Sandy Aftermath and the Fragility of Complex Systems

Even though the news media are generally focusing on the “progress is being made” aspects of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath (in large measure because that’s what officials are pushing), there is still a great deal of distress, as well as probable long-lingering problems that are not being acknowledged.

We are going to keep following the story not so much because it’s in the area (although NYC and East Coast residents are overweighted in the NC readership) but because it’s an example of what happens when a complex system suffers serious damage. Sandy is serving as a laboratory for what we have in store as the population becomes every more urban and lives in bigger and bigger cities and those cities experience disasters.

This is not a comprehensive list of current and possible persistent stresses; I welcome additional reader comments:

Gasoline. This appears to be a not-trivial issue. There have been news and reader reports that gas was pretty much gone in Queens gas stations as of yesterday. Mayor Bloomberg said gas shortages “would be alleviated” by November 5, but it sounds like New Jersey will be behind that timetable. Reader Nathan rang around to gas stations in New Jersey, and even ones in areas that had not been flooded either had no gas or were running low and had long lines.

Power. The good news is not as good as it sounds. Con Ed says it will have all of its “underground networks” on by tomorrow. If that happens, that’s a day of schedule in the blackout area, which is a big step forward. However, that does not mean everyone will get power back. Remember, buildings connect to the electrical grid. If a building was flooded, its own electrical systems may have been damaged. This is particularly likely in high-rises, which tend to put that equipment in the basement. My understanding is that it takes 2 inspections before damaged building equipment can be reattached: one by Con Ed, another by NYC building inspectors. Even if the latter is waived on behalf of large “reputable” building operators, the former is essential. That may mean that a lot of the high-rises in the Wall Street area (particularly near Water Street and South Ferry), Battery Park City, and buildings in the lower parts of Tribeca may not have power restored (one bit of schadenfreude: this may continue to inconvenience top bank lawyer Rodgin Cohen, who is managing partner of Sullivan & Cromwell. The Financial Times reported that the white shoe firm had less than adequate disaster recovery planning. Maybe this is karmic payback for their role in acting as chief handmaiden to Wall Street).

Public Transportation. This continues to be a mess. Some of the subway system has been restored, and the city is trying to use busses to get people across the river where the subway lines are still out. But the math doesn’t work well. Just consider that one subway car holds at least as many people as a fully loaded bus (I’d guesstimate minimum 1.5x). I’m not sure of exact #s, but my impression is the typical subway train is eight cars. They typically spend less than 30 seconds at a stop because they have three doors and people can enter/exit basically 4 abreast. And at peak times, trains run 2 minutes apart. By contrast, busses are designed for people to enter single file, and the seating array also contributes to slower loading. The loading factor alone makes it hard to imagine that busses (even if you had enough) could replace as much as 1/5 of the subway capacity. And the reports of monster lines at the bus shuttle points confirm that this is an unresolvable issue.

The good news is the MTA says it can restore the 4,5 and F trains into Brooklyn within 2 hours of getting power, which is presumably tomorrow. I hope that is correct, or maybe more accurately, that getting the train back into service so quickly does not come at some long-term cost. Some readers were skeptical that merely hosing the salt water off and letting the circuits dry out would do. I’m sure the MTA would run tests before putting a line back in service, but one of the features of the system has been how reliable it is under normal circumstances. A short in some critical circuitry could easily take a line back down, and I wonder whether that becomes a frequent occurrence in life post-Sandy on many subway lines.

And on other lines, it may be quite a while before service is restored. On some lines, I’m told it will be 9-10 days before they are even pumped out; another reader saw a newscast in which an MTA employee casually said it would be months before the South Ferry/Whitehall station was operational.

Food and Water. The National Guard is distributing food and water in the blackout zone. It supposedly had 230,000 meals and was getting 1.5 million as of late on November 1 (and the Bloomberg article didn’t was not clear as to whether this was for Manhattan only). That sounds impressive but the estimates of the number of people in the blackout area starts at 220,000. 1.5 million meals is a bit more than is needed to feed them for 2 days. And what is the infrastructure and process for distributing these meals?

Food deliveries, even uptown, seem spotty. The very fancy food store near me seems to have gotten a full delivery. By contrast, the chain stores didn’t seem to have gotten much in the way of new fruit and veg. Bread, weirdly, seems to be coming in; I even saw fresh bread and Entenmann’s in my local drug store (as well as lots of water jugs). My blackout area sources say bread is being delivered to stores down there, but otherwise, not much in the way of resupply is happening. There has been a lot of dumpster diving, not just for the rummagers themselves, but on behalf of stay at homes and people too class proud to go digging.

But even if downtown gets power tomorrow, food generally isn’t delivered on weekends. Are any of the wholesalers planning to change schedules to resupply downtown? If not, even with power back, it will probably not be until Wednesday at best (trucks have established routes and deliveries are normally spaced over the week) until downtown is reasonably well supplied again.

Hospitals. We had been concerned re the impact on hospitals of the difficulties of getting doctors, nurses, and orderlies in. The situation is worse than we feared. From Ginnie NYC, hoisted from comments:

NYU Hospital and Bellvue (the city’s largest public hospital) will now be closed for at least 3 MONTHS. Beth Israel (on 17th St., in the Dark Zone) lost power and currently is running generators at their outer limits (3/4 days)). These displaced patients have overburdened the adjacent hospitals, who are also short-staffed because they cannot get in from the outer boroughs, Long Island, or New Jersey (despite partial restoration of public transportation).

