1. The office. Days I have to schlep over to the actual office to do things I’ve been successfully doing from my living room for a year are annoying. And not just for the usual reasons surrounding spending a day locked in cubicle hell. A not minor part of the annoyance package on those days is the fact that right out of the gate it means I’m losing 80-90 minutes of quality reading time just to get over there. It just adds insult to injury.
2. Emotional responses. It seems that Ted Cruz flew to Cancun while the power was out in Texas. Sure, the optics aren’t ideal, but if Ted stayed in Texas, do you really think he’d be sitting in the dark just waiting for the lights to come back on? Unless your senator moonlights as a power plant operator, electric lineman, oil well repairman, or LP gas tanker captain, there’s very little role for him beyond making phone calls and prodding the people who run the grid to get their act together, which could be done from Houston, Washington, Cancun, or the International Space Station. Honestly the last thing anyone needs in a disaster situation is one more politician wandering around getting in the way of emergency responders. Having worked a fair amount of my early career in emergency management, I can’t remember a single thing that was improved when the politicians showed up in the room for their photo op.
3. Prediction. Let me start by saying that I recognize that “the weather” is a ludicrously complicated system. Predicting how it’s going to behave at one particular spot on the globe at any given time involves huge assumptions and massive amounts of computing power. With that said, three weeks ago the experts were calling for 4-6 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Last week the experts called for 4-8 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Today, the experts called for another 4-8 inches of snow. Thus far, the results have been less than an inch of sleet, freezing rain, and snow. I’m not saying the daily weather forecast is absolute hokum, but maybe instead of trying to project exact details, we focus more on whether the storm will produce liquid or frozen precipitation and leave it at that since nailing the details seems awfully problematic.
Once upon a time a category four bruiser churning up the Gulf would have been just the thing to get my juices flowing. I’d have had a bag packed a week before the thing even got in sight of landfall. Being seconded over to FEMA during these big storms was one of the few times in my career I could see an immediate impact of whatever I happened to be doing. In retrospect, turning loose a 25-year-old with a blank check and a sense of purpose may not have been the most well thought out idea anyone ever had, but it all seemed to turn out for the best.
Maybe it’s the years I’ve picked up since then… or the deep joy of sleeping in my own bed after not working a fourteen-hour day for the 45th day in a row, but the big storms don’t seem to get my heart rate up anymore. Oh, I’ll still keep an eye on the Weather Channel this week, but that’ll be purely for the fun of armchair quarterbacking how the response is handled – and how we’d have done it better way back when.
If you’d have asked me fifteen years ago what I wanted to do with my time working for Uncle, I’d have immediately said I wanted to live that emergency manager life. Now I’m not sure it would rank in the top twenty answers. At this point, the only things I want to do are those that can be safely bookended in an eight-hour day, with further preference given to those I can accomplish while wearing shorts and fuzzy slippers at the house.
Back when I was a young, still wet behind the years bureaucrat, I thought I wanted to be a professional emergency manager. You may remember me from such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, when I spent two months learning more about the bottled water, ice, and refrigerated trucking industry than is strictly reasonable.
You might be wondering what that has to do with what I learned this week… Well, it’s mostly that it seems so very little has changed in that world. Reports will never be on time. No one will read them when they are published. And the numbers being reported will never ever match.
I also learned that emergency management is probably a young man’s game. Things I once would have savored now regularly leave me trying to hold back a disgusted cry of “What is this fuckery?” and “What ignorant sonofabitch thought this was a good idea?”
Maybe that last part hasn’t really changed so much, though. I vaguely remember a whole lot of eye rolling during Katrina too.
This trip reminded me why I have enjoyed the work in emergency management since I first got the bug five years ago… It’s also reminded me why it’s time for me to go. While I’ve been here smoothing ruffled feathers and talking up our operation, I’ve been constantly peppered with emails from the home office about things that could more easily be handled by others. With a rare few exceptions, everyone in the office is senior to me in terms of years of service by 20-30 years. With that many years of experience stacked up, an office should be able to run for a week without sending major decisions through me for evaluation or to send in a report about how many of our people are working overseas. Sometimes I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s amateur hour at the icecapades around here.
This trip is probably my last big roundup before moving on to other pastures, but one of the most gratifying things in it all is knowing that my opinions in the field are sought out by senior leaders and people who awed me when I was just starting out. It’s a little humbling… but fortunately, my ego is sufficiently large not to be too deflated by that.