at the mercy of sandy

December 2012This was a big moment for me

I realized that technology is a strong sparring partner to Mother Nature, but little more than that. For a while it was beginning to look like engineering had managed to sew up all the creases in Mother Nature’s fold. Not so.

Hurricane Sandy, which swept through here the last week in October, crippled parts of the Northeast, especially much of what we call the tri-state area—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. ASME’s Manhattan headquarters was forced to close for a week. Personally, I was without electricity, heat, and hot water for six days—and I was, truly, one of the lucky ones.

When some of us were finally able to access the Internet—the fury of the storm interrupted even our now most basic form of communication—a colleague wrote the following:

It has been a rough week to say the least. I live on a barrier island and I am close to the beach. There is extensive damage where I live. The streets are covered with between 1 and 4 feet of sand and a lot of debris. There are wrecked cars everywhere. Two cars floated in front of my house and landed there. There is no power, water or sewers. There is nowhere to buy food, gas or other essentials. Aid from the authorities was slow in coming, but it is now starting to fall into place. There is a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in place. The National Guard and state police are patrolling the streets. So it is not livable there right now. My wife and I are staying with relatives for now.

Believe it or not, my colleague was one of the lucky ones as well. Others lost even more; some even their lives. The vastness of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was remarkable. This area has never seen anything like it. Based on the age of the infrastructure and topography of this region, the fact that I was without what I’ve gotten used to considering as essential rights—electricity, heat, and hot water—for only a week is akin to a technological marvel.

Yet, as I write this—and the cleanup is still in progress—some politicians, pundits, and even my own neighbors are beginning to blame local utility companies for not being ready for such a storm, for not reacting fast enough, for not having the technology infrastructure in place to withstand the strong winds, for not restoring electricity fast enough.

Human nature, much like Mother Nature, often eludes the realities of technology that is stretched and not infallible. We can’t regulate what is beyond our control—like the weather. We can only work to improve the technology that mitigates the aftermath of storms like Sandy and her kind.

Even if we are not affected personally, intellectually we comprehend the saga of helpless victims of natural disasters in remote areas of the world, or disasters that occur in our own countries. As never before, I now appreciate the technology that I’ve grown to take for granted. It was a big moment.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

December 2012

Twitter from John Falcioni

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