Amanda Ripley

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Disaster Virgins

11th Jul 2008 posted in Disaster Behavior

Why do we experience each disaster as if it were our first disaster?

Each time, reporters like myself cover floods and fires and storms as if they have never happened before…as if we aren’t wearing the exact same Wal-Mart slicker we got two years ago in Florida. We survey the damage, we speculate on the causes and we scour the government for someone to blame.

We treat regular people with the same fresh eyes, marveling at their resourcefulness each and every time. I noticed a classic example recently in the New York Times:

“...‘The entire governmental system broke down; we had to rely on ourselves and our neighbors.’...Residents ran tabs at local stations to pay for gasoline for fire engines….The owner of a hardware store refused payment from volunteer firefighters for crucial supplies….A fire chief’s wife grilled steak fajitas for a crew of inmates….‘This community of rugged individualists pulling together is part of the reason we love where we live,’ said Deborah Cahn, who with her family owns Navarro Vineyards. ‘But isn’t this what government is supposed to do?’”

Is this what government is supposed to do? Really?

Because history (recent and not) tells us that government, especially in a federalized system like ours, is just not going to wow you in a major calamity. The first responders are, almost always, regular people. Your friends, your neighbors, your family and hordes of strangers.

Maybe it’s time we started noticing the pattern. Maybe it’s time to spend our homeland security money inspiring and training the people who are guaranteed to be there first, every time.