Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 29, 2012

Sandy and the kindness of strangers

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 29, 2012


I expect Christine was busy all weekend.  Her firm is the principal supplier of food to New England and the mid-Atlantic. When a big storm is predicted they have a system of “emergency orders” to surge water, bread, batteries, diapers, etc.  The distribution centers and trucks were  operating even on Sunday.  She’s trying to think ahead to recovery, but that’s tough…  What she can do is keep the phones and emails humming, untangling bottle-necks, expediting solutions, recognizing early where the automatic systems are going dark and throwing herself into the darkness.

This morning the Daily Telegraph (London) is headlining, “The Worst Storm in US History” and, somehow, that is meaningful validation of what the wind is already doing to trees on my mountaintop.   The Brits are live blogging from Brooklyn with the same urgency they have reported from Cairo or Athens or other crisis centers.  When the NYSE and NASDAQ shut down electronic trading, even some Masters of the Universe begin to take notice.

John has been on the phone all weekend trying to pre-deploy mutual aid to the communities his electrical utility serves.  Given Sandy’s range he has had to reach out farther than usual.  Mutual aid is a formal agreement-in-principal, but actually showing up depends on local conditions and personal relationships and persuasion.  John has the connections and the  personality to be very persuasive.   He keeps threatening retirement, but he has not yet found a next generation ready to invest in the relationship-building.

I was supposed to see John this Friday.   We were to participate in a regional planning conference for electricity restoration after a potentially catastrophic event.  John and his peers will be doing the real deal instead, the conference was canceled a week ahead.  At our last meeting John was really the only private sector guy there (I’m betwixt and between and bedeviled).  The others were on the phone (no doubt using mute to veil their multi-tasking).  I’m guessing they agreed to be on the phone mostly to avoid disappointing John.   After that first meeting, I told John, “It really depends mostly on you.  You’re the servant leader the rest of us depend on (and are, too often,  taking for granted).”

Angela and Ted and Patrice and David and many more are in their Emergency Operations Centers doing what they can as Sandy’s eye turns left and approaches the Jersey shore.  I’m thinking especially of David and his neighbors on the ocean facing mountains of West Virginia.  Twelve inches and more of snow and forty mile-per-hour winds are projected for the ridges.  Electricity is likely to be out for much more than a week.  Restoration won’t even begin until Sandy passes and she evidently plans to stay until late Tuesday or Wednesday.

By now —  8:30 Monday morning — most of Chris’ trucks have made their deliveries or are almost ready to unload their pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.    His giant distribution center is likely to lose electrical power, but has back-up for seventy-two hours, longer if the generators can be refueled.  He serves a market from Delaware to South Carolina.  DC to Philly looks awfully iffy for Tuesday morning delivery.  He’s likely to get the orders, but will anyone be there on Tuesday morning (or afternoon or even Wednesday morning) to unload the trucks?

Back in June the Derecho resulted in 40 percent of one supply chain’s deliveries being turned-away.  No power meant no place to put the stuff and, often, no one to unlock the door.  But no one let the suppliers know until the trucks were already loaded.  Because one delivery could not be made — and other deliveries depend on unloading the first — an entire supply chain choked up.  Remember to call.  Recognize your dependence on others and their dependence on you.

Jock and Kathy will be constantly on their phones and email the whole week.  They serve a voluntary network of private sector suppliers who want to know how to help when disaster strikes.  Like Christine, when it goes dark they throw themselves into the darkness… with water, food, pharma and sometime even light.

I’m supposed to be in New York this weekend and New London on Monday.   Maybe not.  I might not have a roof tomorrow morning, probably won’t have power.  But if I can continue to make my contribution, it will be because Christine and John and Chris and Angela and Ted and thousands of others are doing their job under significant duress.   Blanche DuBois is not alone in depending on the kindness of strangers.

Thank you and best wishes.

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

October 29, 2012 @ 10:36 am

Many others, including lots of volunteers, are waiting to help out. Our local CERT organization has been called up. When safe to go outside, we will help the local officials with damage assessment and other tasks.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 29, 2012 @ 11:49 am

So the real benefits and costs of a just in time supply chain about to be revealed?

Comment by Benjamin Berg

October 29, 2012 @ 11:56 am

Certainly too early for lessons learned – but I am impressed that in this arena of disaster management, you seem to be making every effort to reduce the number of ‘strangers.’

Comment by Responsible Decision-making

October 31, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

For decades, folks have been forewarned not to build close to the water – that’s a fact. Like the warnings which residents were given far in advance of Sandy’s arrival to evacuate the low lying areas and then some, so many made a decision to ignore not only prior warnings not to build near the water, but in the face of certain calamity, still stubborn in their way….

We are a nation broke by this administration more than any other and a fed policy to print fiat dollars which will eventually result in a devaluation in currence and far worse.

Responsible decision making by people and this even imposing government which has seen the national deficit rise from $10.6 trillion to now over $16 trillion and promised $20 trillion by 2016 is required, but heck, let’s bail out those on the seashore who have no insurance and in their expectations of someone else taking responsibility for their irrational decision to build so close to the waterfront and an every increasing government seeking to enslave as many as possible…well, we are broke and more broke and while other nor’easters will race up the coastline this winter and the Al Gore crowd will all point to global warming, well, it ian’t so folks —

The earth goes through its cycles as it has done from the beginning and like in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the Pacific was cooler than the Atlantic, we had colds and snow and the next weeks and months will bring cold and heavy precipitation and certainly thwarting the efforts to clean up a coastline so devastated. While individuals witnessed the wrath of Hurricane Andrew for example as we seniors, Hurricane Carol and Diane and those before us the tragedy of the Great Storm of ’38 and especially the flooding in Providence and over 600 deaths…and what about the gales of the 1700’s and 1800’s and in 1821 in NYC…

Responsible decision-making strongly points to the fact that those who give little serious consideration as the the wrath of Mother Nature and do not heed cautions and the obvious are irresponsible and unless one is willing to take their chances and if insurance is offered at all and is capable and willing to pay the associated high costs which most Americans are losing their wealth daily, those choosing to reside near the ocean should be responsible for their decision-making and not anyoen else – for after all, they are responsible adults!

God Bless us all!

The calamity which has struck the east coast folks is nothing like the calamity awaiting when the tsunami wave from off of Spain floods far more..be prepared!

Christopher Tingus
Cape Cod

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