

For the purposes of the rest of this post, Disaster Assessment is DA, DOC is Disaster Operations Center, and EMA is some type of Emergency Management Agency (like FEMA).

Probably the easiest way to explain the job is to explain in more detail what I've been doing since Wednesday, so...

We started on Wednesday evening with what we call "virtual DA", because we were still working under the threat of severe storms and possible tornadoes until after dusk, so we couldn't actually get out in the field to do any eyeball assessment. Virtual DA is basically sitting in a room collecting information from news reports, police and fire scanners, and SKYWARN spotters. This gets reported to the DA lead, who puts the information together in a report that is updated to the minute, and is then shared in conference calls we have with the regional leadership and with the folks from various agencies in the MEMA bunker. At this stage, my job was to let them know what areas emergency responders were reporting as damaged/undamaged, accessible/inaccessible, and so on. During an event causing enough damage and danger to prevent us from going out right away, this is the preliminary work we do to know where we need to start when it's safe.

The regular on the ground DA started at dawn yesterday. This operation focuses on doing a quick house by house assessment of the location and scope of damage after a given disaster. What we usually do is contact the emergency management folks in a given town and ask them where they think or know the worst damage to be. Given the wide and somewhat unknown devastation in this particular case, I was sent out to another chapter and was working with their DA lead, who was giving us assignments based on a combination of emergency manager's info, PD/FD info, and what he had heard from people he knows in the community. They had a series of maps of the affected cities and towns with big red circles drawn around the areas they had heard were hardest hit. Our job was to verify the levels of damage in those areas, if it was reasonably safe to do so.

For example, the first assignment I got yesterday that I could actually complete was an assessment of Plumtree Rd. in Springfield. This was based upon a big red circle that itself was based upon an unverified report of 100+ houses severely damaged in the area. Normally, DA is done "rolling", meaning from the car and without stopping much if at all. In this instance, the damage did not allow that, so my plan was to drive to the area, locate damage, and work outward on foot to document the damage until we reached a decent stretch of undamaged area.

To record the information, you use a "street sheet". I've tried and failed to quickly find one for reference, but basically you mark your street, and you make a house by house assessment of the damage level. The levels are affected, minor, major, and destroyed. The observed criteria varies a bit depending on the disaster type. For this situation, the criteria was something like this when simplified:

Affected- Debris in the yard, on the house, around the house. No repairs needed to inhabit it.
Minor- Shingles missing, windows broken, structure otherwise viable and intact.
Major- Any puncture damage to the roof, walls, or other critical structural elements; any loss of the roof or a section of it.
Destroyed- Loss of some roof plus at least some wall, all the way up to a complete loss.

So we worked street to street in our areas, making a quick assessment based on these criteria. We also make a few other observations when possible: How many stories is the structure? Does it have a basement? Is the power on? Is it a single family, apartment, or mobile home? What are the water levels (more on this later)?

On Plumtree Rd., we were able to pretty clearly tell where the damage started, so we parked and worked inwards from there. We did a running street sheet on Plumtree, and where the damage diverted to side streets, we would walk them as far as it was safely possible to do so and record those house by house too. We'd also make note of any areas where we had to stop because they were inaccessible, so that later crews could try again after debris was removed.

While doing this, you're also often approached by residents. Besides the police, fire, or National Guard, you're probably the first sign of assistance they've seen. I like to call our crew "second responders", because that's what we do. Once life and safety are relatively secured, we move in to take care of most of the rest. It's good too, because when doing DA one of your best allies is the people in the area. They know what's affected, who is affected, what place you might've missed, and so on. They also know who needs more assistance, and it's just generally good for them to know that we are there and that we're going to bring them the extra help they need.

Once you've assessed an area, generally you return to headquarters with your street sheets and give a general verbal report of what you saw. Your DA lead records this, kicks it up to the DOC and/or EMA, and assistance plans are made accordingly. Do people need shelter? Are they sheltering in place but have no power, and need food? Is there someone who is elderly or infirm who needs some specialized help getting out of the area or being comfortable within it? In addition to just figuring out the size and scope of the damage, these are the type of questions you're trying to answer with DA.

