Editor's note: This piece from our correspondent is appropriate as it gets warmer out. We ran it in the early stages of this wire, but it's timely: Spring Break brings more motor vehicles, more drivers and uncertain weather conditions and "stuff will happen."
I went into town today to go to the grocery store. Upon entering the north town limits I observed many red and blue flashing lights. Upon further observation, I saw that a major traffic incident had occurred at the intersection of a federal highway and the main street of the town.
Even though my town is served by a volunteer fire department, I saw many privately owned vehicles and many people at the scene. I took an alternate route, so that I would not get in the way.
I learned at the grocery store that it was a two vehicle crash. I found it interesting that so many persons and cars were parked in the area of the crash when only two vehicles were involved. A large group of people had rushed to the area, "to see what is going on". This group of people makes it very difficult for emergency service personnel, fire, law enforcement and emergency medical services to function. It creates an unsafe atmosphere for everyone. There are never enough professionals to manage onlookers.
Have you ever noted a traffic incident in the opposite lane of a divided highway? There is no way that traffic on the unaffected roadway is hindered. But the drivers on the opposite lanes slow down to see what happened -- slowing traffic in both directions, for no reason.
What I observed is not unusual in a small town or a major urban area. It is a phenomenon I call "rubbernecking". People are drawn to disasters. The more gore the better.
Don't misunderstand, I firmly believe that an individual has a duty to render aid at the scene of a disaster -- only to the level of their ability. The individual also has a duty to summon professional aid as soon as possible and to move aside when requested by those professionals. A person, as a member of society, has a duty not to hinder rescue and relief efforts at the scene of a disaster just because they want to be the first to see "what is going on."
Many years ago I heard one of our illustrious network news agencies use the phrase "the public's right to know." You do have a right to know what is happening in your community and with your nation as a whole -- you do not have the right to interfere with professionals trying to stabilize a hazardous situation or trying to save human life.
In a major disaster -- flood, tornado, earthquake, large fires and other -- professional help may be a long time in coming. This is when your preparations come into use. If your entire town is leveled by a F5 tornado you may want to take it upon yourself to organize other survivors into rescue teams to look for victims. When professional assistance arrives, advise them what you have accomplished and step aside. They may want to further organize your group for assistance or may ask that you step down and wait for instructions. At this point it is their call.
If government is still functioning after a major disaster let them provide resources and personnel to handle the situation. If not, you need to be prepared to function until help arrives.
The type of preparations you make depends on where you live and the type of disasters you may face.
To really help in a major disaster, man-made or natural, you should consider joining your local Volunteer Fire Department, Police Reserve, Red Cross or other organized groups that render aid during times of disaster.
Be ready to function until help arrives. But be ready to move aside and not hinder the effort.
-- Mike Rafferty