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The State of Emergency Infrastructure

"Snow grinds global empire to halt," wrote FP Passport on March 7, 2007:
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned. Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait.
FP Passport makes tongue-in-cheek comments about terrorists getting cloud seeding technology and a pre-emptive strike against China. I am not linking to this American blog to make fun of Washington. Rather it seems appropriate to point out the vulnerability and lack of emergency preparedness, which US and German experts have assessed in some detail:

GERMANY: The Third Risk Report by the Advisory Board for Civil Protection ("Dritter Gefahrenbericht der Schutzkommission") presented to the German Interior Minister on 26 March 2006 "gives an assessment of both the broad spectrum of imminent threats facing Germany and the provisions needed to meet them. In this report, expert consideration of possible future events is investigated, a distinction between ABC and other types of risks is made, and a systematic assessment of existing gaps, or deficiencies, in emergency preparedness and response is carried out."

The six "most imperative gaps, or deficiencies," are: 
1. Mobilising the public’s ability to help themselves;
2. Protecting critical infrastructures;
3. Alerting and, subsequently, notifying the public, aid organisations and emergency response;
4. Providing victims with medical, pharmaceutical, and psychosocial support and aftercare;
5. Organising emergency management, in general; and 6. Supplying food and drinking water.
More in the English summary and the German Zusammenfassung. Vollstaendiger Bericht (pdf) auf Deutsch.

UNITED STATES: The Council on Foreign Relations presents an overview and an excerpt of Stephen Flynn's new book The Edge of Disaster (, 
We have learned little from the cataclysms of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. When it comes to catastrophe, America is living on borrowed time—and squandering it. The truth is, acts of terror cannot always be prevented, and nature continues to show its fury in frighteningly unpredictable ways. Resiliency, argues Flynn, must now become our national motto. With chilling frankness and clarity, Flynn paints an all-too-real scenario of the threats we face within our own borders. (...) Our growing exposure to man-made and natural perils is largely rooted in our own negligence, as we take for granted the infrastructure handed down to us by earlier generations. Once the envy of the world, this infrastructure is now crumbling. After decades of neglect, our public health system leaves us at the mercy of microbes that could kill millions in the next flu pandemic. Flash flooding could wipe out a fifty-year-old dam north of Phoenix, placing thousands of homes and lives at risk.
Stephen E. Flynn is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. A retired commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, he served in the White House Military Office in the George W. Bush administration and as a director for global issues on the National Security Council staff during the Bill Clinton administration.

Famous quote from Flynn's America the Vulnerable, published in 2005: "If September 11, 2001, was a wake-up call, clearly America has fallen back asleep..."   And Germany has not really woken up, it seems.

Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Responding to "Al-Qaeda's Revival" and A World Free of Nuclear Weapons?



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Sue on :

In all fairness to Congress, the mid-Atlantic region shuts down at the slightest amount of wintry precipitation. They're not used to snow at all and don't know how to manage it or drive in it. There are only about 2-3 snow "events" a year in my state (New Jersey), and it doesn't make economic sense to have the plows and road crews in reserve to deal with them. Cheaper to shut down. However, your overall point, that infrastructure is deteriorating, is unfortunately valid.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks for your comment. I noticed the shutting down in Baltimore. I thought the economic costs of shutting down would be enourmous. Are plows and road crews really more expensive than the costs of shutting down? Is there also some concern by employers that they could get sued, if their employess have an accident on the way to work due to the weather?

Zyme on :

@ Sue What parts of infrastructure are deteriorating? Is it the roads, the railways, the health service, the energy infrastructure or something else you are talking about?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I am interested in Sue's response as well. In the meantime, zyme, I recommend the excerpt of Flynn's book. See above link.

Zyme on :

Yeah I´ve discovered it. Isn´t the american model of infrastructure shaped a lot more by public private partnerships than in Europe? It would be interesting to hear from americans whether they think this is for the better or not.

Sue on :

Road infrastructure is deteriorating markedly. The energy infrastructure needs a major overhaul; witness the Northeast blackout a couple of years ago (I favor the construction of more nuclear power plants). There is no such thing as a "health system" here; there are many systems (public, VA, private hospital consortia). If you have private medical insurance, you will have access to plenty of good doctors, nurses, hospital beds, technology etc. I have no personal knowledge of the VA hospitals or public hospitals, so I cannot speak to that. The government should be making major investments in transportation and energy infrastructure, but they are hampered by political and environmental concerns. Also, the powerful public transportation unions put pressure on politicians to block potential competitors like private jitney services, which would make a huge positive difference where I live. I also believe that the government should invest in nationwide wireless internet everywhere. It's becoming an economic necessity. They could do this in conjunction with private service providers.

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