Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday-Morning Quarterbacking the Hurricane Hype: Some Perspective From Another Recent Storm

As predicted here, the Monday morning hurricane-hype quarterbacking theme today is cover our butts.

The hurricane was clearly fizzling even as it arrived in North Carolina, an indication that maybe it was time to greatly ratchet down the drama farther north along I-95. But still, we're being told, the storm caused flooding. It was a killer storm, resulting in 19 deaths. Obviously, the here-comes-hell hype -- on a scale unprecedented to me in 40 years as a working journalist -- was justified.

As I said, the main justification being put forth -- "better safe than sorry" -- could also be carried to an absurd conclusion and used to to justify not crossing a street.

Consider: Just four months ago, in April, tornadoes and storms in the South killed 58 people in a single day in Alabama.

To compare and contrast, here is a link.


1 comment:

Steve Kalman said...

Concur in part dissent in part.

Concur: Yes, it was Overblown: A week ago, not yet. Friday, definitely. Today, some flooding news, but nothing extraordinary.

Dissent: Think of this as a test of the emergency response plan. Companies can decide to do a test and see if the alternate site plans work. Cities can't really do that. With this event, NY was able to do a test. There were lessons learned in 9/11 (no interagency communications) and in Katrina (patients left in non-functioning hospitals) and many more. NYC created a plan for the city and for the region that looked good on paper but needed a test. An unusual hurricane track is perfect.

Emergency planners can see how many will heed an evacuation warning, how long it really takes to shut and restore services like subways, how quickly the airports can get back up and running, whether it pays to stage power crews from the midwest just out of town (I live just off I-84 where it crosses from NY to PA, the local hotel lots were filled with cherry pickers and other trucks from out of state electric utilities) and so on.

Finally, there's the political reality that if the city did not warn and help evacuate, etc, then the politicians would have a harder time at the polls. As a society, we're much more forgiving of an overreaction with explanations than with the appearance of disorganization and confusion.