Superstorm Sandy

Hurricane Sandy: A Tale of Two Headlines

The bigger-is-better narrative falls apart.


Sandy was here.

As Sandy moved up the Atlantic coast, The New York Times summed up the conventional wisdom about the hurricane and the feds in an editorial headlined "A Big Storm Requires Big Government." It wasn't long before that story started coming apart, and at this point it may be safe to say that the narrative has completely reversed. Here's The Brooklyn Bureau, reporting under the rather different headline "Grassroots Groups Have Taken Over Sandy Relief":

In the days after the deluge, as Gerritsen residents began the process of sifting through their possessions to find what was salvageable, the relief effort got underway. But as has been the case in other stricken communities, the effort was led less by government agencies than by members of the community themselves — in this case, members of "the Vollies," Gerritsen Beach's volunteer fire station, the last volunteer fire department remaining in the borough and a symbol of the proud but increasingly frustrated self-reliance that has come to typify post-Sandy aid efforts.

Twelve days after the storm, the Vollies headquarters in the hard-hit "old section" of Gerritsen nearer the ocean is a hive of donated food and clothes, volunteers from all over, lists of electricians and plumbers hastily scrawled on pages from legal pads and taped to a wall. A food truck, normally resident in Midtown, has been dispatched by the mayor's office to serve free meals. National Guard troops based at nearby Floyd Bennett Field sort through a mountain of clothing. Amid the maelstrom, Assistant Fire Chief Doreen Garson is a nonstop ball of energy, directing volunteers, "Right now," she says, "we're acting as our own little city."…

Better than FEMA.

By comparison, there has been less visible support from city and federal agencies. In particular, the Federal Emergency Management Agency—which has already been lambasted in the media for shutting down many of its aid centers for two days "due to weather" when a nor'easter swept through last week, and for being outperformed by a bunch of ragged veterans of Occupy Wall Street—gets little praise from the storm survivors thronging the Vollies hall.

The Times piece didn't just praise FEMA; it singled out the agency's "war room," the place "where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped." Turns out that those aren't areas where central planning works well, no matter how much the phrase "war room" excites the editorialists of The New York Times.

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  1. Someone better stop those “volunteers” before they hurt people. Only trained government monkeys bureaucrats specialists can deal with actual emergencies. That’s why the population in the US took so long to grow – all the deaths through the years from all those natural disasters.

    Until we got FEMA. QED.

    1. that’s the justification that was used to try to kick out the volunteers from the fire department in my area back in the 70s. it largely succeeded. the vol. organizations in the NoVA area are a shell of their former shelves. the guys on the maryland side fared better, i think, because they owned the equipment and/or stations.

      1. the guys on the maryland side fared better, i think, because they owned the equipment and/or stations.

        Could be. There’s still a lot of volunteer fire departments in my part of Maryland.

        1. The small town I grew up in still has a vol fire dept, as does the township of my current residence. I fear they are an anachronism due to fade away sooner rather than later…

          1. My house is served by a volunteer fire department in the small Iowa town 3 miles away. The city owns the building and equipment, but the guys and gals that do the real work are all volunteers.

            1. Most of the equipment is purchased through public fund raisers.

          2. Something like 70% of the nation’s FDs are volunteer. It’s only common for paid FDs in cities.

  2. I’m happy to see that self-initiative is still alive in Gerritsen Beach, named for my ancestor who, having enough with forelock tugging and bowing to his “betters”, turned his back on Old Europe in 1625 and
    came seeking individual freedom and self-reliance in New Amsterdam.

    1. Did he have NWA’s Fuck tha Police on his iPod? That would make him uber-awesome.

    2. I’m happy to see that self-initiative is still alive in Gerritsen Beach, named for my ancestor who, having enough with forelock tugging and bowing to his “betters”, turned his back on Old Europe in 1625 and
      came seeking individual freedom and self-reliance in New Amsterdam.

      See? That sounds so much better than my ancestor who arrived in Jamestown in July of 1635 because he was sentenced to “Transportation.”

      1. Say it was because he looked up the Queen’s skirt.

  3. As I think back through all the “disasters” I have been through, there was only one time I remember seeing anything less local than a few cops. The National Guard wouldn’t let my father and me within sight of a raging river after a huge storm had gone through. Poor guy couldn’t even show his gradeschooler something impressively powerful because other people decided it might not be safe.

  4. “War” seems to be a word that makes your average scumbag journalist tumescent, doesn’t it–in any context. They just love war.

