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LESSONS LEARNED FROM IRMA

BRYCE ON LIFE

– A lot of the problems were our own doing.

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Well, we survived Irma… not just the hurricane, but a ratings hungry news media, power and gas outages, and lack of reliable news. Frankly, I’m surprised we still have a sense of humor. Contrary to what the media told us, Irma was not the most devastating hurricane to hit Florida “ever, ever.” Have we already forgotten Andrew of 1992 which wiped out Homestead and left thousands homeless? What about the legendary “No Name Storm” of 1993 which produced more debris, downed trees, boat damage, and power outages than Irma? Or 2004 where hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan crisscrossed the state leaving a swath of destruction behind? Of the storms I have witnessed in Florida since 1985, I would place Irma a distant fourth.

So why all the hubbub? Hurricane Katrina in 2005 showed what a real hurricane could do to a grossly under prepared area. The public was also keenly aware of the destructive images recently coming out of Texas from Hurricane Harvey. Destruction and the possibility of death seems to have a way of unnerving the strongest of us.

What was different though between the Florida storms of the past and Irma? Irma shut down the state and created panic conditions, the others did not. Three important lessons emerged in its wake:

First, the news media used fear to prod the populace. Fear is a powerful motivating factor. Have you ever noticed how animals in the wild react when they smell the smoke of a wild fire? They all retreat from it in their own way, but can be coerced to stampede under the right conditions. The human animal does likewise. Most of us calmly and methodically prepared for the coming storm, but many panicked and stampeded out of the state. We see this same use of fear used by the media in political campaigns.

Pandemonium reigned on the Saturday before the arrival of Irma. You didn’t dare go out on the roads unless you absolutely had to. Tempers flared on the roadways and in long lines. People began to hoard more supplies than they really needed, booked hotel reservations up north which they never used, and there were accusations of price gouging.

All of this in the name of ratings.

The second lesson was the anger created from ghost town conditions. When the power went out, and the gas stations closed, a domino effect occurred. One-by-one, all of the stores, restaurants, car dealerships, and public service institutions closed their doors. Even the post office closed and refused to accept mail. The old adage of, “through snow, wind and hail…”, is now an obsolete notion. Basically, the area came to a standstill, something I have never seen in Tampa Bay in the 32 years I have lived here. There is something eerie about standing in an empty Home Depot parking lot with tumble weeds around you. Virtually all stores and malls were closed, with no gas or water to be found anywhere. Super markets looked like the food shortages of Venezuela. Frustration grew.

The power grid of Florida is obviously inadequate to serve the state. It is frail and barbaric, and led by people who prefer to react to situations as opposed to planning. Let me give you a small yet typical example; in my neighborhood alone, my house is on a circuit that always seems to be the first to lose power and the last to regain it. Due to the many pine trees in the area, they fall and snap the lines hanging from above. Obviously, they should have buried the lines long ago but refuse to do so, claiming the cost would be exorbitant. In reality, it would be cheaper in the long run to bury the lines and keep their paying customers on line. The point is, they are content putting their fingers in the dyke as opposed to permanently fixing the dyke. This is a classic example of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Immediately following the storm, there was a noticeable absence of power company trucks, cable operators, and county utilities helping to clear debris from the roadways and neighborhoods. The only group that appeared to know what they were doing was law enforcement who safeguarded our streets and maintained order. Everyone else was “evaluating and assessing damage” as opposed to getting the job done. Even now, days after the storm, many people are still without power and access to the outside world. Even if the service providers are working, their low visibility creates the impression they simply do not care about the public.

The loss of power and utilities caused many people, including yours truly, to become nomadic in search for a place to relax and breath air conditioning. Several thousand people sought refuge in public shelters, mostly under crowded conditions. All of this required patience to maintain sanity.

The third lesson of Irma was when the power went out, cable and the Internet died along with it. Cell phone tower coverage was spotty at best. All of this meant reliable information was limited. Even our local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, stopped deliveries. It was rather amusing to receive the Sunday paper on the following Tuesday. Why bother?

The one medium that got us through this period was AM/FM radio which provided news during the day, and entertainment at night. While it is being claimed AM/FM radio is obsolete technology and on its deathbed, they were the only ones there for the public 24/7. Thank God for AM/FM.

So Irma has passed Florida and gone into the history books. What was left in its wake was an incredible amount of angst caused by fear, anger, and the unknown. It was difficult even for the best of families, thereby creating high levels of stress. Aside from the laborious task of cleaning up their homes and restocking food supplies, Floridians need to regain their composure. This was a highly charged emotional roller-coaster we have been on for several days that left the populace burned out. All of this would be funny if it wasn’t so exhaustive. And we must remember hurricane season will not be over until November 30th.

Throughout this ordeal, we had several friends and family from the north pray for our safety, for which we give thanks. Next time though, I would ask them not to pray for us, but for some sort of sanity to deliver us from the madness of the media, power companies, and information blackouts.

The next time a storm like this occurs, I believe I will take a vacation to Las Vegas until it has blown over. I am confident my home will survive, but my personality will not.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2017 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Also read Tim’s columns in the THE HUFFINGTON POST

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Tim is a writer and management consultant located in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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