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Monday

No surprises in Sandy's wake

Foreseeable issues plague response, recovery 


We're all focused on the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and the level of destruction she delivered. Once again the bullseye of this natural event is a major metropolitan coastal area. Some have referred to Sandy as the Katrina of the Northeast.

They may be right in more ways than one.

We see the devastation and the agonizingly slow road to recovery unfold with a familiar, yet eerie, similarity to other natural disasters. We were hopeful that the pre landfall actions ahead of Sandy were a setup for success. What we're seeing is foreseeable, almost expected, issues that plague the response and recovery as if planners have forgotten the major lessons of past events.

As I write this post some two-weeks after Sandy's landfall, hundreds of thousands are without electricity. Fuel supply is short and access to gas stations is limited, punctuated by long lines and short tempers. Some major hospitals remain closed, patients evacuated to already over crowded facilities in area less impacted by the storm. Even FEMA withdrew assets for a short time.

Patience is at a premium as the public struggles to accept the fact that there is no timeline for recovery. No one knows when the lights will come back on or when the toilets will flush again. Anger is begging to surge as high as the flood waters.

All this is happening in an area with arguably the most resources and experience dealing with disaster.

All of this has happened before and it will happen again. The power goes out for along time, food runs short, fuel is in short supply, and the recovery efforts falls short of our expectations. This is not to say that NYC or New Jersey were not prepared. Rather a series of beliefs and issues make it possible for a Katrina or Sandy to cause the same situation in your city and mine.

The over emphasis on terrorism has caused us to forget about the power of natural events. Despite the ridiculous amount of money spent on fantasy homeland security efforts we remain woefully unprepared to mobilize for or recover from natural disasters.

Our power grid is the most vulnerable piece of critical infrastructure in the United States. Decay and obsolescence alone are enough to fuel the concern that our power grid is not up to the challenge of day-to-day use, note to mention the impact of a outside event on local service. No power means no heating or cooling. No financial access. No ability to pump fuel or water. Prolonged power outage and failure of the power grid are issues few want to acknowledge.

The healthcare community continues to be shacked by standards that don't equate to patient safety in disaster situations. Lack of funding for preparedness results in a halfhearted effort and "check the box" mentality that simply meets a vague requirement for bureaucratic satisfaction. Similarly, the inability to move beyond the insanity of Optimism Bias keeps some healthcare preppers from acknowledging their vulnerability to natural disasters.

The public suffers from a similar complacency. Even after seeing less-than-encouraging examples of our national response to disasters and a new definition of disaster, the civilian population seems to hang onto the fallacy that someone will come to the rescue, put food in the pantry, and turn the lights back on.  

1 comment:

  1. Aaron Marks9:54 AM

    Rick,
    For most of the people who follow MJ you're preaching to the choir here. The million dollar question is how do we fix it?

    I spend most of my time these days trying to convince business owners to invest in preparedness - with extremely limited success. Most of the decision-makers and so-called leaders out there just don't want to acknowledge that there is an issue because once they acknowledge it there may be liability associated with failing to do something about it. How do we convince 'the massess' that preparedness is an INVESTMENT and not a cost?

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