The Manhattan hospital system is near collapse. Sounds like an exaggeration? It’s not. How do I know all this? I was hit by a cab on Monday afternoon, and taken to an Eastside hospital, and medical staff told me this.

My visit to the ER was beyond chaos (not normal ER chaos). I and several other trauma patients never received TRIAGE. They had no ICE. They were so short-staffed only cardiac patients received triage. One TBI patient had to wait over 4 HOURS to have a head CAT scan. These are bottom-line protocols that should never be violated, even in an emergency. The entire hospitals network was on the blink; everything had to be done manually (the servers in the flooded basement).

Here’s a story a P.A. told me:

A child on a ventilator, who lived in Zone A (mandatory evacuation) on the Lower East Side was moved to shelter in Zone C. It also flooded, so everyone in that shelter was moved to the Parker Meridien hotel ($600/night), on 57th Street. Of course, the Extel Realty tower crane collapsed, so the hotel was evacuated, and the child was moved to Bellvue. Which was then evacuated as it lost power.

Can you believe this ****?

Most clinics are closed until further notice because staff cannot get in. These serve the indigent population.

Another reader (nycer) made a basic point:

After the storm, why are people attempting to ‘go to work’ at their office jobs? Stay off the road! The transportation system should be the domain of only emergency and repair workers for the iterm. Why is there limited fuel? Because so many idiots spend 8 hours idling in gridlock to ‘go to work’ at an office job that is franly irrelevant to the rehabilitaion of the city at this time. They are getting in the way. The gridlock caused by these selfish fools makes it impossible for supplies to be transported to those that need them. How can fuel tankers transport fuel to a station when the roads are clogged?

The news media have commented approvingly about how uptown looks pretty much normal. But that normalcy has come at a cost to parts of the city that are in distress. Why haven’t certain routes in (say the Midtown Tunnel and one of the bridges) at a minimum been given over to the exclusive use of emergency vehicles and resupply? Why haven’t people been directed sternly not to come in unless they are in designated priority businesses (amusingly, that means grocery store employees, hospital orderlies, and electricians would be correctly treated as more important than private equity guys and other Masters of the Universe). You would not get universal compliance, but even partial would be a big step in the right direction.

This disaster is a big wake up call. The East Coast will limp through it, with more deaths and dislocations than were necessary. The open question is whether the officialdom will engage in the kind of post mortems and investments to reduce the impact of future disasters.

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  1. skippy

    The 72 hour – polite grace period – is over.

    The amount of time required to address – basic – social concerns will determine the ever loosening – good will – between suffers.

    Skippy… two weeks should be a tell….

    1. redleg

      Looks like things are going normally for this scale of disaster.
      Federal response is better than Katrina and should get the normal “disaster after the disaster” calls in a week or so.

      It also looks (from the outside) like the response planning and training wasn’t geared to a regional incident.

      Expect the power service to be fragile if it is brought back on line, bypassing damaged substations. Keep in mind that large electrical equipment is not generally “off the shelf” equipment, and even using design-build it will take weeks to months to have new equipment installed and running.

      I would be concerned with water potability, especially after the building tanks empty.

      Remember that aid distribution is complicated and confusing. Human nature is to deliver supplies to locations that are accessible and ready to receive them, so the same sites tend to get oversupplied unless there is someone coordinating distribution in terms of what/where/when.

      Finally, sleep deprivation affects performance. Look out people in leadership positions who have not slept much (or at all) since Sunday.

      Best of luck to all those affected by Sandy.

      1. skippy

        Concur with the equipment observation, this stuff is built to order, the higher the cost, the fewer or zilch in stock plus build times (Mfg in how many miles from need thingy). How many build designs over lapping? (Frankenstein strikes again!).

        Skippy… again… two weeks is my litmus test in these matters and it all centers around peoples goodwill – towards – each other. If a significant portion of the population is/feels left out… well…

  2. D. Mathews

    Reminds me of our post-hurricane travails here in the Caribbean. After about three days of long lines for everything from food and water at the supermarkets to gasoline for cars and generators, peoples’ patience inevitably wear thin. Tempers flare and fights break out. Just got to “grin and bear it.” I’m sorry very to learn about the situation regarding the hospitals. Also, I can’t imagine what New Yorkers are going through that must trek over 10 stories in those high-rise buildings with no electricity or generators. Expect to see some enterprising individuals hoisting goods up to the top floors via long ropes attached to containers/buckets/crates/ whatever…

    1. Lyle

      Re the Gasoline shortage. It happened in Houston after Ike, google up Ike Houston gas shortage. Whenever a large number of gas stations loose power you start with a big problem, then when the distribution centers loose power also you have a problem. It takes 4-5 days as it did in Houston to fix the issue by getting the power back on to the distribution centers and to enough gas stations.
      Now one question I have is did these folks fill up before the storm? On the Gulf Coast this is listed as part of the preparations.
      (During Ike the message signs on the roads in Dallas San Antonio and Austin proclaimed that there was no gas in Houston, or further east to the La line)

    2. Flying Kiwi

      Reminds me of the February 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake. The inquest running currently into the deaths of 115 people in just one building – some of whom survived the original collapse but, trapped, died in the resulting fire (nasty) is revealing a sorry tale of chaos and mix-ups.

