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Hurricane Irene: Did New York over-react?

 
    • [Deleted user] said...
    • User
    • 31 Aug 2011, 01:34

    Hurricane Irene: Did New York over-react?

    BBC


    By Michael Goldfarb
    Writer and broadcaster



    New Yorkers did not always start panic-buying before a category one storm. Is this new phenomenon connected with the way the media increasingly pervade and govern our lives?

    The first thing I did on Monday, even before drinking coffee, was go online to check the news. I had to know how things were going in the city of my birth.

    When I had gone to bed Saturday night, New York had shut down as Hurricane Irene approached, parts of it had been evacuated, the subway closed. There was panic buying in the supermarkets.

    "The headlines today make it clear - people lost their lives, property was damaged, a million homes were left without power”I found that the New York Times had helpfully put a box on its home page listing the weather conditions in Central Park and out at the airports. The wind was blowing... wait for it... at 16mph in the park, 43mph at Kennedy airport.

    Forty-three miles per hour? That's a breezy day in Britain. That's the kind of wind speed we like to go for a walk in after lunch on Boxing Day. Throw in a few needles of rain and it's mother nature's own cure for Christmas period over-indulgence.

    Not for the first time I wondered aloud about the kind of group hysteria that more and more often seems to sweep parts of my native land from top to toe. From politicians and television "news" people, to ordinary folks who should know better.


    Gloria

    The storm was just category one when New York shut down. Yet panic seemed to be everywhere!


    Weather happens, and very rarely to a manmade timetable

    I posted on Facebook a terse, slightly vulgar message to my East Coast friends, which ended - "My Rule of thumb: category one, wear a rain coat... Don't panic buy until it gets to category four."

    Not everyone saw the humour in my comments, particularly those who live in Vermont or New Jersey, the places that bore the brunt of the rain. It was mostly my older male friends who got my joke. Maybe it's a function of age. We've seen it all before and aren't going to get too worried about a little ol' cat one thing.

    A few weeks before I left New York for London in 1985, Hurricane Gloria hit town. There was a similar chorus of doom in the press, although not as much general hysteria. I remember going for a walk around my East Village block as the eye passed near by, misquoting King Lear's mad scene on the heath:

    "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes ... "

    I love that "Hurricanoes". Kept shouting the word over and over into the wind.

    Anyway, an old buddy of mine from acting days in New York wisely gave up the theatre and moved to a small island off the coast of South Carolina (not so wise, perhaps) and got into sustainable farming.

    Comet Kohoutek hype

    - First sighted in March 1973 by Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek.

    - In December 1973, it was visible to the naked eye - but failed to live up to its billing in the media as "the comet of the century".

    - The founder of the Children of God movement, David Berg, saw Kohoutek as a signal of a doomsday event, that would hit the US in January 1974 - this also failed to materialise.
    As the storm approached he messaged that he was certain it wouldn't hit his island because he had just bought a generator. After it had passed without much ado he compared it to the furore surrounding Comet Kohoutek.

    Age also teaches us that weather happens... very rarely to a man-made timetable and, as Irene demonstrated, where mankind expects it to be. The worst storm I've ever lived through was the notorious wind that blew at 134mph across southern England in 1987. Famously, BBC weatherman Michael Fish did not predict it.


    Bigging up

    This isn't to ignore Irene's destructiveness or her size. The headlines and dramatic photos make it clear, people lost their lives, property was damaged, a million homes were left without power.

    But the destruction that took place in Philadelphia, north Jersey and Vermont notwithstanding, there was an over-reaction in advance of the event.

    A perfect feedback loop was created between politicians, news media, and a general public whose behaviour is increasingly sculpted by the news media. I think there are several reasons for this.


    Irene (top right) over New England

    First, the lingering political aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one of the rare weather events that did unfold as expected. There was every reason to expect it would it be dreadful, yet so little was done to effectively prepare for it. Now politicians don't want to be behind the curve on a major disaster, so they get far out in front of it. They act as if the worst will happen, when it rarely does.

    Second, people like to be frightened. That's why any decent-grossing horror movie can be turned into a franchise. Nightmare on Elm Street, 29, Scare Me Again, Freddie. Local television news has long been a source of scaremongering in America. Bigging up a category one storm into the next Katrina is good for ratings.

