“I should prefer Mozart. Mostly I listen to 70s hits.”
“I should eat a hot breakfast, but usually have a powerbar instead.”
“I should work-out three or four times a week, maybe I walk around the block twice.”
Should has become moralistic. It is typically used as a kind of anti-verb, ascribing — often anticipating — non-action.
I have heard a lot of “shoulds” in regard to the explosion of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility. The April 17 blast killed 14 and injured more than 190 in the town of 2700.
“We should regulate better.”
“We should put buffer zones in place.”
“We should be more realistic about the threat.”
“We should do a better job sharing what we know about the risk.”
“We should focus more on pre-event prevention and mitigation.”
More plural pronouns than singulars it seems.
According to a November 2012 analysis undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, 6,985 chemical facilities self-report they pose a risk to populations greater than 1,000. There are 90 that self-report a worst-case risk affecting up to 1 million people.
The West facility was not included in the CRS analysis. They did not self-report — or evidently self-conceive — a worst case scenario that would seriously harm anyone.
As regular readers know I have for a few years worked on catastrophe preparedness.
One of the most remarkable — and absolutely predictable — aspects of this gig is the readiness — preference really — by nearly everyone to define catastrophe as something non-catastrophic. I saw it again last week and this. It extends across the public-private divide and every level of government. When a few of us argue otherwise we are being pedantic, unrealistic, and wasting people’s time.
We should give regular time and energy — maybe five percent of overall effort — to truly catastrophic risks: Global pandemic, significant earthquakes and cyclonic events hitting major urban areas, sustained collapse of the electrical grid whatever the cause. Each of these could have far-reaching secondary and tertiary effects. In some regions I would include wildfire and flooding. If you have a chemical storage or processing facility nearby that is absolutely worth worst-case thinking now not later.
In many cases the most important issues relate to the mitigation of systemic vulnerabilities that are threat-agnostic. “Fixing” vulnerabilities can reduce consequences for a whole host of threats, including non-catastrophic threats.
USA Today editorialized, “The Boston Marathon bombings overshadowed the disaster in Texas, but what happened in West was deadlier, and preventing the next fertilizer accident should command serious attention.”
There’s that anti-verb again.
And how I wish I’d, wish I’d thought a little bit more
Now shoulda, woulda, coulda I means I’m out of time
Shoulda, woulda, coulda can’t change your mind
And I wonder, wonder what I’m going to do
Shoulda, woulda coulda are the last words of a fool
Can’t change your mind
Can’t change your mind