      Among the particularly disturbing accusations coming to light are that the rescue services did not know how to use some of their equipment – ie concrete cutters – and had inadequate spare and replacement parts, chaos as to who was supposed to be in charge of what, and a claim that rescue efforts slowed to a crawl when the ‘experts’ arrived and began worrying more about the ‘health and safety’ of the rescuers than rescuing the trapped.

      Yes Christchurch wasn’t at the top of earthquake-threatened cities in New Zealand but it is becoming apparent from a spate of recent disasters beginning with 9/11 through to Fukishima and Sandy that those charged with the preparation for and management of ‘natural disasters’ spend large amounts of money on attending international conferences and drawing up nice-looking folders of what to do in an emergency, and are invariably left flat-footed when one eventually occurs.

  3. Max424

    Mr. Dow is not totally displeased with events, up 136. He would have been ecstatic, however, up 1,000 and breaking records, if Staten Island and all its residents had been washed out to sea.

    I mean, who lives there, working white trash and immigrants, mostly? What good are they?

    Think about what you could do with all that prime real estate. You build a giant supercomputer park, is what you could do, the whole island as one big mainframe, tapped into THE market right next door.

    Shit man, you could make 40 trillion trades every. nanosecond. Trade a thousand faster than the Lord answers prayers.

    The Holy Grail of the addict gambler realized, the faster the action the better.

    Oh God, the fastest action ever!

  4. rjs

    suggest you follow up on the poor neighborhoods a year from now…willing to bet they fare no better than new orleans after katrina…

    1. Lambert Strether

      Agreed. When you hear the word “Katrina,” don’t think “disaster.” Think blueprint (a la Shock Doctrine, as Yves pointed out yesterday).

      Mayor-for-life Bloomberg’s insistence that the marathon go on is a perfect example of treating a city as a theme park, which was exactly mentality of the ethnic and class cleansers who ran the “recover” operations in NOLA.

      1. ginnie nyc

        AMEN. The public (storm victims), and the public space (the streets of New York)must be preserved for corporate-sponsored activity only (the Marathon).

        Uniformed services are heavily posted along the entire Marathon route, through all 5 boroughs – including the very heavily hit Staten Island. They cannot assist in clean-up and recovery if they’re guarding the Marathon. This means clean-up and recovery will be delayed by many vital hours.

        1. Ms G

          Yes. But somehow Mayor-For-Life-Bloomberg thinks that New Yorkers are all imbeciles because he keeps insisting in public announcements that “no resources will be diverted.” This obvious lying to the public about how he is looting public resources for his elite private theme park amusement (the marathon) is flabbergasting. It is as though he is thoroughly convinced that he has successfully “disarmed,” neutralized and rendered impotent the true owners of the public resources.

        2. Ms G

          Ginnie — is this true about heavy police *already* being posted along the marathon route? It’s only Friday, for heavens’ sakes. And already Bloomberg is allowing cops to be diverted from the City? 48 hours in advance? So it’s not only that he *is* draining public resources for private purposes but he is doing for 3 entire days (including Sunday)?

          Have you actually seen this police presence or is it covered in any of the local MSM?

  5. amateur socialist

    “I don’t think $25 a gallon for gas is unreasonable…” Duke university economist on NPR a few minutes ago.

      1. alex

        Good thing nobody listened to these idiots during WWII. The US had rationing and price controls, which meant we avoided the economic problems we had during other wars. Now for the best news: we won!

        1. robert157

          These days we get price controls without rationing, which is just breathtakingly stupid.

          A simple voucher system has been worked out by govt. but it requires a tiny bit of political leadership to put it into place. (Chris Christie would have to stand up and tell people they can only buy so much gas at a time.) So, no.

          1. bob

            Oh, come on….Christe telling people how much gas they can buy? That’s not free market…

            He can only ORDER people out of a city, then blame it’s mayor for defying his order. GOP fascist superhero.

            Know the rules.

          2. robert157

            Chris Christie, the man who killed the commuter rail tunnel but then tried to use the federal commuter rail tunnel money to fix his state’s crumbling roads, (because his state’s transportation trust fund was empty (because he stood in the way of raising its ridiculously low gasoline tax)). The man who did everything he could to make his state as dependent on cheap gasoline and driving as any state possibly could be, who faced an easily predictable shortage of gasoline, but chose to do nothing whatsoever about it.

            GOTTA LOVE CHRIS CHRISTIE, now shaped like cartoon of 19th-century robber baron

          3. different clue

            Is the political battlespace getting shaped for a credible counter-Christie campaign for the next gubernatorial election?

            “Kill everything Christie started, re-start everything Christie killed”. Put that starkly, at least New Jerseyans would have a fair chance to flush the Christie or eat the Christie all over again.

    1. Eric Patton

      Well, not if you’re going to have real public transportation and a plan for poor people. Perhaps he mentioned these things. Or perhaps he’s so privileged he just doesn’t notice.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      as, “DUKE Economist” — a tell! of the Yale/Bush/CIA/Finance Cartel in NC! Such a *Good Soldier* of the Global Reich of Private Profiteering Cartels, of which Elite Universities with *Elite Economists* Derive Benefits Immeasurable.

