Wednesday, December 26

Sunda Strait Tsunami and Paradise Wildfire: Black Swan events almost back to back

But were they actual Black Swan events? A completely unpredictable disaster is more an abstraction than an actuality. There are usually some people who have enough intelligence,  knowledge, and experience to predict events that others can't. But a Black Swan event is a highly improbable one. So generally it's an extraordinary or unprecedented convergence of factors that turn a surprise disaster into one so improbable it's almost impossible to predict.

Such was the case with the tsunami that struck Indonesia on December 22 and the wildfire that struck the town of Paradise in Northern California on November 8, and which became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's recorded history. In both disasters the basic threat situations -- one a tsunami, the other a wildfire -- were predictable, and so were the individual factors in the incidents. But all the factors coming together at the same time? Nah; improbable to the point of virtually impossible.

So what is the meta-message, if any, to be gleaned from two improbable mass-casualty disasters happening close in time to each other but separated by vast distances and vastly different circumstances?  

This is a very important question to people such as myself, who are always on the lookout for Signs & Portents. After pondering the question for several hours I'll say this to Pundita readers. 

I think we're heading into a time when it's particularly important to work at making it habitual to become highly aware of one's surroundings. Not an easy task; the more settled one's life, the easier it is to take one's surroundings for granted. But if you pretend that you're a professional bodyguard hired to look after yourself and your family, and look at situations you enter from that angle, you'll start seeing things, risks, that you wouldn't ordinarily notice. 

Here I'm reminded of a scene in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard" when bodyguard Frank Farmer has accompanied his client, Rachel Marron, into a clothing boutique. At one point she's in the dressing room and asks him to grab a particular dress from the clothes rack and hand it to her. 

He replies, "I'm here to keep you alive, not help you shop."

The point of the mental exercise isn't to become a professional bodyguard and it's certainly not to aquire ominsicience or clairvoyance. The goal is to learn to pay more attention to your instinct when it's whispering, 'Something's not quite right.'  

As with Rachel, who was darned if she was going to alter her daily routines just because of some stalker, we don't want to listen to the little voice at the back of our mind when we're having a good time or have someplace we need to get to. But if the goal is to live long in your present body, which is how to acquire wisdom that by the way you do take with you in your next appearance in this realm, it can pay off big-time to train yourself to listen more carefully to your instinct.

It's been noted repeatedly in news reports that there was no warning of the tsunami. True, from all I've read of the reports. But there was something strange, which I didn't know about until just before I posted my last write-up on the disaster. The volcano suddenly stopped spewing not long before the tsunami struck. The strange part was that after it went silent, some kind of dark cloud enveloped the entire volcano, completely blotting out the view of it from the moonlit shore of the Sunda Strait. 

And yes, there is a photograph, taken by the same observant volcano watcher who noticed and photographed the strange color of the sea water after the tsunami.  (See my post.)

So if you're if picnicking on the shore in the Ring of Fire and practicing situational awareness and notice something strange about the volcano in the near distance, that's the cue to grab the picnic blanket and say to the family, 'We're outta here. Now.' 

And don't spend time wondering, 'Now what could that dark cloud mean?' Again, we're not trying for omniscience, just to stay a few seconds ahead of anything ranging from a serious problem to a mass-casualty event.

Clear?  Practice. Like getting better at anything else -- it takes practice. Practice situational awareness and listening more to the voice at the back of all the chatter in your mind. Practice.  

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