    I think there is a third reason. American society has finally become "media-tised". By that I mean many people (by no means all) find it hard to consider something real unless they encounter it via media: TV, computer, whatever. Experience is secondary.

    You may have lived through a dozen category one hurricanes in your life and know precisely what precautions to take - do we have candles in the house and c-size batteries for the flash lights in case the power goes off? Should we get those boxes of books off the basement floor in case it floods again?

    Amusing Ourselves to Death

    - Published in 1985 by media theorist Neil Postman (1931-2003).

    - It argues that television as a medium is the enemy of rational argument, because viewers are only passively involved.

    - Postman classes television news as a form of entertainment.

    - In the TV age, he says, politics becomes less about ideas than about image and presentation.
    Instead, you race down to Costco or the local supermarket and join the general panic. Cancel a week's worth of business meetings. Even though your experience tells you there will be heavy rain and not much more.

    Anyway, a better place to follow my idea about media-tisation is in Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, published back in 1985. It is a visionary work, and if Postman had lived long enough my guess is he would have written a sequel called Frightening Ourselves to Death.

    Today, my end of the Facebook counter-reality is alive with jokes: "Whooooooo-eee! That was close!" and, YouTube footage of flooding and streakers running buck nekkid through the rain. Truly, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

    Michael Goldfarb is a former London bureau chief for National Public Radio. He now writes from London for Globalpost and is a regular contributor to Dateline London on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. He worked (and occasionally got paid) as an actor in New York in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • No, NYC did not overreact.

    -G.

    • lawynd said...
    • User
    • 31 Aug 2011, 13:09
    Closing the subway? Evacuating parts of the city? Panic buying? For what's a gentle breeze over here, that's WAY overreacting.

    Official recorder of Schrödinger's Tampon.

    Quote of the moment - "They tried to get me to eat haggis but I couldn't stomach it."
    • Skiye said...
    • Forum Moderator
    • 31 Aug 2011, 16:49
    i believe the "media hype" was to get people to try and be safe/prepare for the storm because forecasters weren't exactly sure what to expect in the beginning - as well as for some of the points daddyp mentioned (comparison/horror effect, ratings, etc). also, people are usually lazy and dumb (for the most part), so getting a reaction from them sometimes takes drastic/dramatized measures. over-react? maybe a bit, but its better to be safe than sorry - i am sure if the city of new york "under-reacted" it would have been a similar situation to what occurred this past winter there. personally, i think vermont should have done what nyc did - i believe they got it worse than new york. new jersey is still flooded pretty bad as well. im not local enough to virginia and the carolinas to have great detail on the extent of their damage, but im sure its costly indeed and no less horrific...

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2032171/Hurricane-Irene-Vermont-town-struggling-states-community-unreachable-ground-crews.html

  • No they didn't overreact. Its the flooding, not the wind that gets most people.

    • dankine said...
    • User
    • 31 Aug 2011, 17:49
    sounds like they did

  • lawynd said:
    Closing the subway? Evacuating parts of the city? Panic buying? For what's a gentle breeze over here, that's WAY overreacting.


    So you haven't noticed how New Jersey (next door) is indeed flooded and how the NYC subway is underground?

    I'd rather city officials overreact and then breathe easy than the other way around. Remember that the US is a country were some damn idiot always manages to kill himself and then act like he didn't know (that he shouldn't surf in a hurricane, play with dynamite, juggle chainsaws, etc). And then sues.

    -G.

    • lawynd said...
    • User
    • 31 Aug 2011, 21:46
    What happens in NJ has chuff-all to do with NY, frankly. What does have a lot to do with it is what sort of source control the affected locations have, how resilient surface water sewer systems are and what capacity do they have, both in terms of total capacity and throughput per hour, and what the intensity of the rainfall is likely to be. Clearly, nobody was interested in examining the facts and instead, a blind panic was instigated. You know that London has an underground system, right? As do Glasgow and Newcastle/Sunderland; we have storms of that severity on a regular basis and it's incredibly rare that infrastructure such as the underground network is affected in that way. After all, it's already underground - if it can't keep out the water table in normal conditions then clearly, it's not a very good system. I happen to know that the NY subway is pretty decent in that regard - you might find http://www.nycsubway.org/articles/irtbook_ch10.html an interesting read.