  6. Jim Haygood

    From Bloomberg, some detail on pumping operations:

    Five subway tubes, two Amtrak tunnels and three of the city’s primary roadways remain under water after the largest-ever Atlantic tropical system slammed into the U.S. East Coast.

    A 2011 New York state study estimated it would take three days to drain the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel between Brooklyn and the Battery in Lower Manhattan if it was flooded in a major storm. It’s already been four days. The tunnel is filled floor to ceiling for more than a mile — an estimated 86 million gallons (326 million liters) of water — in its two tubes.

    Subway tunnels under the East River would take between five to seven days, more if multiple tunnels were flooded, according to the study.

    The Corps’ water-removal team, headquartered in Rock Island, Illinois, has been in New York since Oct. 30, using 12 eight-inch pumps and 13 six-inch pumps shipped from New Orleans.

    Each subway tunnel would require four pumps that could remove 1,000 to 1,500 gallons per minute, [a 2011 New York State] report estimated. At that rate, about 7.2 million gallons (27 million liters) per day, per tunnel could be drained, the report said. It wasn’t realistic to expect all tunnels to be pumped at the same time, it said.

    Dividing 86 million gallons in the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel by an proposed pumping rate of 7.2 million gallons per day, gives an estimated schedule of 12 days. And that’s for just one of the ten facilities mentioned in the article.

    Maybe infrastructure projects will now receive a higher priority than say, pacifying Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan and expanding the Navy’s fleet. But under the rule of a petrified, co-opted duopoly, one shouldn’t count on it. Defense contractors have to eat too!

    1. Richard Kline

      “The Corps” of Engineers, though an imperfect organization, is another taxpayer funded public service. Of the kind that 45% of the population at a minimum are voting within days to eliminate in favor of rent-seeking private corporate opportunies. “Won’t lease us your tunnel for 75 years? Fine, we’ll leave it flooded.”

      NYC and related public Authorities are facing billion$ in costs just for service recovery, to say nothing of the larger infrastructure buildout which this disaster’s conditions imply. It’s no wonder that King Michael the Blom had a shout out for Barack yesterday: he wasn’t going to get a dime out of Romney or that guy’s party, but will see nine-figure lump sums back for his constituency from inside the Beltway for one timely plug for the man with the mo’. Hey, this is how things get done in the real world . . . .

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Jim to WHICH Private Profiteers will FEMA give the *No-Bid*/*Sole Source Provider* “Contracts” on the Tony Soprano “PPP” Model?

        1. LeonovaBalletRusse

          Will His Dishonor enforce the *Aspen Model* on *Manhattan*? – Will there be Strict Separation of the Rentier Owner Master Class on the *Inside* of *ManhattanThe City of London in America* – from the Worker Slave Class on the *Outside* of *Manhattan The City of London in America* — with Outsiders in Slave Settlements “Fuori le Mura* of *Manhattan…*? Will the Worker Slave Class now have a *Separate* Bus or Subway System for getting into the *MANHATTAN APARTHEID SYSTEM* Ruled by the Global Reich of Psycopathic Blood and Soil can be enforced for EVAH?

          “THE ANGLO-AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT from Rhodes to Cliveden” by Carroll Quigley of Georgetown University reveals the QUEEN BEE of the “Hive Mind” of this Global Reich: Cecil RHODES: Founder of RHODESIA, Champion of Apartheid in Africa. This Cartel rules America through the Rockefeller Dynasty, the Bush Dynasty, and Rockefeller *Realpolitik* Henchman Henry Kissinger — in conjunction with the “Crown Agents” Cartel and the IG Farben Cartel known as the “Brussels EU.” ARREST THEM!

          “They don’t care about us, so why should we care about Them? (NeuroSage)
          The French National Razor awaits; Trees await .01%DNA Strange Fruit.

    1. borkman

      Reading comprehension fail. Piece recommended having the authorities pressure owners/managers of non-critical business stay shut or on skeletal operations until city was resupplied.

  7. Richard Kline

    In a real-and-true disaster, First World conditions go down below the watermark. We’re so comfy in this country that despite reading on a daily basis the details of major disasters and war conditions in highly urbanized and ‘developed’ contexts we, none of us, think that this _could apply to us and our decisions_. Aleppo; Tripoli; Gaza; Acheh; Kobe; Mashad; Aquilia; Yerevan; Bursa: in our vision of what to expect, these places and their experiences neither exist nor matter, we give oursevels to believe. “If they were decent people, they’d live in London or NYC and they wouldn’t let a spot of trouble get out of hand. They’d know how to _handle_ these things.” New Orleans: that was a mulligan call by a Patsy dope, right?

    Not right. In real disasters as we see, the actuals can and regularly do exceed the expecteds by 15-100%, and that’s quite enough to make anyone in the radius living a Second and Third World experience for a 7-90 days. It you get a better outcome than than, disaster planning and response was good.

