When disaster looms, you want to hear from the experts, not politicians

If you have the unfortunate circumstance to suspect that you have cancer and you go to your doctor to have a battery of tests run to determine what the problem is, who do you want to have talk to you about the results? I am going to go out on a limb here and assume it’s not the hospital’s CEO. They very well may be an MD, sure, but they run the hospital. You want to hear from the specialist who has studied cancer, what ever form it may be, for their entire career. What good is the CEO going to do? Probably very little.

So why is it that during a hurricane threat to a large city that we are hearing from the mayors of those cities? When did this become accepted practice? What on earth are the emergency management agencies there for if the mayor is going to be running the disaster? At least that is how the public perceives it, right?

Think back to Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was a household name. Why? He is a politician, not a hurricane expert. He has a role, certainly, but I felt like it should have been to introduce the people of New Orleans to his highly trained team of hurricane planning experts who would be in charge of dealing with Katrina.

Even big Hollywood movies get it right most of the time. When some extinction level event is just over the horizon, yeah, we hear from the President who tells us all to remain calm, treat each other with kindness etc, but then we meet the hero, the scientist who has all the answers as to how to stop the menace that could wipe out mankind. Not once has it been the mayor.

Let’s fast forward from 2005 to 2012 and hurricane Sandy. There have been numerous documentaries made about the fate of New York City should a major hurricane come calling. We’ve all seen it: Lower Manhattan will flood. The New York Bight will jam up the water, spilling it over the Battery, flooding the World Trade Center site. It would be utter chaos and lead to the shutdown of the subway systems, paralyzing parts of the Big Apple for days if not weeks. Maybe that was the problem. These shows were all based on a major hurricane, usually a category three or higher. Sandy was definitely not a major hurricane in the Atlantic. Is this why it was not taken seriously by the mayor of New York City? Were there not experts available to tell him that the size of Sandy meant that an unimaginable amount of water was going to be pushed towards the coast?

Once again where were the city’s emergency management staff? Why was the mayor in charge of Sandy and thus the fate of millions of New Yorkers? Knowing what we know now, wouldn’t it have been better for a hurricane or storm surge expert be introduced during those press conferences to explain what was about to happen and why? Don’t people inherently want to hear from their fellow humans who have more knowledge about a phenomenon than they? I just don’t get it.

The mayor is not the expert here. It is my opinion that his role is to introduce the public to the people who are in charge of the event. Let them come out and explain the how’s and why’s. I just think that the public would be better served hearing from the people whose job it is to plan and manage something like a hurricane or superstorm or Godzilla.

My advice to the general public is simple. Look for the expert information from those who are trained and educated to provide such. In the case of Sandy and every other hurricane event since the Internet has been so prevalent, I have preached over and over again the use of weather.gov. You want to know what to expect and approximately when to expect it? Read the watch/warning info, the hazardous weather bulletins, the hurricane local statements, etc, etc. It’s all there – you paid for it with your taxes. I cannot even begin to imagine how many times I have read those very statements aloud to hundreds of people at a time watching our live stream during a field mission.

I have never, not one single time, suggested to anyone listening to the sound of my voice or reading my blogs, Tweets or Facebook posts that they call the mayor of their city to find out what to expect from hurricane X. We’ll see if we’ve learned anything from all of this in due time. I hope, for the sake of the people who live in harm’s way, that emergency management gets the attention that it deserves and was set up to accomplish.

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