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Sitting on the edge of Irene: cautiously optimistic

Sitting here in Rochester, New York it's easy to be just a bit removed from the Hurricane Irene situation. Viewing the situation from a distance gives me the opportunity to reflect on the response of local governments, officials, and Federal agencies.

I'm cautiously optimistic that the actions taken by state and local government authorities will save lives. The forward thinking approach to evacuations and sheltering has been impressive up and down the East Coast. I am particularly pleased with the actions of New York City Mayor Bloomberg and the New York State office of emergency management. Although I have been critical of NYC in past storms; I'm encouraged to see that they are doing what I believe to be the best course of action possible.

Has the recent legal president from hurricane Katrina influenced emergency management decision making?

The decision to order a large-scale evacuation or shelter in place is never an easy one. Evacuations are not benign events and there are certainly risks associated with sheltering in place.  Major metropolitan areas such as those cities on the East Coast have to make this decision carefully and well in advance of a potential threat. I think they got it right this time.  Let's not forget that this is an area (the entire East Coast) that just suffered from one of the largest earthquakes in recent history.  A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the entire East Coast last week. There is untold and unseen damage to buildings and infrastructure. While this earthquake did not cause massive collapses and instruction, it certainly may have caused some buildings to be weakened. It certainly may have caused unseen damage to below ground utilities, sanitation, and transportation infrastructure. These same structures and pieces of infrastructure will now be impacted by hurricane Irene and thus raising the level of severity and the need for pro-activity on the part of local governments and responders.

There has been tough and honest talk from governmental leaders. The information has been blunt…  “if you don't evacuate we may not be able to rescue for several days…”. I think that's the reality of the situation and I think that demonstrates an understanding of when to switch from a standard of response to a sufficiency of response.

The physical damage to structures will be dependent upon the storm itself. The impact to life will be dependent upon the actions of local governments and local responders.

 So, what's going to happen next?

Well, if the storm turns out to be less severe than predicted there will certainly be accusations of overreaction. I've also anticipate that there will be those in the media who will accuse many in emergency management of crying wolf and scaring the public.

On the other hand, if hurricane Irene turns out to be as severe as predicted and to cause as much flooding and damage as predicted the ends will have justified the means. In either case I believe no other decisions could have been made by emergency managers the net to evacuate far in advance of the storm.   

 The only certain next step is recovery… and recovery is largely dependent upon preparation.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that the actions taken by state and local government authorities will save lives. Imagine the level of domestic preparedness that could be achieved with fully funded and staffed health departments and emergency management programs?"
Rick Russotti, Mitigation Journal
So far, the Irene has the flag barely moving...0900 8/28/11

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