    While I’m sympathetic with Ginnie and others, here are my responses in serial to many situations mentioned in the post. In a real disaster, there will be no CTs done for days, or at all. Hospitals will function with 40% staffing, mostly those who were on site remaining on duty for the duration on a shift-and-shift basis of 12-16 hour shifts (and I say that from my direct experience as a hospital worker). Hospitals will struggle to ration the most essential medications and supplies, with the largest single problem being keeping sterile processing up. Presuming they have power, since if they don’t have power they don’t function, period. Clinics won’t open, period. Bread, as we see, will be one of the few staples steadily delivered: it’s produced in large volume at large commercial bakeries typically located in peripheral areas which some of them have their own back-up power. —But you can live a long time on bread.

    Those ‘selfish’ fools going in to work: The large majority of them don’t get paid if they don’t go to work in our ‘no saftey net’ US society. Losing a week’s pay is a major hit for many. Two weeks a personal disaster. Three weeks, and they’re flirting with bankruptcy. Seriously, for working folks it’s that close, every month. Don’t be surprised that they place their personal financial survival over what seems common sense convenience of all.

    Developed urban areas are utterly dependent upon daily transportation flows in the US: at a guess, less than 10% live within walking distance of their workplace. It doesn’t take more than one big bridge out for transportation flows, already ridiculously stressed in every major urban area, to become unmanageable. That public transportation derided by some political sectors: our cities _do not_ function without it because essential support personnel cannot report to work or where needed. Yes, folks, eliminating public transit is literally cutting the throats of our cities—or an intentional rent seeking activity by wannabe profit-seeking ‘micro transportation’ alternatives. But sans public transit, our high density urban cores cannot be staffed, and cease to function.

    “[D”esignated priority businesses (amusingly, that means grocery store employees, hospital orderlies, and electricians . . . .” Each of the UNIONIZED, essential workforces, hated by our oligarchs who want nothing better than to strip these jobs of benefits, job security, slash their pay, and then expect them to be ‘20% more productive’ in the conditions of serfdom imposed. That’s right: as we see, our dense urban cores (and urban contexts generally) DO NOT function without core service workers who are overwhelmingly organized but uniformly under political assault by the worst and richest elements in our society. So consider who values society more: service workers who show up and work in a crises or the oligarchs who spend the other 51 weeks a year seeking to denigrate them, grind them down, and gut their jobs where not eliminating them entirely? Billionaires have private pantries, but the other inhabitants in Manhattan _need_ those service workers.

    First World lifestyle is utterly dependent upon massive interdependency. It’s a risky bet to begin with because if it fails it fails big. But it takes the coordinated response-and-recovery powers of GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY as a whole to move the rubble, feed the affected, and prepare the ‘grid.’ Political factions anti-government are anti-society: it’s that simple. A secondary point seldom heated though known in sociological circles is that the anti-government agitation we see in the US at the moment is a code word for anti-urban sentiment. It’s not a conincidence but a necessary condition that the bulk of the ‘anti-government’ hooraw we hear is from rural and outer suburban populations. Because urban populations simply can’t _surivive_ without government: this is what we see in walk-through in Sandy’s Left Hook landing. We have a rural-urban antipathy where to this point urban sectors don’t see that their existence is targeted and on the line. But they should; and should respond accordingly. And not by kvetching but by taking a reality pill and a look around.

    1. Dave of Maryland

      Nice kveching but no solutions.

      Require all gas stations over a certain small size to have backup generators.

      Require public libraries to have backup generators so they can function as cell-phone recharging stations. Verizon and the others have discontinued the copper network which functioned 100% in powerless environments. Since unions came up, go ask some old CWA guys.

      Medicine in the USA has been on the verge of collapse for at least two decades and gets closer to absolute collapse with every passing year. Natural disasters are a nightmare even when the hospitals are prepared. A return to Medieval medical practices would actually be an improvement. Yes, I have read the books. The Smiths Family Physician, of 1870, will stun you. Some enterprising joker has reprinted it. Everyone should have it, especially for emergencies.

      1. Dave of Maryland

        PS: Most gas stations, and a lot of the bigger merchants, use dishes for their internet connections. With generators, their internet connections never go down.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Dave, I thought about but skipped over the powerless gas pump situation, but I shouldn’t have, so good mention there. It is an absurd stupidity that we virtually all gas pumps are electric only, and so don’t function in any real crisis. They should have a mandatory design by law for a manual back-up. That wouldn’t be terribly expensive, but could literally be a lifesaver.

          The military’s been put on notice to handle fuel delivery in the surge dead zone, and really that’s a call about 36 hours late. But part of the issue here is again the brain-seized public-private barrier in the US. Gas delivery is a _private_ concern, so public officials simply haven’t been cognitively up to speed on the need for public authorities to take over in a crisis. But after what we se here, disaster plans for urban areas going forward should have fuel delivery timelines and protocols very, very high on the list. We have made dense urban societies utterly dependent upon massive and _uninterrupted_ fuel and power use, with crisis planning for that reality manifestly behind the reality curve.

      2. Eric Patton

        I’ll give you a solution: Scrap capitalism and replace it with participatory economics. Now, if members of the coordinator class could just acknowledge their class privileges…

      3. alex

        “Require all gas stations over a certain small size to have backup generators.”

        While many gas stations are without power, there are enough with it to keep things running. The problem is getting the gas to the gas stations. Too many storage facilities and terminals are without power to put the gas/diesel into the trucks that deliver to the gas stations.

