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Sitting in the dark

November 8, 2012

One has to feel compassion for the people and communities for whom Hurricane Sandy has been an unmitigated disaster. We here in the Upper Delaware Valley were lucky; we were spared the worst of what the storm had to offer, though even we did not escape totally unscathed.

Pictures taken as little as 100 miles away from us show the ruin left in Sandy’s wake: devastated communities and families, hurting and often angry people. More misery is likely to follow as the impact of vanished infrastructure and lost or damaged businesses and personal property extends beyond areas shattered by the storm. Rebuilding is going to require everyone’s help.

Contemplating the many painful consequences of Sandy, frustration, anger and fear seem perfectly rational reactions of those affected who feel powerless over what has happened in their lives. Here at home, many thousands of us who spent some portion of last week sitting in the dark also have some sense of vulnerability, knowing how little control we had over what was happening around us.

The truth is that we are utterly dependent on a complex infrastructure of producers and distributors who deliver life’s essential goods—electricity to our homes, fuel to gas stations, food to grocery stores and more. Even the conscientious, who take preparedness seriously, cannot control a natural disaster that befalls the delivery of gasoline to our local gas station or food to our neighborhood grocery. (Other events over which we have no control such as the stock market meltdown of 2008 also come to mind.)

Many of us expect government to ride to the rescue. But Hurricane Katrina, the storm that left New Orleans a shadow of its former self, demonstrated how government can do only so much. Furthermore, we live in times when tight budgets mean government likely will be able to do less, not more, for us.

The question then becomes, what can we do for ourselves and our communities to be less vulnerable and more resilient? On one hand, there is one kind of emergency preparedness: the kind that finds us stocking up on food, water, petroleum, batteries, lanterns, or even purchasing a generator. On the other, there is a kind of preparedness that requires knowledge and skills to weather a variety of crises or prolonged difficult times.