Friday, November 2, 2012

The post-Sandy whining is starting to annoy me

I'm finding the post-Superstorm-Sandy angst more and more irritating.  Here are some samples of news reports from just one source (click each headline for more information).

Feeling Forgotten After The Storm

In Staten Island, Yonkers and Bridgeport, Conn. officials lashed out at power companies for responses they called slow and inadequate. And in Coney Island, residents roamed the streets, looking for help and wondering if they had been forgotten.

As millions remained without power for the fourth straight day, tempers began to fray. A growing number of neighborhoods expressed fears that somehow in the massive recovery effort, they had been left behind—even as their supplies dwindled and temperatures dropped.

I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous!  With over 60 million people affected by this storm, which subsided less than four days ago, how the hell do officials expect power companies to respond any faster?  The USAF is flying in power trucks and personnel from as far away as California to help out.  It's not that they're not doing enough - it's that they can't possibly do more!  The same goes for other forms of assistance.  The government doesn't exist to look after you at all times.  If you want more of that, try joining the military, or going to jail.  You get three hots and a cot, most of the time - but not always, and only in exchange for a significant loss of personal liberty.  The latter is the price you pay for the former.

It's going to take weeks, possibly months, to deal with all the damage left by the storm.  Come on, New Yorkers - suck it up, live with it, and get on with what you can do right now to help yourselves.  As President Theodore Roosevelt (himself a New Yorker) famously urged, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are".  I don't think he'd be impressed if he could see you now.

A Grim Fear Engulfs Areas Lacking Light

With floodlights, police patrols and power outlets, authorities in and around New York sought to deter looters and calm nerves in swaths of the region where the lights remained off.

In many places, they succeeded, catching would-be looters and reassuring residents. In others, they failed.

At least 41 people have been arrested in Brooklyn and Queens on looting charges, police said. Some were caught taking food, while others are accused of stealing items such as alcohol and electronics.

. . .

Still, fear and rumors swirled in darkened neighborhoods, including lower Manhattan. Residents worried about thieves posing as officials to get into apartments complexes. Lawmakers voiced concern about those preying on vulnerable, disaster-stricken homeowners.

Too bad, New Yorkers.  You've permitted your city government to restrict your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for decades - in fact, for over a century.  This is the result.  Your criminals have guns, because they don't care about obeying the law in the first place!  If they're prepared to break laws against theft, assault, drug-dealing, murder, etc., what makes you think they'll obey those prohibiting them from possessing firearms?  All you've done by accepting such laws is to disarm yourselves, the law-abiding citizens of the city - and that makes you prey for the (armed) predators among you.

Even owning (let alone carrying) a handgun in New York City involves jumping through so many bureaucratic hoops that it's effectively impossible unless you know (and/or bribe) 'the right people'.  For those who conquer the somewhat lesser bureaucratic obstacles to owning a long gun (i.e. a rifle or shotgun), they at least have available an effective means of home defense (although they're not allowed to carry it with them outside their homes, or in their vehicles).  However, if they use it,  even in legitimate self-defense, they're very likely to be arrested and charged with a crime, because the New York City prosecutorial system is set up to presume that a shooter is, by default, a criminal.  Only those in NYPD uniform are given the benefit of the doubt.

I wouldn't live under a system like that if you paid me . . . but if you've chosen to do so, the consequences are on your own head.  This outbreak of crime is one of them.

Scramble for Cash In Sandy's Wake

Banks hustled to make cash available as persistent power outages in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania from superstorm Sandy kept hundreds of ATMs offline just as the same woes left many businesses demanding cash payments.

. . .

In some areas, it was hard for banks to keep up, as people seemed to be withdrawing more cash than usual.

A Chase ATM housed in a Duane Reade pharmacy in Brooklyn, N.Y., ran out of cash at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to store manager Elizabeth Almonte, who described the lines for the machine since the storm as "insane."

On a typical day, she said, there are generally about four people waiting in line for the ATM. Sunday, she said, lines snaked across the pharmacy and out the doors. She said Chase had said it would put more money in the ATM on Monday but by midday Thursday she hadn't heard from the bank. Customers "understood but were annoyed," she said.

. . .

The demands for cash post-Sandy have come from customers who have fewer withdrawal options thanks to power outages and storm damage, and businesses that are accepting cash only due to communications woes that leave them unable to accept credit and debit cards.

We experienced the same thing after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.  I warned then (and ever since), and many others have warned, of the need to keep a 'nest egg' of cash on hand, available for emergencies like this . . . but too many people either didn't or wouldn't listen.  The result is financial gridlock as everyone discovers at the same time that their bank and credit cards won't work without power, and that banks are unwilling to cash checks if they can't electronically verify that the balance in your account is sufficient to cover the sum you want.

