Yesterday I attended a TEDxWomen event in New York City. With a group of other women (and a few men) I watched a full day of TED Talks by and about women—and by a few exceptional men. I wanted to blog about it, but it was too much to put together overnight. Eventually I’ll write about the day, either singly about some of the Talks or collectively about the event. But the penultimate Talk has inspired me to tell a different story.

The next to last speaker was Caroline Casey, a woman who lived the first seventeen years of her life not knowing she is legally blind. Somehow her parents were able to make her believe she could do anything that any of her fully sighted friends and classmates could do.

I happened to attend a college that had an unusually high number of disabled students. Once upon a time, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, Marist College built most of it classroom and dormitory buildings to be wheelchair accessible. After a while it became background. The first time I saw a student who had no arms in the cafeteria, it was a shock. After a while, it became routine. One night in the campus pub he beat me at a video game. Still later, I realized there were students with disabilities that were not visible.

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Has Chile Joined the First World?

Watching the rescue of the 33 workers at the San José Mine in Chile, I was amazed at how well organized it was. I probably shouldn’t have been after reading about the earthquake in Chile earlier this year and how few deaths (relative to the quake’s magnitude) resulted because Chile long ago instituted building codes to make structures more earthquake resistant. But the mine rescue was truly spectacular–it wasn’t just good, it was something unique in history.

In light of these two emergencies that became examples of good management instead of tragedies, I’ve been wondering if Chile is close to becoming a First World country.

First, a little history: the terms First World and Third World originated during the Cold War. The United States and its allies were the First World. The Soviet Union and its allies were the Second World. Everyone else–the “non-aligned countries” were the Third World. It was partly a coincidence that the First World included the most technological and economically advanced nations and the Third World the least advanced, yet toward the end of the Cold War and ever after those have been the definitions most people used. (The term “Second World” was never used as frequently and faded away with the Cold War’s end.)

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Bookmarking for Preparedness

Today is the last day of Emergency Preparedness Month, but that doesn’t mean preparedness should ever stop. So I’m cracking open my bookmarks folder and sharing some of my favorite websites for information about emergencies.

Many emergencies are weather-related, from extremes of heat and cold to storms of all kinds. In the US the most reliable source is the National Weather Service. It’s always the first site I bookmark on a new computer for everything from knowing what jacket to wear today to getting updates on hurricanes.

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Opening the Flood Gates–Of Communication

When I was a child, radio stations still conducted Emergency Broadcast System tests by broadcasting loud, annoying alarms. after a half minute or so of beeps, a voice would intone, “This is a test. This is only a test. In the event of an actual emergency….”

Back then it was pretty simple. Near-instantaneous warnings could be sent by radio, television, a local siren, or loudspeakers on emergency vehicles. Unless the danger area was geographically small, only the first two were effective.

Today there are innumerable ways to notify people in an emergency. Computers and mobile communication devices have each added multiple channels, and there is some overlap–e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, and several online social networks. Old-fashioned telephones have gone mobile and technology makes it possible for emergency managers to broadcast recorded notifications to phone numbers that have subscribed to their service. (These are sometimes called “Reverse 911,” although that’s actually a trademarked company name. There are other services that work similarly.)

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