Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Over-hyped? Short Answer: No

Instapundit seems to believe the media overplayed Hurricane Irene, as he links to a number of posts that try ot make the case.  First, we get Toby Harden who labels it the Perfect Storm of Hype:

The TV anchors were expressing their relief at the good news that the east coast had “dodged a bullet” and Irene had not been the apocalypse they had predicted.

Perhaps it would be a bit too much to hope that they and certain politicians felt a little sheepish too.


I’ve seen worse damage—and had longer power interruptions (my power went out last night at 3 am for a grand total of two minutes)—from normal severe summer thunderstorms.

They link to Howard Kurtz, who says "don't believe the hyp"e:

Someone has to say it: cable news was utterly swept away by the notion that Irene would turn out to be Armageddon. National news organizations morphed into local eyewitness-news operations, going wall to wall for days with dire warnings about what would turn out to be a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest possible ranking....I say this with all due respect to the millions who were left without power, to those communities facing flooding problems, and of course to the families of the 11 people (at last count) who lost their lives in storm-related accidents.

And here Glenn Reynolds seems to go after Chris Christie a bit as well with this note, echoing Harden:  Chris Christie: ‘No regrets’ on evacuations.

OK, so let's address all this, shall we?

With all due respect to the bloggers that were completely unaffected by the storm, I can say from my perch in New Jersey that the precautionary measures and the media warning saved lives (and not just a few) and prevented untold amounts of property damage, both private and public.

One (only, one thankfully) story:

In the Garden State, where beaches were battered and boardwalks were broken up, a Salem County woman called 911 early yesterday after her car was swept away by floodwaters....

A State Police SWAT team rushed to Route 40 in Pilesgrove, but not before the rising waters submerged the car and killed the 20-year-old driver behind the wheel.

There were flash floods everywhere in New Jersey, as 8-10 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in an already saturated state.  Were it not for the "dire" warnings, how many other families, thinking they were seeing just a "severe summer storm", would have gone out for a family drive on Sunday, and gotten themselves killed?  Miles of the Garden State Parkway were covered in water - imagine the danger to both citizens and rescue crews had folks simply driven right into it?  And the chaos that would have ensued diverting a summer weekend's worth of traffic onto side streets for dozens of miles?  Not to mention folks that would have gotten killed by falling trees, not an uncommon occurrence even in the aforementioned "summer thunderstorm"...


And in New York, the mass transit shutdown may have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.  No sh*t.  Entire trainyards and bus yards were submerged,  with the vehicles themselves only saved from the junkyard because Bloomberg shut down the system and moved them to higher ground.  Imagine the cost of replacing this infrastructure?  With subway tunnels flooded, hundreds if not thousands would have needed rescue, putting first responders at unnecessary risk.  And, of course, later flooding the city with lawsuits....

I'm sure the owner feels "sheepish" for evacuating...

And the evacuations?  Again, lives were saved- both citizens and government - by clearing out high-risk areas that - lo and behold! - actually flooded.  While Chris Christie does have some hurricane-related issues to be defensive about, ordering evacuations of the barrier islands is not one of them.

So why the taunting from bloggers?  Part of it is justified - there was a certain blood lust in the media, especially when it became clear that NYC would be hit.  After all, every disaster movie worth it's salt has to have an epic "fall of New York" scene; the greatest city would by nature have the greatest destruction.  And the media took advantage of that, and perhaps should have tempered it's enthusiasm by honestly predicting that Hurricane Irene could devolve into a tropical storm by landfall in the Big Apple.

But part of the blogger's joy here is undeserved bravado:  They were unaffected, they thought it was no big deal, they escaped unscathed, therefore the media blew it big-time.  While they piously show distressed for the 2 million without power, well...I know many of these folk, and most of them heeded warnings and stocked up for this eventuality.  If they didn't, they'd be thirsty and starving as well as inconveineced.

And what would the above bloggers be doing then?  Why, blaming the very same governments who actually did something right this time.  Shaking their heads, they would have wondered why no one learned the lessons of Katrina, loud demands for heads to roll would have already been issued, certain political careers would be determined as "finished" (see Christie, Chris) and they would be writing long pieces (like this one) on what they feel should be done to save lives "next time".

Hey - glad Glenn and Toby stayed dry, happy Steven Hayward suffered minimal damage, and I am always pleased Howard Kurtz's snark did not get washed away with the surf.  But their safety does not indicate how close a call it was for many others, and how local governments - with no help from the feds - did their job properly when faced with an imminent disaster.

Maybe that should be the real story here...

UPDATE: Professor Jacobson opines that it's big city folks - safe in their rent-controlled apartments - sticking it to suburban America again...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good day,

I'm studying a master in Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I'm writing you to ask for your permission to use an entry from your blog for my graduation project. The entry in question is titled "Hurricane Irene: Over-hyped? Short Answer: No", published on August 29, 2011 on the blog Right, Wing-Nut! (

My graduation project is an interactive map of stories about hurricane Irene. It's intended to motivate people at risk of disasters (such as hurricanes) to start thinking what to do about them now, instead of waiting until they are about to happen, which most people do. The project will show a map with the trajectory of hurricane Irene, and different search criteria to access stories within the map. Those stories can be annotated with comments from other users different than the author's story, in a similar way a blog entry can be commented. In my system though, the intent is to purposefully direct the discussed topic on how to handle disasters taking each story as a starting point.

One of my graduation requirements is to demo my project to my committee. For that purpose, I've built a database of blog-posts to fill in the system. I'd like to add your story to that database. I can provide an image of the interface if want to know how you're story would look like if included in the interactive map.

If you grant me permission, your entry will be used exclusively for non-commercial and educational purposes while the project remains in its demo phase. If this project is ever used for other purposes different than a demo, your blog-entry will not be included.

I'd really appreciate if you allowed me to use your experience from Hurricane Irene to make a better project, and potentially help other people in the future.