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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grossly Unprepared

Its been 14 days since Hurricane Sandy blew through the North East and there are still areas that need serious help.   There are still communities that have not had their power restored which, for some, means that there is no running water.  With no running water means no flushing toilets, trips upon trips upon trips for fresh water, and of course, the trek to a charging station to bring life back to dead cell phones, laptops, and other devices.  Granted, for the majority of storm victims (except those that lost their houses), life has returned to some sort of normalcy.   So what am I getting at here?  Despite the fact that this was one of the worst storms this region of the country has seen in a very long time, there was still a lot that could have been done in terms of emergency preparation and storm response.  This was the third major storm to hit the region in a little over a year and you would think that after the first two which happened within 2 months of each other, we would have had a better response time and reaction from utility companies, the government, and other agencies assisting with clean up and restoration.  All this goes to show that in cases of wide spread destruction as we saw two weeks ago, our government and those that support the basic necessities are unprepared for a storm such as Sandy.  Regardless of whether you believe in global warming or not (I personally do), you can't deny that these large, damaging storms are occurring more frequently.  Many will point to global warming as a potential cause, which I would agree with, and if that's the case, then we will probably see many more of these types of storms in the coming years.  Yet nothing is being done to bolster our emergency preparedness or to hold companies responsible for restoring power and utilities to homes in a timely manner.  What does our government need to do?  A lot of work, essentially.

First, lets deal with the utility companies.  They had a year since the last major storm blew through to put measures in place to deal with a large loss of power.  However, it seems that the measures they did put in place didn't go far enough.  At least in Connecticut, which wasn't hit nearly as hard as New York or New Jersey, it took over a week for some people to get power back.  Most areas did have their power turned back on within days, but for some, that is too long.  In my mind, if a company has x amount of customers that depend on their service for every day living, than that company must be prepared for an event in which all their customers lose power.  Luckily we have not had such an event where a utility company had 100% of their customers lose power, but if a big enough storm hits at the right time, it is entirely possible.  Yet nothing is changing.  They hired some more people, put measures in place to deal with these situations in a more expedient manner, but they are still lagging.  Moving on, another issue that needed to be dealt with more quickly than restoring power was ensuring that gas stations had enough fuel and that those stations had power to pump gas.  Yes, ports in New York and New Jersey from which gas is distributed were either damaged or temporarily shut down, but there are ports outside the heavily damaged area that were not called upon to assist in bringing in excess fuel to the heavily affected areas.  Some of those ports are New Haven, Boston, Providence, and Baltimore.  If there was extra gas from those ports trucked in to the New York/New Jersey region, then we would not have had the run on gas, the long lines, and the rationing that we experienced.  Without power, many people were relying on generators to power their homes and essentials.  Yet without gas, most generators don't work (unless they run on propane or natural gas, but those are mainly standby generators) so it complicates matters even more.  It could have been avoided if there were plans in place to expedite gas transportation to the areas that needed it, but there weren't. 

Lastly, while our government, federal and local, did an excellent job of warning people about the storm and following through with evacuation plans, the overall response was slower than expected.  This storm created over a billion dollars worth of damages and I wonder who is going to pay for all of that.  I am sure that the government will chip in and offer large amounts of assistance to affected states, but if we keep on experiencing these types of storms, how much more can we afford?  I am sure that the government does not have an adequate rainy day fund in place for events such as this.  If these storms keep on occurring on a regular basis, we the taxpayers will be feeling the pinch as our taxes go up just to pay for more restoration and clean up.  So where does this all leave us?  It leaves us hoping that those in charge of utility companies, gas companies, and the government start re-assessing their plans and improving them so that life can return to normal more quickly after a storm of this magnitude.  Trust me, I know that for some, restoration and recovery will take far longer than a few weeks as there were many who lost everything.  For those people unfortunately, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent against the type of destruction that they experienced.  I only hope that as time progresses, their lives return to normal as quickly as possible.  For the rest of us, we need to keep in mind that things could have been a lot worse.   These are the times when communities need to band together to help those in need, and for the most part, they are.  We can not always rely on the government to help us out.  There are times, such as these, when the best help comes from those who live around you.  Let us do our best then keep our communities strong and to help one another in these times of need. 

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