Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Rhetoric

On Saturday just before Hurricane Irene hits Long Island, I venture, very early in the morning, into the local supermarket to make sure I have extra bread at home.  My food passions are dark chocolate and good bread and if I’m going to be stuck at home, I may as well have the necessary comfort foods.  As I am waiting to pay, there is a middle age man nearby loudly complaining and getting a sympathetic response from those around him.  The complaint is in regard to the technological progress we have made in this man’s lifetime and before, and the fact that we have not yet learned how to tame the weather.  And the bottom line of the rhetoric is that we are no better off in regard to Mother Nature then we were 50 or 100 years ago.

My goal that Saturday morning was to do what I needed to do in terms of getting ready.  I was anxious to get back home to move the deck furniture into the garage and therefore I chose not to enter the conversation. In reality, it’s not my style to enter into someone else’s conversation, especially given I didn’t know the man doing most of the talking nor did I know the individuals that were now also part of the conversation.

On the Thursday before Hurricane Irene hits Long Island, our president convened the first of a series of meetings to coordinate the University’s efforts in regard to Hurricane Irene, and it is clear that much work has already been done.  We are fortunate that the fall semester doesn’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, and therefore there is only a small minority of our students on campus. Nevertheless, we spend considerable time reviewing measures to ensure the safety of the students on campus, we review communications to all members of our community, we review facilities and we talk through that all contingency plans are in place.  We listen to all the latest weather briefings and we are clearly well prepared.  Subsequently, we also use our emergency communication procedures to reach out to our entire community via phone calls, text messages, as well as our website, Facebook and Twitter. 

Listening to the Mayor of New York, and the County Executives of Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, it is clear that careful planning for all likely contingencies has taken place throughout the area ( and throughout the entire east coast ).  I don’t remember any other time in my lifetime when area mass transit as well as all local airports were all shutdown and closed. And Broadway being dark for weather related reasons for two days is also another first as is the mandatory evacuation of substantial areas on Long Island and in New York City. Safety concerns were clearly a top priority.

But the key to all this careful preparation is the much more precise knowledge we have in regard to hurricanes, and the much more sophisticated technology we have to reach out to members of our university communities as well as the larger area communities.  Our tracking of storms is impressive and together with proper planning, the much more sophisticated communications capability makes an enormous positive difference, especially in terms of safety.  We also have much more information available much more quickly to assess and respond to what has happened.  Mother Nature hasn’t changed but we have—thanks in great measure to technology.  

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