US will learn from Florence, like every natural disaster
Like millions of others on the east coast of the United States, I have been watching with trepidation the arrival of Hurricane Florence. While natural disasters can often be a reminder of our limitations as human beings, they also often bring out the best in people. They offer valuable lessons that demonstrate that although we are still vulnerable to forces outside our control, we manage to persevere and thrive.
The US, given its wealth, large population, natural resources, infrastructure, and technological prowess, is better prepared than most to prepare for and recover from natural disasters. But make no mistake: These forces of nature — hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires — can bring unspeakable tragedies and cause massive devastation.
Given the intense media coverage that natural disasters receive, they often prove to be trying times for officials in charge of coping with them. Hurricanes especially can have political ramifications. President George W. Bush faced criticism for how he handled Hurricane Katrina in 2005, while President Donald Trump has found himself embroiled in heated debate with some of his critics over the number of people who died in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria last year.
The southeastern US is accustomed to hurricanes and the West Coast has faced more than its share of wildfires and earthquakes. Fortunately, the midatlantic states, including Virginia and Maryland where I have lived for many years, have largely been spared. Periodically, we do experience the effects of a hurricane that batters the southeast. In the winter, it is not unheard of for the Washington region to experience blizzards that bring the area to a standstill. Although they remain rare, Washington even experienced a relatively strong earthquake in recent years.
The US, given its wealth, large population, natural resources, infrastructure, and technological prowess, is better prepared than most to prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
In August 2011, Washington DC and 12 states were hit by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Although it did not result in any casualties, it did damage many buildings, including the Washington Monument. The realization that the ground under you is shaking and seemingly shifting is extremely disconcerting. Like other colleagues at my place of work at the time, my instinct was to leave the building as quickly as possible, and I did.
In October 2012, the Washington area sustained a strong hit from Hurricane Sandy, which also caused major flooding in New York City. The strong winds forced me and my family to spend the night in the one room of our house that had no windows. I remember looking out at the front yard in the middle of the night, and as the wind gusted, lawn furniture started flying around like toys.
In February 2010, a blizzard dumped over 42cm of snow on the US capital and its surrounding suburbs, earning it the nickname Snowmageddon. The heavy snow and tree branches downed many power lines, leaving thousands of people without any electricity or heat. People — myself included — had to quickly switch to survival mode until power was restored. For three days, my family and I wore several layers of clothing to stay warm and even resorted to boiling water to make steam — using a gas stove.
The following spring, the local power company made a concerted effort to cut down trees and branches and reinforced power lines. Since then, snowstorms are no longer a time for panic or a time to test basic survival skills. It is a time for hot chocolate and sledding.
Over the next few days, Americans — and millions of others around the world — will watch and pray and hope for the best as Hurricane Florence runs its course. As sure as there will be victims, there will also be survivors and heroes. There will also be lessons learned and innovations that will hopefully make the next natural disaster less devastating.
- Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer