Let’s face it – the name Sandy will for many decades be a sour one for the millions of people affected by Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. Yet even as we remember the devastation and the effect of Sandy on our lives, we will as a nation soon move on from the immediate horror of it. That is what we do as a society – we move on. In most instances, that is what we strive for – to move on, but I would urge all citizens to take away some simple lessons from Sandy.
Lesson One: Mother Nature sets her own agenda and she appears to be becoming more volatile every year.
Is this a function of global warming, a normal cycle of activity that ebbs and flows, or just bad luck? Who knows… all you need to acknowledge at this juncture is that it is a reality. If you have been luxuriating in the mindset that you are not vulnerable because you do not live in a coastal area, in tornado alley, in earthquake country, or in the flood plain – it is time to snap out of it. Even something as seemingly minor as greater or less precipitation can cause grief with torrential rain, unrelenting blizzards, or fast spreading wildfires. And make no mistake, Mother Nature is not the only one throwing our communities into turmoil – there are many other hazards we face that are generated by the human race and the complexity of society.
Lesson Two: As population and complexity in society has increased over the centuries, so too has vulnerability increased.
Over half of the American population lives within 50 miles of the coast. That population concentration on the coast complicates all aspects of keeping those communities safe. We want to live where we want to live, but often we give little thought to the additional risk we incur with such choices. Add to that our increasing reliance on complex systems to not only fuel our day to day services, but for communicating with others. Where would we be tomorrow if we had no access to cell phones, the Internet, or cable television? How would that affect how we communicate, get information, and help others?
Lesson Three: Even if a disaster does not hit where you live and do business it can still profoundly affect you.
The East Coast is a hub for both business and tourism. When it takes a hit such as the one Sandy delivered, businesses around the world feel the pain and the whole tourism industry – to include everything from A to Z associated with tourism – holds its breath wondering what that will mean for their own economic situation. Flights may be grounded, transportation corridors may be closed, businesses may be damaged, employees may be unable to get to work, and shortages of key products necessary to other companies’ day-to-day operations could result in impacts around the world. And this is just a short list of the direct and ripple effects such an event can have. There is an entirely more painful discussion to be had about how such an event affects the economy and to what extent federal U.S. expenditures on such events ultimately affect Americans across the country. Will this mean cuts in other programs, increased taxes, or decreased services?
Lesson Four: If the government says get out – then GET OUT!
Evacuation orders are rarely taken lightly. Politicians know that having an entire community evacuate for something that does not occur can have quite a backlash. You can rest assured that they don’t support or endorse such orders without good reason. They have access to information you likely do not have – not only about the hazard itself, but about the community’s infrastructure and its ability to weather the impact. If you do not listen to these folks, you do so at your own peril and you should not expect help. And on a personal note allow me to add, if you do so and you have children – your children should be removed from your care as it is tantamount to child endangerment.
Lesson Five: Turn around, don’t drown.
This is a seasoned emergency management message regarding flooded roads and highways, yet folks still seem to believe that they can handle such a situation successfully. This is a safety message folks. If you see drown in the message – which equals death – then for heaven’s sake – TURN AROUND. Nothing is more frustrating than to see folks ignore warning messages issued for their own safety. As a member of the emergency management community I can tell you that these messages aren’t just white noise that we throw out there to validate our existence – they are based on data about drownings. Never underestimate water or the force of water’s current. It has reshaped and moved mountains – your vehicle and your family are a party trick.
Lesson Six: Expect that an emergency or disaster could affect your community on any given day and have a plan for what you will do.
Forget about natural hazards, there are a hundred other events that could occur on any given day. For example, there are hazardous materials traversing our highways, streets, and railways daily. Really scary stuff that could jeopardize an entire community in the time it takes for a collision or derailment to occur. There are diseases that with the slightest evolution could cause a worldwide pandemic and profoundly affect humankind. There are evil-doers in the world who are always waiting and plotting to do harm to innocent others for the sake of their cause; and, these evil-doers aren’t always the stereotypical faces we have come to malign since 9/11 – they are faces like mine and yours. There are simple, but high impact events like the loss of the electric grid or interference with the Internet.
Any day your world could be turned upside down by potential hazards you are much less aware of than Sandy. Do yourself and your family a favor – gather together some basic supplies in your home and vehicle; always have a half tank of gas; have a plan for evacuation and sheltering-in-place; and, talk to your family about what to do and how you will communicate should an emergency or disaster occur. Own your own risk, because truth be told, the government in all its vastness does not have the necessary resources to come to the aid of all the folks who will need help. If you are not willing to bet your family’s lives on someone else’s response then make the safe bet and prepare for what could happen in your community.
Sandy dealt a terrible blow to this country, but she offered some takeaways as well – we dare not ignore them.
Day one thousand two hundred and sixteen of the new forty – obla di obla da