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Blizzard 2013 storm prep sharpened by experience in Katrina and Sandy

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To be sure, critics suggest that far too few Americans are prepared for big storms and other disasters, backed up by a Wakefield Research poll last year that showed 53 of Americans don’t have more than three days of food stashed, and 55 percent believe local authorities will rescue them in case of disaster.

Moreover, in the wake of hurricane Sandy, utility companies especially were raked over the coals for an at-times patchy response and, more critically, poor communications with stranded residents. Sandy also showed that the Northeast had not adopted some key lessons from Katrina, including gasoline stocking, which resulted in rationing. In an information age, storms have also exposed weaknesses in the telecommunications grid, where old-school technologies – landline phones and even ham radio operators – have shown that they’re still relevant.

“It appears that some of the lessons learned from Katrina had no impact on disaster recovery planning in the Northeast,” Darren Hayes, a professor a Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, in New York City, wrote recent in the Hill newspaper.

Yet the Blizzard of 2013, though not nearly as powerful as Sandy, also showed that governments and citizens continue to learn and adapt to what’s become a parade of big storms, including the importance of signing preemptive, sometimes Draconian, executive orders to keep people safe.

In the case of Massachusetts, the most controversial, and potentially life-saving, change came from the reaction of Gov. Deval Patrick, who instituted a preemptive no-drive order at 4 p.m. Friday, punishable by up to a year in jail. The last time a no-drive order was issued was during the Blizzard of ’78, but Gov. Patrick’s decision to use it preemptively pointed to an advancement in both thinking and weather prognosis.

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