Good Night Irene – Good Morning Monday – it is quarterback time!

South Jersey in the wake of Irene: “We definitely fared better than expected.”

The casinos in Atlantic City are going to reopen on Monday after being closed for over two days.  The loss of an entire weekend’s revenue will add to the financial problems of the 11 hotel casinos on the Boardwalk. However, it could have been much worse, no damage was done to any of the 11 properties and no one was hurt physically.  This makes the third time the casinos in Atlantic City have been forced to close and it is the second time a hurricane was the cause, Hurricane Gloria in 1985 was the last time a hurricane closed Atlantic City.  The other time the casinos closed was due to a political storm.  In 2006, Governor Corzine while fighting with the state legislature over the budget closed the casinos in a dramatic gesture to make his point – he successfully made the point and the legislature passed the budget.  A later legislature passed a law to prohibit future governors from doing the same thing – closing is not a good thing for a casino.  If the casinos have been closed three times, they have reopened three times; this time some are doing it with a bit of flare and a gimmick.   Caesars casinos are offering special overnight packages and calling the package “Good Night Irene.”  Cute and given nothing terrible happened in the target market areas it may generate some extra visits next week and some much need revenue.  Should the casinos haven been closed in the first place or did everyone overreact? It is an interesting question in light of absence of damage.

Computers have changed a great many things in our lives, so much so that many we sometimes forget what life was like before them.  Take hurricanes for example, it was not so many years ago when forecasting the course and impact of a hurricane was more magic than science – rather like predicting an earthquake is today.  Now however, disaster alerts have become much more sophisticated – it is possible with computers to model many natural phenomenons, like volcanoes, tsunamis (but not the earthquakes that cause them) and tropical storms; the models allow scientists to predict the time, place and severity of such events. Those predictions provide enough time for public officials to take appropriate measures to protect resident populations.  But the models are just models and the real events very frequently follow a different pattern; Hurricane Irene was predicted to be one of the worse storms ever to hit the New York City area and the rest of the northeastern coastal areas – but as the storm progressed up the coast it lost speed and velocity.  The storm that finally did hit New York City, Atlantic City and other major metropolitan areas on the Atlantic Coast was not insignificant – but it was far short of the storm originally forecasted.

That is not a bad thing, no one is complaining they did not get enough wind and rain; but some will be complaining services were unnecessarily cut off and most if not all evacuations were unneeded.  Is there a perfect balance between safety and comfort?  Probably not,  but it is better to err on the side of safety; or so most public officials would argue.  However, the people who experienced Irene and the high level of anxiety caused by the forecasts are less likely to be as sensitive next time and become more like on of the “old hands” on some of the barrier islands: “I have lived through dozens of these, I never left my home and I never will.”  So do leave, but they wait until they are sure it is necessary.  On an island with a few thousand people that might work – but what about a city with a few million people?   To clear a city of millions of people would take time, how much no one  knows for sure, but more than a few hours is certain.   In the first place there is no real procedure or process for evacuating New York City, or any other major city.

Hypothetically, if the mayor of New York City knew for certain a hurricane force storm would hit the city in 24 hours, or a nuclear bomb, what could he/should he do?  How would all of the people get out of the city in 24 hours – where would they go and how would they survive until the city was capable of housing and sustaining them again?  Who would stay in the city and what roles would they have?

Irene lost her wallop and for that everyone should be thankful, but she should have scared New York, and every city, badly enough to create some real plans for disasters; it is not enough to be able to say the storm is on its way. It is easy to close 11 casinos and a boardwalk – not so easy to close a city of 8 million people.  What happens when the next big comes along and does hit the city; it is just like living on the San Andreas fault isn’t it? If it happened tomorrow, the biggest disaster would not be the effects of earthquake (or hurricane) but the effects of millions and millions of unprepared people falling all over each.


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August 2011
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