Every once in a while, when I have free moment, I review periodicals from other countries. I follow a few of them on Twitter as well. Recently, I read several reports of how the western coast of Mexico was dealing with crises caused by the nearly concurrent landfalls of Hurricane Ingrid and tropical storm Manuel.
Not all of The Municipal’s readers find themselves in areas that are likely to have to stare down the fury of a hurricane. With both Manuel and Ingrid, though, it wasn’t even their force that prompted mass evacuations and displacements, or that caused most of the fatalities. Rather, it was the heavy rains — the kind of rain that occurs in everyone’s jurisdiction sooner or later, whether due to particularly powerful fronts, snowmelt, or yes, sometimes tropical storms and hurricanes.
The North American version of that circumstance played out simultaneously in Colorado. There, a simple, non-hurricane related but record rainfall turned the valley north of Boulder into a funnel that washed away entire towns and put environmentalists on alert because of toppled oil containment structures.
Both events raised a concern for me: Does every region really believe that it will, someday, happen to them? How many times do we have to watch someone on the 6 o-clock news say something like, ‘You see this on TV and think it’s never going to happen here’ and then shake our heads at the destruction? Not only do I think it’s inevitable that it will happen in both your town and mine, but reality seems to be backing me up on this one.
Last year The Municipal talked to officials in Norwich, N.Y. There two 100-year floods in two years convinced the city’s common council to purchase stream gauges — not to warn that a flood was imminent, because that much is usually obvious — to tell them the quantity of water that was flowing downstream and how fast. That specific information now gives the emergency management officials the details they need to decide whether a large-scale or immediate evacuation is prudent. After all, no one wants lives lost, homes and businesses destroyed or tourists stranded. But shutting down commerce and initiating showdowns with residents who don’t yet see the danger is a thankless move, too.
If local waterways haven’t taken over your city lately, well, congratulations. Just the same, if you made sure that your emergency evacuation procedures are extensive and complete, shelters are fully functional, and water level gauges and alarms are in place this year, I have to say that I think there will come a day when both residents and visitors will much appreciate it. It’s become more of a question of “when,” not “if.”