Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter Eight

One of the most difficult issues facing Scott and Sissy, besides their business concerns, is security; both for their home and for Scott when he is out working. Living in the suburbs of a large and sprawling urban center as well as in proximity to a large university area interspersed with a VA hospital, a public hospital, and urban crime areas, Scott and Sissy are not fools. Their lives have always revolved around the application of common sense rules. Doors are locked at all times (house and car). Windows are always secured. Home and autos have security systems. There are places that you avoid, especially at night when the human predators are out. You don't talk to strangers except in controlled circumstances. Etc.

But, people who have not prepped or who feel they have nothing to gain by following the rules of a polite society are becoming increasingly desperate. There are also those that have escaped bad times in one town only to find themselves in worse circumstances in the place they flee to. Small towns around the country have been inundated with "flugees" (flu refugees) and don't have the services to deal with them. Even larger cities have their own flugee problems to deal with. The international airport near where the Chapmans live is being used as a central housing facility for tourists and business people trapped with no way to get home. Trying to get food and health care for such places and people strains the system to the max. Tempers are short and fear is running high. Despondency also runs high, and there is at least one suicide per week in these temporary housing areas.

Sissy and the kids particularly hate it when Scott leaves the house to deal with a property management emergency or to pick up rents. Especially to pick up rents because they worry about him being car-jacked or robbed. Even with the recent bumps in their relationship caused by all of the stress, they still have a good marriage. They thought of anything happening to Scott is one of Sissy’s worst nightmares; on so many different levels. Sissy and the kids wait at home with baited breath until Scott returns each time. They only breathe easy again once he has gone through his decontamination routine and comes inside. Everyone sticks close to him and touches him to reassure themselves that he made it home once again. This is especially hard on the younger three children who associate their overall security with their dad’s presence. When he is away, they act out and often start crying over the smallest thing. James winds up trying to be the man of the house when his dad is away and the other kids don’t always appreciate it. Rose steps in to try and play peacemaker, which makes James feel like no one is listening to him. The younger kids use the resulting ruckus as another excuse for acting up. Sissy is often exhausted when Scott comes home from trying to deal with the three ring circus while attending to all of her own chores that must be done.

As the pandemic has progressed, Scott’s outings have become fewer, but they still must occur. It’s trying for Scott as well. He feels his responsibility to his family, but he also feels his responsibilities to those who are under his care in other ways. There are still bills to pay. The things that he has seen also stress Scott. Sissy knows about some of it, but he hasn't told her everything; doing so would only worry her more. He stopped going to several of the units when he found out the occupants in them were sick. He notified the authorities but does not really know how much anyone has been able to do. He stopped going figuring he wouldn't collect any rent from those locations anyway and hasn't received any calls from them on maintenance issues either. Scott knows that he will eventually need to find out the status of those units, but he is holding off for now.

A couple of their rental units are vacant because they were abandoned. If the unit is one side of a duplex, Scott allows the family on the other side to "spread out" so that they can keep any children in one unit, while the other one is used by adults who have to come and go. He knows some people are taking advantage of his generosity but there are few legal remedies, for the moment anyway. The courts are still not responding to pleas from landlords for help. And a vacant unit is also more vulnerable to vandalism. Its one of the reasons that he rarely does more than turn off the water when tenants don’t pay their rent. They may not make anything on the unit, but they aren’t losing much either unless you count mortgage and insurance, which they would have to pay one way or the other.

Some tenants beg Scott to help them get their electric turned back on. The local power companies can be brutal to people who don't pay and thus far the government hasn't stepped in with any kind of remedy. There is nothing they can do really, and Scott knows that some have begun stealing electric and water from other units and even directly from the utility poles. There's been a few deaths reported in the news where people were electrocuted trying to "hot wire" their homes. There have been a few fires attributed to that as well, but thankfully not at their properties. Scott reports illegal hook-ups for this reason, even at the risk of losing more tenants. The last thing he wants to deal with at a time like this is a building fire.

In addition to the common sense dangers of living near a large urban area, sporadic civil unrest adds to their concerns. Scott has witnessed some brutality by human predator types that are roaming virtually unchecked, but thankfully not in areas that he has to frequent often.

Mitigation does not mean that your community will go unscathed during a pandemic. It only means that there are ways to lower the magnitude of some of the pandemic issues. Mitigation will not stop illnesses from continuing to happen, only keep them from getting out of control. Mitigation will never empty the hospitals, only keep the hospitals from collapsing. So absenteeism and illness are still problems even in the communities with the best mitigation compliance ratios.

In Tampa, police were stretched even at the best of pre-pandemic times. Now, hit with a 20 to 40% absenteeism rate at any given time ... because of illness, attrition, or job abandonment ... they simply do not have the trained man power to address every crime that is called in. They are prioritizing as best they can; you could call it legal triage. The National Guard troops help, but they too are dealing with personnel and equipment issues.

The family's business has already sustained some financial losses because people cannot or will not pay their rent. They have also sustained some losses due to theft and vandalism. People are ripping down gutters and metal flashing to create rain catchment systems. Exterior central ac units are being stolen or vandalized for spare parts or gutted for the copper tubing they contain. At this time there is no way of replacing these items so tenants have to suffer or move. Most can't move because they have no money. They are angry and often take it out on the property thinking it is a way to get back at the landlord ... and the vicious cycle continues as the damage mounts. Social services that many people living in lower income housing counted on has closed its doors. Social workers aren't returning phone calls. Most neighborhood and community centers have closed their doors. Food donation locations are empty.

