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Going coastal (plus thoughts on small town Big Brother and running like hell in event of tsunamis)

They were having a three-nights-for-two special at the little coastal studio I found last year, so off I went. Even without the special, I can’t believe I can rent this place for less than the price of a Motel 6 room. And I’ve never known a Motel 6 room to have a private balcony, a fireplace with Prest-o-Log, a stained-glass window, a private garden, and complimentary coffee beans and mugs. Did I mention the peek-a-boo ocean view? And this year the room came equipped with two kites. (One of these days they’re going to figure out what a tiny treasure this place is and start charging more seriously & that’ll be the end of that.)

Big flaw: not dog friendly. I was going to board the canine kids, but it got to bugging me that it would actually cost more for their accommodations than mine. Fortunately a neighbor couple stepped in to pup-sit.

So a very nice time is being had by all. But this year a bag of coffee beans wasn’t the first surprise at the little studio.

When I checked in at the rental agency, they beamingly told me that the old-fashioned housekeys are no more. They gave me a six-digit code and showed me a new system that involves hand presses on a screen followed by inputting that numeric code. It’s not using the hand for biometric ID (hey, maybe next year!). Just using touch to activate the key pad and to lock the door upon exit.

So far so good, I guess. But then they chirped that when I check out I should first do the hand thing then input a special code that notifies the cleaning crew that I’ve left for good.


Apparently, this system communicates with the office every time I enter or exit the place. If they care to look, they know when I’m in the room and when I’m out. They know this data for every house they rent. What a bonanza for thieves! What a just-plain creepy idea.

I never considered whether card keys like those used in hotels were recording every entry and exit. (Certainly the old metal keys used here previously had the great virtue of recording nothing.) Maybe you already know all about systems like this. Me? Country Mouse? Nope.

Driving from the office I was trying to digest whether I liked anything about this system or not. I could see how management would, for sure. But I wondered if it works in a power outage, whether the codes ever get corrupted, and how easy it is to hack the data or just for somebody to access it the old-fashioned way in the office.

Then I got here and did the little code dance. Nada. Did the code dance. Nata. Etc. Until the shiny little keypad finally went into some kind of panic mode, flashed alarmingly, and refused to take input from me.

Oh yeah, now that’s an improvement over old-fashioned housekeys, isn’t it? I called the office. They’d written my code down wrong.


I’ve also been contemplating the ever-dubious nature of tsunami evacuation planning.

Paranoid security freak that I am, I rent this place only because it’s on a hill. Not quite high enough on a hill to suit me, but it’s out of the distant tsunami zone and a run of just a few hundred yards to the safety zone for a Cascadia-generated tsunami. (Not that I quite trust that, either; but that’s another story.)

The most direct route uphill is through a copse of woods, across a two-lane road, through another band of woods, then onto residential streets. About three blocks east as the crow flies.

About nine blocks on the evacuation maps. The maps direct people north three blocks to get to a street that crosses safely under the highway, then south three blocks after they get to the other side.

I suppose they have to give people some sort of directions other than, “Run like hell uphill and damn the blackberry brambles and the skunk cabbage!” I realize a lot of people aren’t physically able to navigate the blackberry brambles and the muck in which the skunk cabbage grows. But following those road-based directions could get you killed. First, because they’re so ludicrously long and convoluted (just what everyone needs; run six extra blocks to get to high ground while a tsunami is rushing in at the speed of a jetliner), Second, because they imply that you can go by car. Instant gridlock. And that’s without roads buckled or disappeared under landslides.

One of the big problems emergency managers have in this area is educating people that, in event of the Big One, you should not hop in your car to escape a tsunami. Do people pay attention? Hahaha. A community has a tsunami drill or a false alert — and in 30 seconds flat the escape routes are parking lots.

But seems to me that their own procedures encourage exactly that even as they wring their hands and bemoan all the dumbbutts who don’t listen to them.


  1. LarryA
    LarryA February 11, 2015 10:44 pm

    I’m convinced that “emergency management” types are typically government-smart.

    Every school shooter plan I’ve seen tells teachers to cover the windows in the classroom doors so the bad guy can’t see in and tell they’re there. I keep pointing out that BG doesn’t have to see in, he can just look down the hall for the rooms with covered windows.

  2. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 12, 2015 5:42 am

    Official disaster drills. Builds large ulcers nine ways… if you take them seriously. But the response of some people who are otherwise functioning adults is truly puzzling at times.

    Many years ago I worked in a very old rural hospital. It had been remodeled, added to and messed with enough times that it was a local joke. One small stairway led to a door that opened to a blank wall… with a sign on it that said, “This is NOT an exit.”