        1. Lidia

          I looked into buying a generator pre-Sandy, but a cursory look informed me that (these are just wild-ass numbers) something like 6 gallons of gas would give you 8 hours of autonomy at half-load for a 3000-5000w (i.e. medium-sized) generator. It only makes minimal sense if you can get large amounts of gasoline on a continuous basis. Even if my life depended on it, I would find it hard to justify a 1 gallon/hour consumption rate for who knows how long…

      4. Capo Regime

        Sometimes Dave there are no solutions only inevitable results. He can winge and the post is full of insights. Such an american thing to shutter complaint or observation with–well you have no solutions. Many things including the sorry state of the U.S.–have no fast ready and often useless solutions. Most solutions such as the ones you list are mere exercises in magical thinking.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Capo, I agree with your remarks, not that I take hard exception to Dave’s comments. But I aimed at a larger point which I’l make explicit here: the first step to solutions or improved design is to recognize _current_ failings or maldesign. Much of the problem with under preparedness lies in misassessment of the scale of problem outcomes. The second step is to project reasonable parameters for future outcomes. Those were my goals, to the extent that I had goals in my remarks. So much of what we see and hear regarding problems is slapdash, piece-and-not-the-whole, or tangential. I’m always a big picture guy.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Thank you for your *Globalization Party* Line, Richard Kline. We appreciate your input, and will continue to welcome your deposits into We the People’s Repository of conventional Global Reich Propaganda in C.21.

    3. ginnie nyc

      1 point re: hospitals – of the 7 acute care facilities on the East side of Manhattan (including Harlem Hospital in the middle, and Sloan Kettering, which is a dedicated cancer facility), at present only 4.5 are accepting ER patients. This includes Beth Israel & NY Downtown, both operating on generators. At this moment only about 40% of staff are able to report to any hospital. So we have already reached your specified threshold for genuine disaster in these respects.

      1. ginnie nyc

        And available staff are working 12-16 hours. And there is no Level 1 Trauma center currently operating below 14th Street in the Dark Zone (the one that existed was shut down last year, due to real estate machinations of the New York Diocese and one of the Mayor’s real estate chums, the Rudin family. It’s to be demolished for condominiums.)

        1. annie

          i don’t know how they let st.vincent’s die! on 9/11 that’s where the injured were taken. any downtown disaster today, there’s not a convenient destination.
          now with sandy, beds are full: wouldn’t st. vincent’s have made a huge difference? incredible, the shortsightedness!

          1. LeonovaBalletRusse

            Was St. Vincent’s property of the Roman Catholic Archidiocese of New York?

            Makes you wonder: Was the “Muslim” Universal Brotherhood Facility meant to prosper in the shadow of the WTC disaster a former property of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, whose sale was finessed by His Dishonor?

        2. Richard Kline

          Good reads there ginnie; I don’t know the topography of medical delivery in Manhattan at all. But given the scale of outages, I’m not in the least surprised to hear that the target numbers I grabbed on the fly out of personal experience are in effect. I’m disappointed to hear the low level of ER response though, _especially_ in a crisis with primary hospitals taken down by power loss. That is a major failing in crisis care in my view. Public authorities should designate specific sites as ER priority foci and flood resources in, and if they haven’t that’s an issue for accountability after the fact.

          Also, i didn’t mention but the one failing you mentioned in citing your personal, involuntary experience in an ER was the lack of triage. That’s a major fail regardless of what else went down. They may have done a ‘silent assessment’ but you can’t gauge internal injuries with that, which it sounds like you have the med background to know. All in all, it sounds like NYC/Manhattan has ‘floundered through’ the medical service crisis rather than planned their way through, and that’s disappointing given recent major trauma incidents in Manhattan. The country’s first city can, and should, do better than that, especially given the high concentration of medical resources there. We may see fairly few deaths from a so-so response, but that’s just luck . . . .

  8. Tom B

    Going to Manasquan, NJ today to check on my FIL. Finally heard from him. They still have NG and water, but no electric. Lost both of his cars when the tide came in. Going to bring him one of my generators and a shit load of gasoline. As you know, both have been very difficult to obtain, esp the gasoline. I saw on the news that cars were literally lined up for miles to buy some. Damned stupid of them really, they’ll burn up more fuel and time waiting in the lines than they would by simply driving the one to two hours down here where we seem to have plenty. He said that the supermarket in town is open, but only for non-perishables as they have no electric except a generator to run the cash register and a few lights. I’ll bet you have to have to pay cash too since there probably isn’t any internet or phone lines to process credit cards. They aren’t letting anyone actually go into the aisles. You have to know what you want and they’ll take the order to get it, if they have it. This is the shape of things when the shit hits the fan, and is actually far better that what could happen, so think about that. Keep stocking your bunkers.

    I’ll take some pictures if they let me travel around. Police are blocking off access to everyone except residents so that might be difficult.

  9. Tom B

    Oh, and some extra food. Good thing I bought all those MREs. And everyone thought I was crazy. Who’s crazy now?

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Congratulations, Tom B., for being We the People’s Leader in consumption of MREs as Our Daily Bread. Glad you didn’t mention they are made of Soylent Green.

  10. gozounlimited

    Why you are suffering …..

