In the twelve days since Sandy rolled up the Jersey shore and her winds tore across New York harbor people have died, families have lost their homes, and whole neighborhoods have been destroyed. The vulnerabilities of systems on which modern life depends — especially power, communications, and fuel — have been dramatically exposed.
Mistakes have been made in responding to the crisis. There has been delay, confusion, and bad judgment. I have seen some of these problems up close and personal. I have made my own contributions. I have read of many more errors. Several examples have been sent to me by readers.
I have also seen — and heard reports of — kindness, courage, and generosity. I have seen planning assumptions and preparedness exercises confirmed. I have seen professionals giving fully of their energy and intelligence to serve those in need. One night in New Jersey a huge caravan of enormous utility trucks passed me heading north. It occurred to me that the Interstate and Defense Highway System has never been needed to move tanks against an enemy, but it’s sure helpful to move mutual aid… and food, pharma, and much more.
At the very end of the caravan was a Red Cross ambulance with Texas plates. As traffic slowed, I read a sign on its side explaining it was a gift from the people of Kuwait to a community in Texas (Killeen maybe, I don’t remember). That’s really long-distance mutual aid.
Thursday afternoon Governors Christie (NJ) and Cuomo (NY) each gave separate media briefings. One of my mistakes was yesterday’s post worrying that the true cost of Sandy was not yet being recognized. Cuomo’s remarks suggest there is a full realization of what the winds have wrought and the implications for recovery.
Governor Christie mostly provided an update on various public services and thanked those who have been involved in the response. Chris Christie is certainly not shy to call someone an idiot or worse when he thinks it is deserved. Especially in that context, I was struck yesterday by his defense of those who were doing their best to respond. Even while 400,000 New Jersey residents remain without power (150,000 new or repeat outages from the nor’easter), the Governor commended the utility companies and especially their crews, who “worked right through the snowstorm. They are doing a good job.”
When a reporter asked a question inviting the Governor to pound-the-utilities, he responded instead, “The villain in this case is Sandy.” (Governor Cuomo did not need to be invited to pound away.)
The storm is exposing systemic vulnerabilities and bad judgment that could reasonably be blamed on two or three generations of private and public officials and many survivors and victims of the storm. I suggest it is helpful to look for lessons-learned and unhelpful to seek who to blame.
On a really great day about 80 percent of my plans make some progress. On most days, without much interference, I only hit sixty-to-seventy percent of my targets. Under stress, complication, and confusion the percentage further declines. A quarter-century ago I had some venture capital experience; about two-thirds of investments were expected to fail.
Failure is not a villain. Failure can be a really good friend. Friendship is much more likely when — instead of punishing failure — we embrace it, ask it questions, and listen to it teach us.