The recent Hurricane and the reactions of people brought many things to mind, including the following:
1. How long can NY go without outside help? In The Starfish and The Spider-The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman, a book about self-organizing groups, he wrote that in Manhattan, there was about a three day supply of food and water- that without any central organization, the City could last about three days before it would need help from the outside. That sounded like an interesting theory, but one we’d never see put to the test. However, after Hurricane Sandy, it was put to the test for many people, and many more, still without power. Ori was about right- after the storm ended on Tuesday, we got about three days before the social order started to fray and fights broke out over the lack of gas and dwindling supplies for many people. It’s going to take a while before things are back to normal and people feel less threatened, which brings me to point 2.
2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seems to be an immutable law of the universe. When people are worried about Food, Clothing and Shelter, very little else matters. In fact, NYC police report that since the storm, there have been zero homicides in NYC, although I suspect if things seemed dicey enough, fights over food and fuel would bring that to an end. Fortunately, supplies of food, water and fuel are beginning to flow more consistently into damaged areas, which should keep panic from setting in.
3. Failure of Existing Supply Chains and Infrastructure: Gas shortages and generators, meant to work for short periods but after a week are starting to fail, means nerves even of those who were prepared, are starting to fray. Home supply stores are working as hard as they can to move supplies into stores. Individuals are trying to solve their own immediate problems that deal with food, clothing and shelter first, many of which are dependent on electricity first- electricity to generate heat, refrigeration, and even the information network we depend on to see when things will get better. Supplies of fuel and restoration of electricity are underway, and with another storm bringing record cold into the area, perhaps not a moment too soon.
4. The Vulnerable are still the most vulnerable. While we might be able to stay in our houses for up to a week, assuming adequate supplies, restrictions on transportation to and from work and business pose difficulties. Not only does every house-bound person mean they are not contributing to the return of normalcy, for many people, the need for health care- pregnant women, people on dialysis, cancer patients, diabetics and more and the need to get to these appointments is not option- it’s life threatening. Transportation infrastructure ranging from elevators to subways to cars and taxis is necessary for these folks to take care of themselves, and the length of time it’s down adds complications to their ability to get care.
5. We take infrastructure for granted. Things like hospitals, transportation, and even stores supplying our needs are all dependent on the joint, shared infrastructure of the electrical grid, transportation, highways, gas stations, airports and more. I think we’re learning how much of our lives depend on simple things like a reliable electric grid, and that may be a more critical part of our safety and security than nuclear weapons. Perhaps this crisis will help folks realize how important keeping our infrastructure healthy and resilient from weather and other disasters is of strategic importance, as much as the next military industrial complex ask.
6. Our military is good domestically as well as abroad. Having worked with Marines in particular during the Super bowl, our military is well trained to help out in any sort of emergency. they control crowds, distribute items, and make things happen in a controlled and systematic way. They are extraordinarily good at improvisation, crisis management, and making sure the mission is carried out. War veterans, and a group called Team Rubicon are helping out at home when disatsers strike here. We have to find a way to help our veterans and military have a bigger role in civilian society, doing what they do best.
I know this is not a usual post, but I wanted to preserve and share these thoughts before they melted away in the soothing comfort of constant electricity and good heating, and I did not want to forget how many people are still suffering. While writing a check for relief efforts, which we’ve done, helps, there are folks like the nurse who is a single mother in Queens who lost everything- She works with the multiple hospital research group my husband is involved with, and we’ll be doing what we can to help her, too. But the loss and the vulnerability she feels won’t go away soon, no matter how much we all work to patch things up and get her back on her feet. Returning her to a sense of security and normalcy will take time. Her story is just one of many, many thousand, and we’ll all need to keep those folks in mind, long after the initial crisis and recovery starts to ebb from the headlines.