The same goes for keeping basic emergency supplies at home.  Those who've been following my series of articles on emergency preparation (see the list in the sidebar) know that I'm not a manic doomsday prepper.  I've written all of them as encouragement to keep on hand a basic, thirty-day stock of essential supplies, including cash for emergencies, food, a means to prepare it, fuel for cooking and your car(s) (and a generator if you have one), medication, etc.  If you've achieved that level of preparedness, or close to it, you'd most likely be sitting pretty right now in almost any of the areas affected by Sandy.  Unless your home had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable (which has happened to less than one per cent of the buildings affected), you'd have food, light, and all the essentials you need.  It's pretty clear that by the time your supplies ran out, most of the essential services would have been restored.

I suppose the most frustrating thing for me is to read all the appeals for 'the government' - be it federal, state or local - to 'do something'.  They are doing something - they're doing everything possible - but that's simply not enough to cover all sixty-million-odd victims affected by the storm.  If our various governments and their agencies had stockpiled sufficient supplies, and hired and trained enough workers, to cater for every need in a situation like this, they'd have absorbed most of our economy, leaving nothing over to live on!  As President Gerald Ford put it, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have".  I will not live under such a government.  Neither, I trust, will anyone who has any love for liberty, personal responsibility and human and constitutional rights.

If people have been so deaf to entreaty and blind to reality that they've ignored suggestions about emergency preparation from government agencies (federal, state and local), and from people like me who've been through disasters of one sort or another, they're just going to have to suck it up and live with it.  I'm not going to waste any sympathy on them unless they were too poor to afford any preparations at all - and there are vanishingly few such people in the USA today.  Even most of the homeless are better prepared than that!  Just visit one of their camps, and you'll see what I mean.

Finally, more details are beginning to emerge of just how big a job it's going to be to reopen New York's subway trains and road tunnels.  Much will have to wait for the restoration of power and the availability of rail cars to replace those damaged by Sandy.  The armed forces are actively involved in pumping out the tunnels - Wired has a good article illustrating what's involved.  Reading the details in both articles, I doubt whether full service will be restored before next month - possibly some individual tunnels and stations will be out of action for much longer than that.

If you're one of those still suffering from Sandy's after-effects, I hope you're better prepared, and coping better, than most of those reported in the news articles cited above.  Please let us know in Comments how you're doing, and share with us any important lessons you may have learned from this experience.



Rich said...

Thank you for putting so many of my feelings into words.

LSBeene said...

Yea - and those whack-job preppers are fringe nuts who need mental help and gov't investigation.

(sarcasm off)

Murphy's Law said...

What grinds me is that there people, like those in New Orleans, KNEW that this storm was coming and had a week's time in which to get ready for it. They could have left, or secured supplies to hold them for a few days, and obviously many did, but now we're hearing from those who chose to do neither and sat on their asses as the storm approached and now it's someone else's fault that they don't have food/bottled water/gasoline/cash/whatever. My response is: "What did you do to prepare for this?" and if the answer is "nothing", then they just need a kick in the ass.

I was in the path of the storm and I had plenty of time to get ready, and I didn't even need to stockpile anything because I already had everything that I needed as a matter of basic course. Still, if I'd needed anything extra aside from the extra gasoline I laid in, I had all the time in the world to get it.

Anonymous said...

Government - at all levels - exists to serve itself, usually at the expense, financial and otherwise, of those expected to pay for it. Government cares little about the pain your rear end suffers; if you do, well, it's your rear end and your responsibility to care for it, no one else's.

That said, I wonder if this event will result in greater citizen involvement in government and how it operates. In the Deep Blue northeast, I very much doubt it.

I also wonder what mechanism NYC has to remove water from its tunnels, other than bringing pumps in from somewhere else. New Orleans has a number of massive pumps that are permanently installed to keep that city dry. True, NO being below sea level necessitates such action, but anyone with a measuring tape and some thought should be able to figure the same is true for the NYC subway system.

Given that NYC is nearly completely dependent on a functioning subway system for anything approaching "normal" life, one would think that a tad more preparation for water intrusion might be warranted.

Assuming, of course, the unions would allow it....

Peter said...

No New York subway cars were damaged as all had been moved to safe locations in advance of the storm. Some commuter rail cars, mainly those of New Jersey Transit, may be suffered some damage, but nothing too significant.

Here on Long Island, the big problem is that there is almost no gasoline available.

Rev. Paul said...

I wonder if this will finally put to rest the notion that New Yorkers are somehow tougher than the rest of us.

The whining from Nawlins didn't surprise me. This does (although it probably shouldn't).

Peter said...

@Peter at 8.54 am: You're right about most of the damaged railcars being New Jersey Transit units, but unfortunately many commuters use them to connect to NYC subway trains. If they can't make the connection, they're still S.O.L.

