The difficulties that the Northeast has had re-establishing basic services to homes and local businesses and to serving evacuees prompt me to re-evaluate my initial evaluation that the state and localities were doing well in recovering from the storm. It is clear now that no governmental body or agency had prepared for a disaster of this scope. It is clear that FEMA was useless for days afterwards. Supposedly pre-positioned electricity generators were often not pre-positioned and not matched to the jobs they were supposed to do. There were no plans in place for gasoline stations and rationing. It was difficult to transition local public sector first responders, transportation, and utility services to become cleanup and recovery services. Why did the NYC subway authority have to bring in scores of small generators to pump out the subways and stations that were flooded? Why were adequate pumps not ready at reserve? Or even built into the system?
The private sector was much better prepared. Major stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart, major utility providers of electricity and gas, and major manufacturers, as of small home generators, were well prepared. The electrical utilities deal often with local storms that knock down trees on lines and topple poles. Their major problem was manpower; I heard in a radio news story today that thousands of line workers have been flown in from out of state to help Jersey Central electric. (Was that part of a prepared contingency plan or represented an emergency call at last moment?) Private charities were also prepared, e.g., Red Cross. Given the photos of streets with common phone and electricity poles down, even as a new snow falls, a week after the storm passed is an indication of inadequate manpower reserves.
The public sector by contrast appeared to have had no plans to deal with the need for a lot more manpower, the major need in the recover. Tens of thousands of men and women, equipped with axes and chain saws and trucks to haul away debris were needed. Where were they? The national guard was brought in, but to do what? There is much we don't know about medical and hospital services during the storm and in the week after. There is much we don't know about pre-positioning of medical supplies. We know that the private financial sector in Manhattan has, since 9/11, basically moved its backroom to, or installed duplicate facilities in, New Jersey and Connecticut, in case the island is struck by another terror attack. Has the medical system done the same? I don't think so; at least, I have not seen news about such a matter.
In all, it is now difficult to escape the impression that all governments of the Northeast were not prepared for a disaster of this scope. If so, then they are not prepare for a wartime attack that inflicts similar damage. Or for a public epidemic. Indeed, for any public emergency of broad scope.
Time for an investigation of failures. Time for planning by state and local governments that takes into account regional disasters.