September 6, 2005 > Editorial: Convergence
In an amazing set of circumstances, just as Americans are about to observe the anniversary and remembrance of a planned act of terrorism and the resulting carnage, we now witness another catastrophe, this time, the result of natural forces. Both events highlight the best and worst of our society and its systems. In each, politicians are asked to put aside differences and focus on the task at hand. Some respond with leadership while others resort to political posturing.
The legacy of 9-11 is recognition of zealots and mindless hatred that holds no respect for those values that form the bedrock of our country: life, liberty, personal freedom and the importance of debate. Faced with intransigent opposition to our way of life, what are we to do? Some believe that ignorance is bliss while others opt for active involvement - sometimes warfare. Both result in suffering, death and despair. Our country, once solid in its determination, is now beginning to fracture with doubt and disturbing revelations that indicate politicians are often simply cheerleaders who wear the jersey of their national team without regard to reality. Honesty and truth is somehow lost in the fray where polls or divisions for the purpose of political gain take precedence over getting the job done.
Now, shell-shocked Americans are faced with the results of a natural disaster of biblical proportions and watching the same game. This is not happening in some third world country with poor communications and a lack of infrastructure but in a society that is one of the highest technologically advanced in the world. We are faced with a calamity within our own borders. While people suffer and die, politicians are busy pointing fingers at each other under a simple strategy that has worked in all corners of the world with all stripes of politics. Yell loudly that the other guy is the reason for all your troubles. If you can do this well, the hot light of scrutiny shifts away from your responsibilities to someone else. Throw in the usual histrionics of racism or whatever "hot button" can emotionalize the issue; that always helps divert attention too.
Instead of the blame game, politicians should be concentrating on long term solutions to their ineptitude and for the victims. It may be necessary for a federal work program designed to provide an income and honest labor for those who find themselves dispossessed. Whatever is decided, it should already be a contingency plan and if not, it spells another failure by all levels of government.
Reporters, who have been on the scene since warnings were issued for the Gulf Coast, tell stories of bungled and rampant inexcusable bureaucratic response at all levels. The blame game is again in full swing, but the fact that news organizations can travel in areas of need and report to the rest of us means that the private sector was able to be on scene, communicate with others, understand priorities and anticipate the possibilities. Administrative response by the public sector - not Republicans or Democrats, not black or white - failed on all counts. There is no doubt that the media thrives on disaster, but they also have learned how to be efficient in the face of significant and dangerous obstacles. Maybe government officials can learn from these folks.
What does this mean to us, living safe and snug on the earth's fractured crust of the Bay Area? If you were waiting for a sign, it has been given. Survival starts now with each of us understanding that there is no such thing as a guaranteed social safety net. Knowing how to respond personally is paramount to safety in case of emergency. Our communities have worked diligently to offer training for disaster preparedness. Called CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), this training can save your family's life and make sure you know what to do when it is our turn to face a cataclysmic event.
Local officials can prepare - and do so - but in most cases of chaos following disaster it is up to each person to handle problems for a while. Ask your local fire department or check the city website for information about CERT training and sign up for the next class. In the meantime, utility companies have websites, brochures and training to help customers know what to do in case of emergency. Do you know how to shut off the gas at your house? Is there a plan of action for your family in case of separation during a disaster? Do you have reserves of food and water? There are no guarantees, but those who plan are those who have the best chance of survival. This is a wake-up call...are you listening?