In most areas, once a national disaster has been declared, pretty much every part of the area is assessed street by street, at least briefly. We generally will not shut down an operation until we've surveyed pretty much every residentially inhabited part of all affected areas.

As far as how this compares to other assessments I've done, just doesn't. I've assessed fires and flooding of various kinds, but that's about it. Because of my work situation, I cannot deploy on national assignments because a two week commitment is required, so I've never assessed a tornado. Our most common situation needing large-scale assessment is flooding, to the point that the street sheets we work with (as mentioned above) basically are designed with disasters being flooding, or anything else. Two whole columns are dedicated to flood specific information. This was a completely new type of assessment for me, and anyone in my chapter who knows how to assess tornadoes is already deployed to AL, MO, or elsewhere doing so. We're really winging it on this one, but that's how you learn.

Anyway, I've been redeployed 7AM-7PM tomorrow, so I need to check out and get some rest. I hope this answered your question and is helpful!

(This is an account of my experiences and my DA procedure, and is not meant to represent the official protocol of the Red Cross or any other organization in any way except as I have seen and experienced it)
posted by rollbiz at 7:28 PM on June 3, 2011 [72 favorites]

Thanks so much for the info, rollbiz.
posted by ms.codex at 7:52 PM on June 3, 2011

Awesome posts, rollbiz. Thanks.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:55 PM on June 3, 2011

Wow, rollbiz. Thanks so much for the explanation, and your hard work.
posted by rtha at 9:40 PM on June 3, 2011

rollbiz, that was fantastic, thank you so much. I have a couple of followups, again only if you have the time and inclination, and thanks for the important work you're doing.

Is it usual to "outsource" this kind of work to an external (read: non-governmental) organization such as the Red Cross? At what point might you reasonably expect to interact with federal disaster relief such as FEMA, again understanding that your previous involvement has typically been on a smaller scale? To the best of your informed ability to guess, how long might it be before Springfield is able to recover more or less?

It bears repeating: thank you for all your effort.
posted by Errant at 2:41 AM on June 4, 2011

So I feel to just be clear one more time that I am just writing as my take on the operation as a regular ole volunteer, I'm not a spokesperson or anything. Just covering my ass, but for real- This is just a couple year volunteer's personal opinion on this thing...

So moving on, to answer your questions:

It's not really "outsourcing" the work exactly, but it is pretty common in any disaster of this scale. What I mean by this is that the local emergency management will do their own assessment, as will MEMA/FEMA probably. We do share our information with them, though, and they share with us. If FEMA or the local FD hits the ground somewhere first, we will still assess there and vice-versa, I imagine, but this information can be extremely helpful to know where we need to focus our efforts. Nevermind a specific report, if I know that the MEMA strike team felt it necessary to even go into an area, that tells me something about the level of devastation there and I'm definitely going to know it's an area that needs to be looked at. Interagency communication is really critical in these situations, especially at the onset, because none of us can do enough fast enough on our own.

I'm not sure if you're asking at what point during this disaster we'd next expect to interact with FEMA, or at what point in the general future, so I'll try to answer both. I haven't been on any of the leadership calls since Thursday (I'm being trained for leadership but I am not currently leadership) so I can't confirm, but my strong suspicion is that we're communicating with federal relief agencies every day, multiple times. We're definitely at least talking to the MEMA folks in the EOC and the Red Cross national office in D.C., who would in turn move that info to the national disaster orgs for sure. There's going to be a federal disaster declaration, and so we want those folks in the loop. In terms of how often we interact with them in general? Not that often, with any luck. We might have a national level disaster in MA once a year, maybe? I'm thinking back to the ice storm in 2008, the flooding in 2010, the Cape Cod hurricane that wasn't in 2010. Those are operations I've worked where there was a lot of national interaction.

In terms of recovery in Springfield or the affected areas in general, I guess it really depends on your definition of recovery. I think that most homes that are still viable will have their power and other utilities restored in the next week or so, hopefully? Repairs will get done, and destroyed houses will be rebuilt. The recovery operation will take a few months, at least, in terms of Red Cross and other organizations. With this level of damage, though, things are going to be different for a long time. Historic properties have been destroyed. Areas that have been forested for hundreds of years are now deforested. Views have been altered for a lifetime.

Today I was in Sturbridge, MA for a bit. At one point I was in the Fiske Hill area, where there's a power line run, you know, miles of a strip of no trees, tall grass? The tornado cut a perpendicular line across it that I suspect will be as barren as the power lines for years to come...

Thank you all for caring and thinking of us!
posted by rollbiz at 7:04 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is it usual to "outsource" this kind of work to an external (read: non-governmental) organization such as the Red Cross?

To add to what rollbiz said: the Red Cross (along with some other organizations, like the yellow-shirt Southern Baptists who run huge mobile kitchens) are an expected and necessary part of US disaster response and planning. They fill roles (such as mass housing, feeding, and some initial damage assessment) that no one else has the capacity to perform. If the Red Cross and the other non-governmental organizations don't show up, there is no branch of the federal government (with the possible exception of the military, who have other things to be worrying about right now) with the skills, equipment, trained personnel, and ability to perform those tasks.

So these organizations are involved at high levels in federal disaster management planning, in some cases receive some federal funding for those tasks, and have very sharply delineated roles to play. I'm not familiar enough with other industrialized nations' disaster response plans to know if this is a common pattern or is unique to the US -- my guess is that very few countries would have sufficient capacity within the government, and in practice would need to rely on churches, the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and other groups to deal with large scale disasters.

And given how long this has been going on, and the extent that these groups are involved in the planning and management at the highest levels, I'm not even sure it is correct to call it "outsourcing." Yes, it's outside of the government -- but it has been a central and expected part of disaster response for a very long time. It's not like the government was doing it all last year, and this year hired some low bidder to take over.
posted by Forktine at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2011

Yeah, I put "outsource" in quotes because it seems fairly obvious that organizations like the Red Cross are intimately bound up in any kind of disaster planning and have been for some time. As is hopefully obvious, I know next to nothing about any of this and so was/am interested in how federal and public non-government orgs interact and communicate in these kinds of situations. I certainly didn't mean to imply that the Red Cross or similar are low-rent outsiders or anything, and I apologize for miscommunicating through casual word choice.
posted by Errant at 9:11 AM on June 5, 2011

I also forgot to note that the Red Cross is chartered by the U.S. Congress and assigned the following responsibilities:

-To fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory, assigned to national societies for the protection of victims of conflict,

-To provide family communications and other forms of support to the U.S. military, and

-To maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the Federal Response Framework coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Red Cross and the U.S. government have a really interesting partnership. You can read a bit more about it here, if you're so inclined...
posted by rollbiz at 4:06 PM on June 5, 2011

If you're interested in learning more about what the Red Cross does in times of war, they actually offer a fantastic class called "International Humanitarian Law- Humanity in the Midst of War". Might be worth calling your local chapter to see when/if they offer it. It's free and open to the public, at least at my chapter.
posted by rollbiz at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2011

And sorry to keep posting every time a thought enters my head, but I just wanted to give a shout-out to a number of other folks that are making fantastic progress in helping people to get their lives back; Police, fire, EMS, the MA National Guard, local emergency managers, MEMA, DCR and the MA Wildfire Team (who are out busting ass on tree removal), church and civic organizations, electricians and builders, and the private utility and tree crews. Also, anyone I forgot.
posted by rollbiz at 4:19 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, I didn't realize until just now that I'd been sidebarred...
posted by rollbiz at 9:46 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

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