Not surprisingly, Scott and Sissy also suffer losses at home. During the night on at least two occasions, people have tried to break into their shed and their house. A loud, battery-operated security siren chases off most of the would-be thieves but when the batteries run out, the siren won’t work. The family is taking the drastic action of bringing into the house most everything that can be considered of any value. This is causing a lot of cramping; all of the business tools, all of the family bikes, all yard stuff in general is moved inside. Everything that had been stored in the shed has to be brought in. The family vehicles have been moved into the back yard where they are only marginally more secure. Scott has placed a large, camouflage tarp over Sissy’s van as she won’t be driving it anytime soon anyway. He has also done what needs to be done to mothball the engine and other systems in case it is a long time before the car is started up and driven again.

One of the worst losses they suffer is the theft of one of their rain barrels. They suspect someone in the neighborhood, but how would they prove it? It was just a non-descript black plastic barrel that used to hold Greek peppers. It only cost $15 dollars when they bought it ... but it is the idea that someone they know, someone they probably helped, stole from them. So the water catchment system had to be further secured ... which is no easy task considering they have to do it makeshift with what they have around the house.

They are also taking additional precautions within the house proper. Their house is already fairly well secured. It had to be before they got their home security system two years ago; but they've added a few touches here and there. The utility room door and side doors are now reinforced with extra deadbolts and security bars. The windows have extra hexlocks installed and the kids practiced with them until they could open them with ease in case of fire. A wooden frame with a metal mat of woven wire attached to it is fitted into each windowsill just in case someone breaks a window trying to get in. The toddler has returned to sleeping in the parents' bedroom since he wouldn't be able to open his window in case of an emergency or shout out a warning if someone tried to enter the house via his room. They use his room for extra storage space. At night they use black out curtains so no one can see their lantern light and get envious.

Fortuitously, prior to the pandemic the most vulnerable doors on the house had a roll-down system installed on them ... they are French doors leading to the lanai. Four other vulnerable windows are also covered with accordion storm panels that can only be opened from the inside. This was originally done to bring down the cost of home insurance and as a high-wind mitigator, but they are a welcome resource in this pandemic situation.

While there are some security risks that have grown due to the pandemic and the resulting infrastructure shakiness, Tampa in general, and the family's neighborhood in particular, continues to do fairly well all things considered. Scott and Sissy and their family continue to do better than average because they still have plenty of food and other supplies. But Sissy and Scott both know that could change quickly so they strive to never let their guard down.

In areas of the country where the mitigation strategies weren't complied with and infrastructure collapse has happened or is imminent, security issues are especially concerning. Some law enforcement departments have given up and areas are razed to the ground by the fury of the predators that control them. Tampa isn't always peaceful, but at least it is far from being hell on Earth for most of its citizens.

"All locked up for the night?" Sissy asks.

"Yeah. Come here."


"Look, just come here OK?"

As Sissy approaches, Scott reaches out and pulls her into his arms.

"I’m sorry things have been so bad around here for the last couple of weeks."

Sissy sighs and says, "Not bad; rough. Bad is what we see on TV or hear on the radio."

"Ok, but you know what I mean. I don’t want us to keep snapping at each other. It sucks. I’m stressed out when I have to go out ‘cause I never know what I’m going to have to face. I’m stressed out when I have to come home for the same reason. Its like no place is safe any more."

Sissy has to fight the temptation to play the I-told-you-so card.

"No, its not good. It doesn’t make it any easier on me either and its bad for the kids. I know we both have real strong personalities but we’ve just gotta do this differently. I can’t keep it up, but I can’t seem to stop it either."

"I miss our date nights when we could just get away from every thing and everyone." Scott reminisces.

"I don’t think we could pull that off right now. There isn’t a corner in this house with that kind of privacy. Not to mention every one of those corners are already crammed full with the stuff we had to bring in from outside."

"I know. I know. Look you know I don’t do the roses and candy bit, but I’m still sorry for my part. Things are just really, really hard. Things feel out of my control and I can’t stand that."

"I’m sorry too. I know property management stuff can drive you nuts on the best of days. Having to deal with this stuff under these circumstances only makes it worse. But I’ll be honest, I can’t stand being attacked for thing that are out of my control. I’m on your side. I don’t like it when you lump me with the bad guys."

"I’ll try to be better. I can’t promise any more than that. I’ll try."

"Fine. For my part I’ll try and use my mouth to bite the bullet rather than a place to park my foot. As bad as things are, we don’t need to make them harder on ourselves."

"You got it keed. You want I should go rough up these bad guys you talkin’ about?"

"Oh my word," Sissy laughs. "That’s the worst Pancho Villa I’ve ever heard."

"It wasn’t supposed to be Pancho Villa. It was supposed to be da god fadda."

"Oh that’s even worse! No more! No more!"

And Scott chases Sissy into their bedroom for a down and dirty pillow fight. It provides more laughs than they’ve had in quite a while. They both agree, right before fall asleep, that now that they have made up, they wouldn't risk their relationship as badly in the future. They needed each other as much, if not more than, they ever have.

1 comment:

Legend_AB said...

Since this chapter addresses security concerns, I can't help but mention one of the most painfully obvious security measures that has been left out... Home defense weapons. Were are the security shotguns, rifles, and handguns( to carry concealed when out of the house). It is just completely unbelievable that they were so well prepared with rest of their supplies and equipment but that they gave no thought at all to being able to defend their family from serious threats (looters just being one).
This is the only major flaw that I see with this story.
Other than that, great read with many useful tips.