Hurricane politics

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
August 30, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

At my old high school, policy was that absent teachers were substituted with Mr Bean videos.

In primary school, AWOL educators were generally replaced with Commodore 64s. Not completely impoverished, but we only had two games, one involved tuck shop management the other Raft-Away-River. The latter was my game of choice.

As a temporary resident of Massachusetts – declared a state of emergency on Sunday – I convinced myself that all those bundles-o’-sticks that I collected and sea crafts I built prepared me for surviving Irene. You know, in lieu of the actual preparation I eschewed.

I did stroll down my local Wal-Mart’s hurricane aisle on Saturday, eyeballing enormous bottles of water and mega-boxes of Cheerios. Watching trolleys fill up around me, I did briefly ponder stockpiling. But it really is a very long trek back to my place, even empty-handed.

But my laziness in the face of possible adversity wasn’t based solely on the psychic down the road staying put, of my ha-ha memories of Y2K, or of my genuine, visceral disinclination to being hunkered down with a trough of tasteless cereal.

No, my real rationale for not dragging a generator the mile and a half back to my place was faith. Not the religious kind, but my perhaps uncharacteristic confidence in my foster government. The local news was offering me round-the-clock storm coverage. Pretty gosh-darn convincing FEMA press conferences were happening on the hour. The national guard were in town to do the raft-building and at least in my part of tiny-town Massachusetts, the rain and wind was unspectacular enough to predict we’d all see Monday.

Irene dissipated, there were only a dozen or so deaths, the big and oh-so-important cities fared better than expected and suddenly people were querying overkill. Was it all just hurricane hype? Did Obama waste our time, our money, our ulcer medication yet again?

The one “good” thing to come out of most natural disasters are the lessons. What worked, what didn’t, who should be randomly fired to spare a fat-cat’s arse. Of all that was learnt from Katrina, from Black Saturday, was the need for forethought. Giving people enough information to make their fight/flight decisions. Dragooning people out of homes, if needed, before it becomes impossible. Having water and Cheerios on hand for those too weak to schlep it themselves.

Few governments, most certainly not the beleaguered Obama administration, could ride out the political onslaught of an avoidable death toll. Few governments could weather the storm of people bemoaning that they didn’t have access to information, that they weren’t helped, that they were stranded.

“Overkill” is a very easy word to bandy about when most of us woke up dry, when our raft-building skills weren’t tested, when we could still plug in our hairdryers.

“Overhyped” is a bloody brutal word for the families of those that drowned, whose homes were inundated and for those folk who won’t be recharging their iPods anytime soon.

Better safe than sorry is a very expensive adage for a country wallowing in debt. Debt though, if compounded with greater death tolls, deluge and destruction would be a fate few governments could have survived.

Overzealous perhaps, but there’s something to be said for the confidence instilled by a pretty successful practice run. And come Monday morning my local – and generally empty – gym was sweating up its own storm. Complete with Seal over the PA.

A little survivor vigour can’t be a bad thing for town.

© Lauren Rosewarne