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State can do better with emergencies

State can do better with emergencies

Editorial: Storm response was good, but not good enough

The whole world has undoubtedly been watching as New York tries to restore order, and some semblance of normalcy to life, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Presumably that group includes potential terrorists, and if there have ever been any questions about the crisis that a prolonged power outage could cause, they have surely been answered within the past two weeks.

Despite the considerable efforts of government officials of all stripes; of utility workers from the metro region and well beyond; and of thousands of volunteers, there were still, at the start of this weekend, large numbers of people in and around New York City and Long Island without power, homes without heat or hot water, gas stations without gas or the ability to pump it. What started out as an inconvenience of varying degrees for the majority of residents whose houses were structurally unscathed by Sandy’s onslaught has deteriorated into something far worse.

For some, the disruption could even be considered life-threatening. While it may be possible to subsist indefinitely on a variety of uncooked foods, or no hot water, the novelty wears off before very long. Gasoline, too: We can live without it, but not practically — especially when public transportation is out. Burning up a quarter-tank of gas while waiting in line for hours to buy more gas is a fool’s errand. (Why wasn’t odd-even rationing instituted before Friday in New York?)

As for living without heat, it might be OK when the temperatures stay above freezing at night. But at this time of year, the weather starts becoming a crapshoot — as evidenced by Wednesday’s nor’easter, followed by this weekend’s spring-like temperatures.

Officials need to ask themselves what would happen if an extended, massive power outage like this occurred during winter. Granted, that’s beyond the normal hurricane season, but without much effort one can easily conjure up other potentially cataclysmic events — earthquakes, blizzards, terrorist attacks — that could have the same effect on the region’s power supply.

It seems that, for all the work that was done in this regard after 9/11, emergency preparations are still not as comprehensive, or as well-coordinated between the government and private sector, as they might be. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who grew increasingly impatient with the utilities’ response last week, needs to take a look at the bigger picture when the worst of this is finally over (soon), and work on fine-tuning the state’s emergency response effort.

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