    OK… The evacuation floor plan was posted by each stairway and elevator (just two floors and a basement), and the stairway to nowhere was clearly marked as NOT part of the evacuation pathway.

    Guess how many people ran up there each time we did a drill. Yep.

    Don’t ask me why they just didn’t remove the stairs and replace the old door with blank wall… Never did figure that out.

  3. mary in texas
    mary in texas February 12, 2015 5:47 am

    I was told that my storeroom at school was a safe place since it had no windows. They seemed to overlook the fact that there were heavy shelves loaded with books, heavy objects, breakables, plus having a large metal filing cabinet . I would have been safer lying on the floor under the windows than in that death trap. Do the experts ever consider all the facts when they give out their “invaluable” advice?

    All the school doors that I am familiar with open to the outside “to prevent anyone from getting trapped when everyone is trying to rush out”. That totally leaves you in position to be unable to barricade a door in case of an armed intruder. Most students don’t panic enough to prevent them from getting out in case of fire. I think it is probably the experts who panic.

  4. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 12, 2015 8:27 am

    Yes Mary. I remember being shown the atomic bomb test on film in elementary school, showing the utter destruction of everything in its path.

    And then there were the “bomb drills,” where we hid under our desks – with our hands over our eyes to “protect” them from the flash. I doubt I was the only child bright enough to spot the rather large discrepancy there… but we had a ball crawling around on the floor sometimes.

    I mean… they had to DO SOMETHING, didn’t they? (/sarc)

  5. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 12, 2015 8:53 am

    The bureaucrats have to justify their existence by producing some kind of output. The output doesn’t have to make any sense.

    Look at that tsunami drill as an example of Darwinian selection. The people who stand their reading maps and following directions and jumping in their cars will be removed from the gene pool. Oh, well!

    As to motel door systems, it’s just like everything else. A small increase in efficiency helps keep that price down. Of course there may be a few bugs to work out when first implemented.

    I think the wife and I are going down to the coast this weekend. Email me and we can meet and have a lunch, or something.

  6. Bill St. Clair
    Bill St. Clair February 12, 2015 8:56 am

    Old joke: In case of nuclear attack, find low ground, put your head between your legs, and kiss your sweet ass goodbye.

  7. Laird
    Laird February 12, 2015 10:33 am

    Mary, your comment about school doors opening outward reminded me of this scene from The Big Lebowski:

  8. Betsey
    Betsey February 12, 2015 2:18 pm

    When I was caught in a snowstorm years ago, I checked into an ancient hotel in Golden, Colorado. It was the last room in town! After I found the room and inserted the key, I noticed that in the hall there was a very large rope. Not seeing any cattle around, I inquired at the front desk why the rope. Answer? It was my fire escape!
    Funny thing is I would trust that more than anything new on the market.

  9. Alchemist
    Alchemist February 13, 2015 6:31 am

    Anybody remember this? It was just before my time, but is such a classic, that

    “According to the United States Library of Congress (which declared the film “historically significant” and inducted it for preservation into the National Film Registry in 2004), it “was seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s.”

    Bert the Turtle in “Duck and Cover” :

  10. Laird
    Laird February 13, 2015 8:38 am

    Alchemist, thanks for that link. I never saw that film (it’s a little before my time), but I distinctly remember drills where we went out into the hall, curled up against the wall and put our hands over the back of our neck. I had a friend whose parents built a full-blown bomb shelter in their basement. Good times!

  11. Kyle
    Kyle February 13, 2015 9:37 am

    I don’t think you are a “paranoid security freak,” Claire. Responsible adults gauge the likelihood of risks, and plan accordingly; in fact, I think you way you described how you thought about “what if” you had to deal with tsunami was good exercise.

  12. Scott
    Scott February 13, 2015 10:10 am

    Mamaliberty-I worked in a hospital similar to the one you describe. Its 1970s fire alarm had so many false alarms no one paid any attention to it. Someone running a vacuum cleaner wouldset it off..and, as maintenance, I had to find the detector(old school photoelectric, instead of ionization) that went off (there was supposed to be an indicator light for each area – 5 detectors, I think, but newer detectors weren’t on the indicator board..very heavily MacGyvered.) Dozens of “mystery” wires/pipes/switches. A 1950s pneumatic climate control system that looked like something the Three Stooges built. Shelter in place weather alerts were ignored, as well ( everyone just went home as soon as their shift ended-I did..).
    We saw all those old CD films in school-Bert The Turtle, The Atomic Genie…almost all of them seemed focussed on fallout and the initial flash, while ignoring the blast effect. No drills or anything, though. As I child, I lived in a house that had a blast/fallout shelter in the basement-it had been converted into a bathroom..