    1. It’s a War on Ennui.

    2. (what IS it good for?) occurs to me:

      The Situation Room, Hardball, talk of war rooms,

      …who are these losers kidding with all the tough talk?

    3. Well, war is the biggest central plan of them all

      1. War is the health of the state? Where have I heard that before?

        1. So, by commutativity, health is the war of the state, right? So that’s why they have such a boner for the NHS.

          1. If that were how commutativity worked…

            Instead, since war is politics by other means, and war is the health of the state, politics by other means is the health of the state.

            Yeah, that’s much more right.

    4. You can’t have war without Top Men. It’s not war that gives them such a boner.

  5. Unpossible. Without the government, people devolve into animals that rape and pillage.

    1. Without government the rapers and pillagers join forces to become government.

      1. Where do I sign up?

      2. Don’t project, sarcasmic.

        1. That’s not “projection” – that’s ACTING!

  6. So, is it safe to say that the New York Times’ narrative is parallel to Bush’s “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,”?

    1. NO

  7. Nashville had a pretty devastating flood a couple years back, which wiped clean entire neighborhoods of houses and people. A sizable chunk of our downtown area was underwater and essentially ruined. FEMA did arrive after the fact to hand out some checks, but the cleanup and disaster management was an entirely locally sourced effort.

    It was also an incredible display of voluntary efforts by the local population. I’m not kidding when I say that they had to turn people AWAY from helping in certain areas because there were too many volunteers. There was very little centralized direction as to the relief efforts, and people just randomly showed up to neighborhoods to help out. The Tennessee Titans football players went through the poorest areas on their own to help drag soggy drywall out of the projects.

    Big government would’ve simply got in the way had their been any available.

  8. Outperformed by OWS.

    Just chew on that for a moment, and remember it any time a troll or even a sincere proglodyte shitstain wonders in proclaiming the virtue of a central government.

    Outperformed by OWS.

    Hell, even you minarchs have some explaining to do given emergencies are one of the powers you believe are a ‘natural’ function of government. If they can’t even get that right with the concentration of hundreds of billions going into that very function (don’t forget to include debt obligations, pensions of FEMA employees will have to be paid out sometime) than why would you expect them not to be a hindrance on even more basic and fundamental tasks than that? You would not trust food distribution to them without risking famine, right?

    Outperformed by OWS.

    1. In fairness to the minarchs, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. That wouldn’t be an issue with a minarchist government.

      1. Hardly even worth mentioning given the amount of funding and manpower disaster agencies receive.

    2. As one of those minarchs, I would say that government does have a role when disaster strikes, but that role is NOT central planning. And it’s central planning that defines the current maxarchist approach.

      If there are public fire departments when disaster strike, then the fire departments should be at the forefront of fighting the fires. Okay, under the mythical minarchist milieu there wouldn’t be any gummit fire departments, but there would be police. And it would still be the duty of the police to aid in stopping looting, control traffic during an evacuation, etc. It might even be the gummit’s role to redirect gummit funds towards repairing gummit roadz and gummit bridgez.

      1. And it would still be the duty of the police to aid in stopping looting,

        Why would you expect someone who takes a government salary to have any aversion to preying upon the public? During Katrina, the cops were the marauding band of looters and murderers.

        1. I know you live in a ideological bubble where no policeman can ever do right, but out here in the real world good cops still outnumber bad cops to a significant degree. The problems of Nawluns has much to do with national, state, and city Maxarchist policies than whether or not city policemen draw their salaries from city coffers.

          Maybe my memory is fading, but I recall a flood in my hometown when I was a kid, and the cops didn’t loot or murder anyone. They were too busy coordinating sandbagging efforts.

          When we ever get to the point where Minarchy versus Anarchy is a decision that has to be made, then get back to me and we can discuss the finer nuances of how to impose Libertopia on the unwilling statists.

  9. Government is designed to be slow, because deliberation is built into the system. Deliberation in preparing for disaster response is not a bad idea; deliberation in executing disaster response is still not such a bad idea, but don’t ever get the idea that you can get by without the goodwill of your neighbors when shit happens.

  10. I’m surprised Alex Jones and his fellators still think FEMA is part of a vast insider conspiracy. The ineptitude recently shown should convince anyone that central planning does not work. Yet the belief in efficient and successful central planning is at the core of any conspiracy theory.

    Of course, the conspiratards are just going to claim that the FEMA fuckups are just part of the intricately detailed plan to [whatever it is they think the conspirators’s goals is this week].

    1. Their feigned incompetence is just a show to lull you into lowering your guard.

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