I'd also like to hear when (and how) NYC proposes to pump out the hundreds of miles of subterranean tunnels that are not part of the subway rail system. Some sources have claimed the utility tunnels are up to six levels deep, and there are 'urban legends' about those who live in them. Whether the legends are true or false, I can't say . . . but I've not heard a word about when (or even whether) those tunnels will be drained. Any idea?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the shock of NY/NJ/CT residents is that it really does take time to move things. They are so accustomed to having whatever they want/need readily available in a large variety that they have forgotten about logistics and geography. Let's face it, if you live at the far end of an island with a bunch of dangerous debris strewn all over, it will take a while for vehicles to reach you. Some of us are accustomed to having to plan even when things are copacetic. Residents of the megalopolis are not.

My other thoughts are rather uncharitable and I will keep them to myself.


Anonymous said...

Well yes, the whining annoys me (though so does the 'I told you so').

There are in my view, as a born Yankee biased, two New Yorks in play: the whining (but oh-so flashy) media and the ones who built the city and who keep it built, unruly, swaggering, over-confident, gambling urban blue-collar. The latter doesn't make good media copy, being neither pretty nor on welfare.

A generous count since the 1700's is 84 hurricanes have affected NYC as opposed to nearly 500 for Florida. This one had the highest record storm surge for the region. NYC gambled, it lost. Was it wrong to have made the gamble? I don't think so, but then I think that sort of gambling is inherent to the city. It's a trade-off. High risk, high reward, high loss.

The flood plan is being worked on, has been being worked on for about seven years; but the risk was deemed lower than issues of terrorism and lower than the regular issues of, say, snow removal. It will now probably boot terrorism for top priority, finally, to the relief of many New Yorkers who started eyeing the issue of floods back in the early 90's. But the fact of it is that even cities cannot afford to plan for all risks. Budgets get picked over, I can guarantee that buying a new snow plow will always be given precedence over buying sand bags or pumps in New England. And it should.

As for pumping things out, I would hazard the guess that where the power is on, all known levels have been pumped out. I say known, because no one has ever mapped everything under Manhattan.

Frankly, judging by what I know of the city it is clear that a lot of the contingency planning worked quite well. (I won't comment on New Jersey) Certainly a lot better than New Orleans, which should have given far more thought to hurricanes. Was the planning enough? No. Could more have been done? Yes. Should many individuals have done more of their own prep, Absolutely!

Mr.B said...

The thing is that not only did the residents not prepare for the storm surge (much less power outages re: gasoline and food) but the City leaders didn't either.

The storm surge was a short lived phenomenon. But no one bothered to barricade or sandbag the entrances to the subways (and the air vents and building leading to them) Had they done so, the flooding would have been significantly less, both in volume of water and scope of damage. Likely, the tunnels would be dry already.

One thought re: generators: While gasoline powered gensets are cheaper (but not by much) diesel has the advantage of lower demand after a storm, essentially unlimited shelf life (if stored properly) and is much less volatile when in storage (and therefore safer). In a pinch, nearly any piece of construction equipment can be a fuel source, as can locomotives or a lot of other equipment. In addition, the amount of power per gallon/hour is a little less than TWICE the amount for a similarly sized gasoline powered generator. I'll be that any gas station (which carries diesel) that has power still has diesel in stock.

Peter said...

There is no huge network of non-subway tunnels under Manhattan. There are underground utilities, of course, but they run through conduits rather than actual tunnels. There is also an enormous water tunnel being built under parts of the city, a decades-long undertaking that is said to be the world's largest construction project, but I haven't heard anything about flooding. Because it's very deep, far below the normal water table, it's a safe assumption that the tunnel's well-protected against flooding.

The stories of an army of "mole people" living in tunnels under Manhattan have been debunked, many times. What gave these stories some credence is the fact that perhaps as many as several hundred people actually did live in an abandoned railroad tunnel under the far West Side back in the 1970's and 1980's. More than 20 years ago, however, Amtrak began using the tunnel and all the inhabitants were ejected.

Graybeard said...

While there's plenty of blame to go around, let's not forget the incompetence of FEMA. This time, they didn't even put the contract to supply water to area up to bid until yesterday. Granted, people could have and should have taken more responsibility for their own preps, there's not much you can do about it if your house is gone off its foundation or burned to ground in the fires that spread, and we've seen plenty of those pictures.

So yeah, the government, like the retarded giant that it is, is trying to get things moving. And they're doing well in some cases. But they could do better. A good rule of thumb is that there is nothing they are good at.

Like you, I live in hurricane country and live by recommendations like yours. In my mind, one of the reasons I'm prepared is so that the aid can go to the people that get their house swept off it's foundation or burned to the ground. Plus, not having to leave the property in the aftermath of a "bad thing" means much less chance of having to face wolf packs.