If the eastern United States is fortunate, Hurricane Sandy will be remembered as the natural disaster that truly underscored the value of our public safety networks. Federal, state, local, and private sector officials have, over the past twenty-four hours, combined to save this nation from awakening to the loss of thousands of lives, and tens of billions of dollars in property damage.
There is little doubt dawn will arrive to find the early death toll, which currently stands at 16, rising. Hundreds of miles of coastal beaches will be viewed with tearful eyes reclaimed by the Atlantic Ocean as Sandy’s storm surge ends. Billions of dollars of property damage will need to be addressed at the cost of lives shattered by a thousand mile-wide storm system of historic force. Yet it could have been much worse.
Without the sea wall built in the 1960s, the Providence Rhode Island would be under four to six feet of water this morning. Without tens of millions spent on infra-structure flood control systems, New York’s subways and power grid might have gone off-line for days if not weeks. Without the early warnings to evacuate, a million or more Americans would be stranded in flood waters this morning at a cost of lives unknown.
Preparing for natural disasters is rarely popular. Taxpayers place infrastructure improvement low on their list of priorities. Revenues needed for assets to cope with hundred year floods, once in a generation snowfalls, or even perfect storms too often become talking points of political campaigns noted as wasted spending on special interest group projects. Or at least those assets are widely disdained until desperately needed.
Public officials receive few accolades issuing needed warnings in the days leading up to natural disasters. Often led by media talk show hosts, they are ridiculed by the very public they have sworn on oath to protect. Yet with great power comes great responsibility often leading to extremely difficult choices.
While the public is huddling down waiting out any natural disaster, the public and private sector first response personnel are often already risking their lives attempting to restore power, provide access to transportation and protect private property. When and how best to muster the small army who comes into play following a natural disaster is often a no win decision for all elected officials.
Having carried an emergency first responder card for nearly a decade, I remain astounded at the work these public and private sector individuals provide their communities. The next time you are without power during a natural disaster, consider in your thoughts those individuals braving the elements to allow you the comforts of being home with your loved ones as they move on to the next hot spot of trouble.
The lessons learned during Hurricane Sandy will be remembered for generations, if we are lucky. Hopefully it will be remembered as the perfect storm that proved why America can never forget its commitment to public safety. It could have been much worse; much worse.
This nation owes a debt of gratitude to all who mitigated the potential cost in lives and property damage from Sandy’s landfall. As the recovery begins, let us pledge to uplift as a nation by whatever means possible all those affected by this historic natural disaster.