Nyack Sketch Log: Brave New Normal

by Bill Batson

On a recent phone call with President Barack Obama, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo observed that we seem to have a one hundred year storm every year now. Fortunately for us, the senior levels of government are providing more than gallows humor in the aftermath of the super storm Sandy. As a resident of a county declared a disaster area, I feel well represented by the federal, state, regional and local governments that are overseeing this natural catastrophe. But are we ready for the next storm, like the one that is coming literally and figuratively tomorrow?

There is a compelling truth in Cuomo’s jest. You don’t need a weatherman to know that storm winds are blowing more ferociously and that the path of devastation cut by each storm is getting wider and deeper. And with each storm season, the eventuality of power outages is becoming more certain and the duration of the outages is getting longer.

Even in the best-case scenario, when elected officials and the media provide ample warning and issue thoughtful tips for storm preparations, the impacts are onerous. The loss of life and property from these extreme storms is rising. And for those who are spared a direct hit, the collateral damage of lengthy power outages is not what we are accustomed to in our modern, industrialized nation. Welcome to the brave new normal.

Utilities, like Orange & Rockland, need to demonstrate to consumers and public officials that they can cope with a hundred year storm every year. If utilities need funds to update their infrastructure, or even radically change the delivery system, like burying power lines like New York City did after the lethal blizzard of 1888, then they need to put those costs on the table. The alternative is just as costly. Can our public health and safety and our economy survive a yearly two-week power disruption? Since O & R has a virtual monopoly of delivering electricity, the legislature needs to find a way, through either incentive-based or punitive measures, to demand the improvements that corporations that face competition must undertake.

Gas stations should be required to install generators so that they can continue to distribute fuel when power disruptions occur. Even though post-Sandy fuel shortages resulted from barges being unable to off-load shipments, stations that had fuel, and could not pump exacerbated the early stages of the problem.

Institutions that depend on generators, like hospitals and water treatment plants, need to have protocols to ensure that they can continue to operate on generator power for a least a month in the event that the portion of the electrical grid that they rely on is destroyed and must be rebuilt.

With the prospects of future “super” storms, a new protocol of personal responsibility is also in order. Having a go bag is no longer sufficient. We need to stage giant stay bags. People now need to assemble enough provisions to shelter-in-place for at least two weeks. And since there are many in our community without the personal, physical and financial wherewithal to accumulate sufficient supplies, we need to develop a data base of the elderly and infirm on a community-by-community basis so that when storms hit, we can systematically reach out to these at-risk individuals. Yes, we need to be able to take care of ourselves when governments and utilities cannot supply a secure and uninterrupted power supply, but I don’t think any of us want to concede survival in a crisis should be an every-man-for-themselves affair.

We should also try to develop some indoor alternatives to Halloween, like the Monster Mash that Nyack Center throws every year, because it seems as though Mother Nature likes to send tricks, and not treats every late October.

Governor Cuomo argued on the Rachel Maddow Show, that we may not be able to agree on the cause of extreme weather, but the harmful effects of these events are inarguable. As residents of a river village in a coastal region, we need to get serious about storm preparedness. For those who attended any of the daily emergency town hall meetings at 11a at Village Hall, the indomitable spirit of our community that was on display is this storm’s silver lining. We need to bank some of that silver, because there are storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

This week’s sketch is of the remains of Jerry Donnellan’s Houseboat. My next sketch log entry will honor Jerry’s service as a Vietnam War-era veteran and the Director of the County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency on the occasion of Veterans Day.

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