A matter of perspective

Published in FSD Update

A year after Hurricane Sandy, Editorial Director Paul King reflects on his own "disaster preparedness."

A year ago this week, I and millions of my fellow residents of the Northeast lived through the terrifying experience of Hurricane Sandy. It was only the third hurricane to strike New York City since I had moved there in 1984, and it was by far the most destructive.

Now, as I write this I am looking out at the skyline of Chicago from our 20th-floor office in the western suburbs of the Windy City. I relocated earlier this year in a move totally unrelated to the hurricane and its aftermath. So I’m now a world away from that frightening 18 hours of Oct. 29 and 30, 2012, both in time and distance. But the mark that it left is indelible.

The message of Sandy also is etched in my consciousness: No matter how prepared you might think you are, there is always something more you can do.

I had lived on Staten Island for most of the past 30 years but had relocated to what New York City considers a Zone 1 evacuation only in July of 2010. My wife loves the beach and we relished the fact that we were now only 10 blocks from it. Fear of a hurricane strike never hit us; the only tropical storm in my memory was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and although it had caused $300 million in damages it had made little impact on me.

Then came Hurricane Irene, in August of 2011. We were warned of the potential danger and told to evacuate. Like virtually all of our neighbors, we scoffed at the suggestion, although my landlord did board up the picture window in our second-floor apartment.

Irene came and went, and we gained confidence from the experience. We knew what to do to ride out a major storm and how to handle the loss of power that could last a few days.

So when the alarms for Sandy were sounded, we actually did a little less than we had for Irene. We ourselves made sure we had the same kinds of provisions as we had a year earlier, but this time our landlord didn’t even board up the windows. As a result, we were able to witness firsthand the fury of this hurricane.

As the night wore on, and the storm surge inundated basements and threatened to flood the lower levels of neighborhood homes, we wondered whether we in fact were right not to evacuate. In the end, we and most of our neighbors remained safe. But the destruction we saw mere blocks from our apartment was shocking, and the tragedy stung me personally, as well.

When the World Trade Center came down 11 years earlier, I knew not a single person among the thousands who perished there. But a friend of mine and his son were two of the 38 people who died during Hurricane Sandy.

If there is a moral to this story for foodservice professionals, it would be this: However you prepare for a disaster, it just might not be enough. When you draft a disaster plan and make a list of what you will need for X, Y or Z, how confident are you that it is complete? And when the warnings come, as they did for us with Sandy, how much credence do you truly give them?

Reflecting on Hurricane Sandy, I don’t know whether we would have done anything differently; it was a huge storm, and when I think about evacuation I still ask myself, where would we have gone to feel truly safe?

But I do know this; if I find myself in this type of situation again, I will be more thorough in my examination of all my options. Whatever happens, I want to know that I did everything right that I could. You, dear readers, should approach your disaster preparedness the same way.

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