Hurricane Irene has come and gone. The lesson in preparedness and response to this and other natural disasters is to do a heck of a lot of it.
HURRICANE Irene unleashed its fury up and down the East Coast, far from Seattle and the West Coast’s comparatively tranquil weather. Yet, the way those communities handled the storm offers succinct lessons for students of Disaster 101 everywhere.
First and foremost, more preparedness and planning is better than less. It is a tired but true cliché: Better to be safe than sorry. (See U.S. government response to Hurricane Katrina for additional information about how not to manage a disaster.)
Irene has come and gone, so, naturally, it is time for the inevitable hand-wringing. Did public officials, most notably New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, overreact? Nearly everyone agrees damage and deaths, while significant, could have been much worse.
The correct answer is, not really. What if it were a monster hurricane as it hit the Big Apple? What if it flooded subways? Bloomberg got it right because he was ever-present at news conferences before, during and after the storm. He made an inconvenient but safety-oriented decision to evacuate people in low-lying areas of the city.
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Earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are unpredictable. Bloomberg was writing a different narrative than he did during last year’s snowstorm, when he was in Bermuda and the city was ill-prepared. New Yorkers grumbled to the max and had reason to do so. Seattle knows a thing or two about poor response to snowstorms.
Scientists believe severe weather is on the rise. Public officials have to be on their toes to protect large populations. Sure, it is inconvenient. But 40 people died during Irene.
President Obama wisely cut short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation. No president looks good frolicking on a golf course while parts of the country are savaged by a major storm.
And when it comes to public safety in natural disasters, the goal has to be to protect the masses, to be prepared, and, yes, sometimes that looks like overkill. The opposite choice more often than not is a losing proposition.