On Saturday, October 29, 2011, an early Winter storm swept through the New England states. It was a storm that New Englanders refer to as a “Nor’Easter”, and it left a path of destruction and power outages across much of New England. The Farmington Valley area in Connecticut was particularly hard-hit, with most of the area not getting power back for well over a week. The storm was no more severe than other “Nor’Easters” that we have experienced in the past. However, this storm came early in the year, and the leaves were still on most of the trees. The weight of the leaves and the snow together caused trees to bend and break, and therefore, take out power lines. The power outages severely crippled the area. Many individuals were forced to move into shelters that had been set up, and many small businesses, not being able to withstand the loss of inventory and the lack of revenue for over a week, simply had to close their doors for good. The impact of the storm was devastating to the area.
Our family actually missed the frontal part of the storm, but we certainly experienced plenty of the aftermath. My wife and I were visiting our two sons in college that weekend, and we were not in the direct path of the storm. However, on Sunday night, October 30, 2011, we were making our way back home. We took our normal route back home, which is through rural areas of New York state and Connecticut, because we did not know at the time that the storm had caused so much destruction. When we got to within 50 miles from home, we began to notice that there were no lights on in houses, small towns were completely dark and isolated, and there were very few other cars on the road. As we got within 25 from home, we began to encounter roads that had been marked as closed. As we got closer still, many more roads were closed, but were not marked. Fortunately, our GPS kept leading us to detours around the closed roads. The trip home took us several times longer than normal, but we eventually made it.
The trip home was nerve-racking, with us constantly anxious about actually making it home and constantly wondering about the possible state of our home. However, the most surprising thing about the trip was that we didn’t see one single figure of authority during the entire 50 mile drive. There were no law enforcement personnel, federal, state, or local. There were no fire department personnel, volunteer or otherwise. There were no medical personnel. Even though the power was out for miles around us, there were no power company crews. There were no elected officials, no government employees, and no volunteers. There was no one. We traveled through several small towns in both New York and Connecticut where traffic, street, and all house lights were out. We encountered numerous closed roads, including some that required us to back up significant distances in order to turn around in the dark. Fortunately, we were able to help an older man who was trying to drive to his daughter’s house and had become lost and disoriented on one of the blocked roads. Nowhere on this 50 mile trip did we see one single person of authority, or even someone who was just out trying to help others. There was no one.
Why was no one around during this disaster? The only conclusion that I seemed to be able to draw at the time was that no one considered it their responsibility to be around during a disaster. Indeed, I believe it is true. No doubt, the job descriptions, employment contracts, union contracts, and/or performance evaluations of the people who could have been around that night, just simply did not contain any specific requirements for being available during disasters. That has to be the case. After all, we have spent decades encouraging agreements between entities and/or individuals in the human resources area to be defined and refined by legal experts. Every detail that could affect job performance, salary increases, or total compensation, must be negotiated and word-smithed between two opposing parties until a compromise, that makes no one happy, is reached. Gone are the days when people in positions of authority felt ownership over the actions of their companies, towns, or governments. Gone are the days when people felt that they had responsibilities just because they held a particular position.
So, how can this situation be improved? Well, realistically, nothing of real substance is likely to change. It would require that negotiations in the human resources area become less adversarial and more oriented toward teaming. It would require that we become less controlling in our views toward others, and more trusting that people will do the right things. These types of changes are not easy to accomplish. Therefore, whenever I am traveling after a major storm, I will be sure to check the travel advisories, because we now know that if we need help, there will be no one around.