It’s the storm before the calm. On the weekend before the latest storm of the century, with a few touches of blue sky still peeking through the clouds, my E-mail inbox is facing a downpour of alerts and alarms.
The government agencies weigh in with a deluge of press advisories. Governor Christie, still known for sunbathing in Florida while his state suffered through a snow storm, continued his tough talk that began with Hurricane Irene. Then it was “get the hell off the beach.” This time it’s “don’t be stupid, get out.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection weighs in, as does the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the police departments of both Plainsboro and West Windsor.
Of course, the politicians are raining concern throughout the weekend. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) sets up a “Hurricane Sandy Resource Center” on his official website to share national and local resources.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney jumps on a statement made by Governor Christie: “Instead of pointing fingers, we need to focus on protecting the residents of New Jersey. The governor needs to worry less about criticizing others, and more about an orderly and timely response to the events that lie ahead.”
State Senator Barbara Buono may either have been running for the distinction of “most honest politician in the face of a natural disaster” or inadvertently left some boilerplate language at the end of her Hurricane Sandy alert. The final words: “Paid for by the Election Fund of Barbara Buono for Senate.”
I’m surprised by how quickly the private sector jumps in. Public Service Electric & Gas shows up in my inbox on Thursday, October 25, announcing various initiatives, including social media, to help answer the anticipated million dollar question: When is my power going to be restored? The utility announced that it will have information posted at www.pseg.com/outagecenter and that, if outages are widespread, it will activate a Twitter page to keep the public informed: sign up at http://twitter.com/psegdelivers.
One of our Internet providers sends an E-mail, announcing its “Severe Weather Preparedness Plan,” which has already “increased staffing in Call Centers;” has “pre-fueled” all generators (both permanent and temporary) within the potentially affected regions; and has “established an Event Management Team, tasked with conducting a status conference call with our ownership team and emergency personnel at scheduled intervals to ensure timely response to outstanding issues, task prioritization, and coordination of resources.”
So what is U.S. 1’s emergency preparedness strategy? I wish I could flood you with buzz words about tasking of generators — “pre-fueled,” of course — on standby outside our office. When and if power fails we will “work stream” our operation onto reserve power, put out our paper seamlessly, and deliver it via inflatable watercraft poised on the edges of various office parks.
But the fact is that, even if we could make our office shine like a beacon in an electrical blackout, countless others with whom we work would not be able to connect to us: Writers with stories, advertisers with ads, a printer that depends on electronic transmission of the PDFs that create the printing plates, and so on.
If we could offer advice, it would be to heed all the common sense warnings offered by everyone and their uncle. After that, maybe we should all take a deep breath and ponder the big picture. Why is it that these “once in a century” storms seem to come along every few years? And why are we knocked for such a loop by them.
Global climate change cannot be dismissed with a wave of a politician’s hand.
And we might also consider the reasons why these storms have such an adverse effect. David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who specializes in economic affairs, wrote last month in an online column that “for decades, America has scrimped on taking care of the public furniture, endangering people and weakening the economy as bridges rust, roads crumble, dams weaken, and water mains leak . . .
“Even greater threats can be found among the decrepit corporate-owned infrastructure, including high-pressure oil and natural-gas pipelines that can explode without warning, electric power poles long past their replacement dates, and a telecommunications system that is far less reliable today than it was two decades ago.
“America’s infrastructure gets a grade of ‘D’ from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which recommends that we spend $2.2 trillion on repairs and maintenance.”
Johnston points to India’s massive power failure last summer as a portent of what could happen here. “The electric power outages affected 670 million Indians — every 10th person on the planet — but the event was treated in the news as a passing curiosity.”
As the weekend turns into Monday, the incoming E-mails are reduced to a trickle. Johnston’s words are something to think about as I appreciate what finally seems to be the calm before the storm.