    WHAT??? “Frankenstorm” NEW HAARP TTA EVENT – CAUGHT DRIVING Hurricane Sandy??!!!

    see here:

    Hurricane Sandy Frankenstorm Forecast Vs. Historical Data PLUS 5 Nuclear plant face problems!

    see here:

    OBAMA – ORDERS DHS to CONTROL ‘FRANKENSTORM’ Hurricane Sandy !!!!!

    see here:

    Michael Jackson – Hurricane Sandy Geoengineered?

    see here:

    I’m sorry …. tried to warn …. LOVE YOU

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      gozo, you are the Real American Patriot! Thank you.

      In last link: No pix of DARPA’S “Jesus” and “Mary” in the Sky with Diamonds? You know, due to “appear” at Global Prime Time for Mass Consumption of Magick during the Universal Moment of Old Age/ New Age Religion’s *Armageddon* AKA The *Apocalypse*.

      Got popcorn?

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      gozo, how many people know that there is a Radio Telescope Array also near Livingston, Louisiana? This fact was kept quiet but it was locally known in the late 1990s.

  11. Gerard Pierce

    “The open question is whether the officialdom will engage in the kind of postmortems and investments to reduce the impact of future disasters.”

    At this very moment I can hear the rustling of committees being born. It is certain that these will reduce the impact of future disasters on officialdom.

  12. ESS

    I live in a blackout area. I’m at work now, because work has power (I am very lucky in that I can walk to work as my daily commute). NYC has taken this as in stride as possible. Food is easily available from stores, even though the shelves are more bare than usual. No one is starving to death. The dark areas are spooky at night, but most folks are staying at friends or family apartments, or have left the city.

    The mass migration from the dark areas to the powered areas Tuesday was a sight to behold. Thousands of kids (ages 20-35) walking with bags like they were headed to the airport, simply walking uptown to frieldy apartments. People sharing everything, especially any sort of charging stations. The hotels should be commended. Their lobbies were packed with people charging phones.

    All in all The City (yes, capitalized, the only city) has taken this quite well. There is a great sense of community within it. I haven’t seen or heard of a single hostile act since the power went out. There is no looting, no fighting, just people a bit dirtier than usual because in NYC no power means no water in most buildings (after about a day). So I’m brushing my teeth at work, going to a friends to shower. Personally I prefer my own bed even without power. We aren’t allowed to throw trash out in our building because the compators don’t work, so I’ve been bringing bags of trash to work for the building to throw out. No one cares, no one complains. Honestly I’ve found the whole thing pretty fun. The Duane Reed (like an Eckard or CVS) people say that DR is putting them up in hotels to keep the stores open.

    All in all my experience has been a fun adventure. Inconvenient of course, but not bad. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

    1. ginnie nyc

      ESS: I am very pleased to read this. However, what about those Dark Zone residents who are not 20-35 y.o.? Who live on the 4th, 5th floor or higher, and cannot get out?

  13. Dave of Maryland

    Here in Maryland my basement flooded. First time since Floyd in 1999, or so a neighbor said.

    I have French drains. They didn’t work. Was it just a French thing?

    No, as it turns out. The storm surge up the Chesapeake pushed up the water table (I’m only a couple of miles inland). After a day it subsided, the Frenchies kicked in and my basement drained in record time.

    If that’s the case in areas hit by the storm surge in New York City, basements won’t drain until the water table retreats.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      You may want to add another french drain to help carry water off the main route into the yard if you have the room. Its just a black pipe with holes to let water out. They are meant to keep water away from the house not to act as a true drain. Its not difficult to do. You have to dig which is a pain in the ass, but if you can, you might be able to prevent another flood by easing the main problem because the french drains can get blocked in the outlets along the main body if the soil is wet and sticking to small debris.

    1. Jagger

      I lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. I evacuated and spent the hurricane with my parents an hour north of New Orleans. Power was out for 6 weeks. Roads were completely blocked by fallen trees. My father was in early stages of alzhemeirs and didn’t prepare even though warned.

      The worst part of the ordeal was after the hurricane. It was late August with temperatures right on 100 and high humidity. The heat was an absolute monster. It wasn’t cool enough to sleep until around 1AM. Didn’t have enough gas to run the generator more than an hour a day which means no water, no cooling and lose all perishable food in about three days. It also took three days of work with the chainsaw to clear our back road to reach the main road. Six weeks later, we had power back.

      From my location, the most important resources for a hurricane are the power generator, lots of gas and a working chainsaw.

      And my house in New Orleans flooded. Katrina was something else.

      IIRC, you have about 24 hours to flush out an outboard motor with fresh water when it has been submerged in salt water. After that, electronics are destroyed. So I imagine those flooded subways would have lost any electronics located in submerged areas for several days and have to be replaced. Seems like they would not be back up quickly.

  14. Jardinero1

    Having been through Hurricanes Rita and Ike, I think New Yorkers are doing really well, just four days out. In fact, I really admire how well and how fast things are up and running. My hats off to the public employees and utility people who are working round the clock to get NYC back up and running. Keep up the good work. To all the citizens of NYC, just keep helping your neighbors and avoid negative thoughts.

