by Trevor Moore
Crisis … what crisis?
Fires … pollution … 2019-nCoV
A view from Hector McWilliam Drive looking north east: 0830 31 January 2020
What’s going on?
I am not particularly disposed to conspiracy theorists and doomsday merchants but there are a few things going on at the moment that should be of concern to us. We wait with bated breath for any sense of reality from our Prime Minister who seems to be more concerned with saving the skin of Bridget McKenzie and the apparent ripping off of taxpayers to the tune of $100m. At present Morrison’s approach appears to be to try to settle us all down as a teacher might settle a pack of nervous schoolchildren. Our local government, too, is almost completely without hope. With no emergency plan, all its various arrangements were presumably made up on the fly. I don’t know: perhaps there was a plan somewhere but it was kept secret (see The Beagle, 17 January 2020). But it still seems odd that only recently people turned up the Narooma evacuation centre to find it locked.
The General Manager of the Eurobodalla Shire Council is the senior executive accountable for communications. It says so on the Council’s website. That piece of her role is not going too well. It may be that there is some communications capability buried within the Council but it’s not obvious. One bit of evidence for that is the woeful attack on transparency that occurred at the end of last year at the behest of the administration. A second bit of evidence is the video made by the Mayor and published on Facebook on 24 January 2020. It is quite right that she should have done this but, my word, it was boring. Any decent PR person would have put the Mayor in a location that carried some authority. As you can see from the picture, she is sitting in someone’s office.
Any decent PR person would have coached their presenter to look at the camera and not to say “err”. So, a well-intentioned piece of communication that went wrong because of administrative incompetence.
But perhaps I am rambling. Nonetheless it is difficult to know who to believe when there is little effective communication and those that do communication are often trying to cover their backs. So, there are three sites that I have open on my browser and that I refresh regularly. They don’t specifically help me to do anything, but they are at least information. Here they are.
Where are the fires?
We are told to look at Fires ‘R’ Us – oh, I’m sorry, Fires Near Me. At first, I found this useful and, to an extent, I still do. But I don’t know what the grey areas actually mean. Do they mean that it’s smoky? or that it’s burning? or that it might burn? I don’t really know. There’s another that tells you a good deal more than Fires Near Me and that’s the ArcGIS NSW Fire Map. On this map you can see, when you expand it, where the hotspots are. They’re colour coded and the colour coding is pretty obvious: red is hotter than orange, etc. When I looked at this, I could see why the float planes where filling up on Coila Lake and where they were going. In the picture you can see the difference in detail between ArcGIS (on the left) and Fires Near Me on the right.
By the way, those float planes are wonderful. A few days ago, they were picking up from Coila lake, flying north west to dump their loads and picking up again … every 5 or 6 minutes for 4 hours. Now, even for something as exciting as flying an aeroplane and skimming across a lake, this requires some serious concentration to avoid error through boredom. I think the planes are Air Tractor AT-802F (I may have the model number wrong but you can look at the website). Fire Bosses with a hopper capacity of 3,028 litres. That’s a serious load. When we recognise the work that the firies are doing we need to recognise these guys as well.
I should also say that the updates on the Tuross Head RFS Facebook page are useful, informative and generally easy-to-read as well as being reasonably frequent.
We seem to wake up each day to smoke. Sure, it burns off as the day progresses and the sun heats things up but it’s not pleasant. And the worst thing is that there’s not a lot you can do about it, unless you wear a mask (which 2019-nCoV might cause you to do anyway). We’re breathing this stuff in and so far as I can tell no one seems to know what the long-term effects might be. I think what that means is that they know it’s not good, but they don’t quite how bad it will be over the years. On the other hand, I had a wry chuckle this morning (31 January 2020) as I waited at the lights in Moruya, when the lack of visibility from smoke was very bad, and a woman crossed the road smoking a cigarette. But then, we can live with self-inflicted things rather better than those that are inflicted upon us.
There’s a rather well-designed site called AirVisual that lets you track the air quality. There’s a league table for NSW. Here’s the one from 10:46 31 January 2020. You’ll see that there’s a button for the world rankings. I pressed it at 10:46 and you can see the results on the right. If Narooma counted as a “major city” in a global sense, then it would be right up there at number 3. Some achievement.
These numbers go up and down like a yo-yo – within a couple of hours the local numbers had dropped
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a metric that measures pollution. Each of the states and territories of Australia is responsible for monitoring air quality and publishing data and that data is what you find at AirVisual. Keen researchers can start with Wikipedia to find out more. This table tells you how hazardous each level is.
This mnemonic, of course, is the corona virus. Now Corona was a fizzy drink that used to be sold from a truck that drove around the streets in the UK in the 1960s. It was an excuse, if you needed one, to pester your Mother for more sugar than you needed. The Corona in 2019-nCoV (the “n” stands for novel because it was new) is rather more sinister. No one seems to know how sinister nor necessarily what needs to be done to manage the public health risk. On one day the Federal Health Minister is saying “it’s alright kids, back to school you go”. A day or so later the State Government is saying “hang on, folks, if you’ve been to China then you better stay away from school.
Anyway, it’s easy to console oneself with the fact that all this stuff is happening a long way away and even a case or two in Sydney isn’t likely to affect us down here. But of course, with anything that the World Health Organisation has declared a global emergency, you can never tell. So the site that’s been developed by John Hopkins University is very useful (pictured below at 11:20 31 January 2020) – as well as being interesting to people who like different ways of displaying information. Interestingly, they have redesigned the site since yesterday so that the graph at the bottom is slightly less scary than it had been. The proviso graphic had a much shorter x-axis which made the orange line a good deal more dramatic than perhaps they wanted. By the way you can look at this on your phone, but you will need to put the phone in landscape (turn it in its side). Even then it may not all display but of you look carefully there are little “+” signs that you press to view more.
So, where does the name come from? A corona is an aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars. Apparently when you look at a corona virus under a microscope it appears to have a corona. There’s a whole family of corona viruses, 2019-nCoV is but one. But I will leave you to research that yourselves.
But back to the man who used to come round selling Corona in the 1960s … as far as the fizzy drink of the 1960s is concerned, you can find the name on a list of defunct brands but you won’t find any bottles of the drink on any shelf near you. Thomas & Evans was the company that made Corona at Porth in the Rhondda Valley. The factory is now a music and media complex called, amusingly, The Pop Factory. Of course, there is still a fizzy drink called Corona – it’s a beer. And because it’s 31°C outside that reminds me to slip off for a cold one …
1. Fires near me: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me
3. AirVisual: https://www.airvisual.com/australia/new-south-wales