  13. Alchemist
    Alchemist February 13, 2015 10:50 am

    Laird, my father built a bomb shelter, to Atomic Energy Commision specs. He was a mason by trade. He excavated the area by hand with pick and shovel. Dug and poured the footings, laid the blocks, constructed the poured concrete roof. Entrance hallway had 2 – 90 degree turns, because radiation goes in a straight line. Covered the entire thing with several feet of earth, the earth he dug out at the start.
    Inside was bunk beds, a small toilet room (he built a cesspool for it), a large water tank, a hand-operated blower for ventilation. The ventilation pipes were a couple feet tall, with covers to prevent anything from falling in yet still allowed airflow. They were hidden in the bushes and other growth that was allowed to grow over the shelter.
    He made a very thick wooden door, with some steel over and in it. The first door he made didn’t work out. He made it with poured concrete, in forms on the ground. After it had set, he realized his mistake when he tried to lift it. He then calculated, after instead of before making it, that it weighed a couple of tons. Oops.
    There was electricity for a couple of lights, but he knew that it wouldn’t last when the SHTF, so there were flashlights, batteries, Coleman lanterns and fuel.
    Fortunately it was never used for it’s original purpose.
    I think of all the back-breaking work he did, to keep his family safe, and shake my head at all the people who won’t even keep a few jugs of water and cans of food for a relatively minor ’emergency.’

  14. MJR
    MJR February 13, 2015 12:18 pm

    Small town Big Brother… Sounds like they just got the system up and running. Looks like the clerk screwed the pooch when you checked in or they are working out some glitches in the system. Oh well as with any new system there is a learning curve.

    The main reason for using key cards these days is to minimize the risk of key misuse by employees and guests. Door keys can be lost, copied or simply not returned upon checkout of guests and there is the risk of misuse of keys by staff i.e. employee theft. When a room key goes missing there is the expense of re-keying the door or, if this isn’t done, dealing with the potential litigation of an occupant further down the road should there be a B&E or worse. With the key card these risks are minimized due to the changing of the pass code on the key card should your key card be lost, stolen or not returned. An added benefit to a system like this is that employees cannot access your room the way they could with a simple old key. With card access employees get tracked and if there is a complaint they have some explaining to do.

    For all these nice things I am still not a fan because of the threat that information about your coming and going will fall into the hands of the authorities if they are fishing while investigating something else. In theory this would require a warrant but in reality… You could ask what is done with the information but should there be an investigation you may come under the spotlight. All it would take is an over zealous clerk who starts yapping to the cops about the person who wanted to know about what the data was used for and how strange that was…

    And running like hell in event of tsunamis… This is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. If the authorities do little or nothing and people get hurt or die then someone gets hung out to dry (can you say lawsuit?). If they do everything they can to minimize the risk and potentially save lives then they are damned for being to authoritarian and if nothing happens they are damned for wasting money. To add to the mix is that some of the folks doing the planning and execution of these plans are not the most flexible and have serious narcissistic issues. So all I will say is good luck.

  15. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 13, 2015 12:58 pm

    Five years ago, my sister and I attended a four day training session at a big, brand name hotel in Denver. Not only did they have “key cards,” but cameras everywhere. The second day, the hotel notified us that they needed to move us to a different room. When we got out of class, we discovered our clothing and so forth piled haphazardly in the middle of the beds, and all of our toiletries completely missing. Everything that had been in the bathroom vanished. We complained, you bet, and the hotel apologized and gave us a discount on the final bill, but we had to buy new toothbrushes and other things. Never heard another word about it.

    The people are what matter. The hardware is secondary.

  16. LarryA
    LarryA February 13, 2015 2:30 pm

    Many years ago I worked in a very old rural hospital.

    I renovated the electrical system in one of the 1950s VA hospitals.

    The evacuation system was Army stretchers (Think M*A*S*H.) hanging in the stairwells. The stairs were typical, steps down half a floor, 180 degree turn, steps down to the next floor level, 180 degree turn. The stretchers were seven (7) feet long.

    Nope. No one had ever put somebody on one and tried to make the turns.

    They did have one clever feature, however. The last flight of stairs, down into the basement, was blocked by a gate that swung toward you. So instead of continuing down and finding yourself with no exit, you were encouraged to leave the stairwell at the first floor.

  17. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 14, 2015 1:10 pm

    Ineeed, Larry. An actual evacuation from this old hospital would have been a real nightmare. There was only one elevator, from the ER to the operating suite on the second floor. We only had about 30 beds total, and they were seldom all filled, but most of the patients would not have been able to walk down the stairs. I don’t think we even had any Army stretchers. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. 🙂

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