    Official recorder of Schrödinger's Tampon.

    Quote of the moment - "They tried to get me to eat haggis but I couldn't stomach it."
  • Fair enough.

    But again, i'd rather city officials overreact and then breathe easy than the other way around.

    This time around, areas not used to hurricanes and their aftermath, acted like they've learned form areas that are (Florida, Louisiana).

    Recently in LA we had an event, not natural, that also had a lot of media hype. Authorities on purpose, didn't exaggerate, but conveyed often the worst possible scenario. When the day-of came, it was peaceful, relaxed. So many people took precautions or stayed home that the city went from one possible extreme to the other real one.

    But again, i see no wrong/evil in that.

    -G.

    • [Deleted user] said...
    • User
    • 1 Sep 2011, 02:19
    Just the loss of business, the inconveniences it causes and panic buying means places will be out of stock.

    I thought, if you had read the article it was more about how American and other nations have become media-tised. This is just an example of a phenomenon occuring, our evolving interactions and reactions with media and how media is adapting to that.

    What does evil come into it? :S I think overracting is the accusation which you first denied juepucta then accepted but you're now trying to say we think it's an evil act?

    It's politicians trying to stay ahead of the curve, it's more about the presentation of the problem - for ratings (media/politicians) than actual help and advice. It's unnecessary worrying that people don't need and there is also probably a loss of income for low-earners to the high.

    With the flooding, I think that was always the main issue which was swamped by other fears and worries.

    • yingym said...
    • User
    • 1 Sep 2011, 07:46

    Latest news from the front!!

    dankine said:
    sounds like they did


    As the flood waters receded, weary residents across the Northeast began pulling soggy furniture and ruined possessions onto their front lawns as they surveyed the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene.

    The mess of destroyed furniture on Paul Postma's front lawn looked like a yard sale gone wrong. Over the weekend, Postma had watched as more than two feet of rain filled the bottom level of his home in Lincoln Park, N.J. On Wednesday, he was using bleach to wipe down the house's mud-soaked walls.

    [Pending moderation] | [Pending moderation]
    • lawynd said...
    • User
    • 1 Sep 2011, 12:52
    Paul Postma lives in New Jersey, it says it right there in your quote (if you can even call it such, without a source to review). This is about New York, a location at least twenty miles away from what I can gather.

    Official recorder of Schrödinger's Tampon.

    Quote of the moment - "They tried to get me to eat haggis but I couldn't stomach it."
    • dankine said...
    • User
    • 1 Sep 2011, 12:57
    Still sounds like they did.

  • We learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina: better safe than sorry.

    Say what again.
  • No they didn't overreact. Its the flooding, not the wind that gets most people.

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  • +1

  • crushersh said:
    No they didn't overreact. Its the flooding, not the wind that gets most people.


    Quite true.

    Say what again.
    • lawynd said...
    • User
    • 2 Sep 2011, 08:49
    That point was addressed above (also made in exactly those same words even further above)...if you're not going to contribute anything meaningful, why bother posting at all?

    Official recorder of Schrödinger's Tampon.

    Quote of the moment - "They tried to get me to eat haggis but I couldn't stomach it."
  • I think 9/11 still plays a part in NY's heart, making sure they're prepared for anything is natural nowadays. I wouldn't blame 'em for that.

    "I never picked cotton"
    • dankine said...
    • User
    • 2 Sep 2011, 20:35
    mickeymay1968 said:
    I think 9/11 still plays a part in NY's heart, making sure they're prepared for anything is natural nowadays. I wouldn't blame 'em for that.
    Don't start a conversation about that...

    • lawynd said...
    • User
    • 2 Sep 2011, 20:58
    Indeed. I'm boycotting television for a week because everything that's on is bloody documentaries on the Twin Towers.

    Official recorder of Schrödinger's Tampon.

    Quote of the moment - "They tried to get me to eat haggis but I couldn't stomach it."
  • Yep. Media blackout for me from the 8th to the 13th aprox as well.

    I don't need to see a lot of retards wrapping themselves with the flag and being fearful of 'the other' while making a bunch of widows cry.

    -G.

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