  15. Ms G

    In another heartening display of effective compassion, some marathoners (one individual woman, a case worker from Crowon Heights; another, a group organizing through a Feacebook page) are planning to ride the NYC Marathon bus to the Staten Island start point but then will break off and to join relief efforts (including running up and down a lot of stairs to deliver water and food) instead of running 26.5 miles from Point A to Point B.

    This is inspiration.

  16. Ron

    The breakdown of complex urban lifestyle causing widespread social unrest and misery is not a new topic and has been discussed endlessly but few pay any attention until the lights go out or the food distribution system fails. Few Americans want to live like the Amish yet the reality of our fossil fuel advertising driven lifestyle generates the seeds of its own destruction and offers little or no alternative to the masses other then poverty and picking through garage for a meal.

  17. Middle Seaman

    In my opinion, what failed in NY and NJ are not complex systems as systems, but rather the infrastructure and the political system. For instance, power can be totally underground. It’s still vulnerable, but can be fixed faster. Cost prevents this solution. For decades, beach communities have been aware of the danger to their communities; nothing was done. Above it all, no one does much about global warming.

    1. redleg

      Underground power conduits have 2 problems in a flood: one- if not designed for submersion, the buried conduits are buoyant and will come out of the ground when in saturated soils. This allows water to enter the conduit and/or breaks the conductors.

      two – they can trap water in the conduit. In this case the flood was seawater, so extensive corrosion will likely affect conductors within buried conduits. This is also a huge electrocution hazard.

  18. John Lenihan

    Many of these problems come from the foolish and misconceived beliefs of people like “Moneybags Mikey” that the plutocrats (like him) come first, and their “direction” is needed for progress. Electricians and mechanics are a hundred times more important than Mikey mugging at the camera, but there are too few, and they are held in contempt anyway.

    Why are there “bucket brigades” of diesel fuel being carried by hand to emergency generators in some places? Natural gas from ConEd’s unaffected gas lines, with very trivial adjustments could easily run these important facilities. Moneybags and his tribe haven’t got the slightest clue!

    Why is gasoline so important? Because politicians like Mikey won’t push to get the essential public transportation needed for New York, especially improvements over the “hole in the ground”, unreliable subway system. Anybody other than Moneybags would have prohibited all but essential automobile traffic long since.

    It all comes down to a collossal failure of leadership by plutocrat pols who buy their offices to stroke their own gargantuan egos.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      His Dishonor hogs the photo ops to prove to his Imperial Betters/Bettors that “he’s on it” — as Shock Doctrine Agent and Court Jester for the *British Imperial* .01% DNA Global Reich of *Throne* – *Crown* – and Corporate Cartel.

  19. OldTimer

    Yves, I mailed my donation to your fundraiser before Sandy hit…hope you have mail delivery !!!

    Yves, thank you for focusing on the East Coast Crisis…I think we will get more “down in the real world” details here than we will obtain almost anywhere else…not only could this website become a truc public service and desseminator of information, it could also become the basis of one helluva book in a few months….

    I believe it will be interesting to watch how the response to the MSM’s hometown differs from the coverage, plans and reconstruction that took place in New Orleans after Katrina…

    Differences that come to mind:

    * FEMA trailers are dependent on 2 small propane tanks for heat and they are not well insulated and thus of less use in the snowbelt.

    * The poorest of the poor were dispersed from the Dome to places all over the USA. NYC is stuck with this problem.

    * NYC has lots of high rises so the problems of many will be hidden from public viewing.

    * Snow will come and compound the problems.

    * Many of the construction workers returned to Mexico and can not get back into the USA easily. NYC is a long way from Tiajuana.

    * Housing of the workers on or near NYC will be hard to find.

    * If Romney is elected, privatization will trump the real need for governmnet assistance and coordination. (Govt. may not work real well, but at least the workers will keep working.)


    Three great reads about New Orleans and Katrina

    1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose a Times Piayune reporter

    Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke

    The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley.


    The Unbuilding of the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche is also on point to what NYC will be going though……

    and, finally, watch TREME on HBO …. no one tells a story about public policy and social policy and the effect the two have on the little people better than David Simon …

    Watching history unfold……..Detroit, New Orleans and NYC all suffering monumental disasters of EPIC PROPOTIONS….who woulda thunk this could happen in the USA

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse


      “PATH OF DESTRUCTION: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms” by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein;

      *A SPIKE LEE FILM: “WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS” (HBO Documentary Films, HBO Video: 4 hours on 3 discs) “Winner Venice International Film Festival: Three Awards”

  20. damian

    in the last three days i have been to Northern NJ, westchester, manhattan, staten island and brooklyn several times for business, visiting family as well as entertainment in brooklyn

    everywhere i went people are well behaved and quiet, despite the difficulties – gasoline lines and lack of power- the Con Ed guys are doing a great job and staying at it –

    i think greater NY in general are a disciplined group of citizens given the environment

  21. optimader

    yves, you are being diplomatic..

    as well as probable long-lingering problems that are not being acknowledged

    I would replace the word “probable” with “fantastic”, insert “high level infrastructure and property value” between “lingering” and “problems” and “not being acknowledged” with “continue to be desperately ignored”.

    as well as fantastic long-lingering high level infrastructure and property value problems that continue to be desperately ignored.

    There will HAVE to be a fundmental reevaluation of eastern seaboard infrastructure strategy, property values/insuranace risk, If we are wise, this will be recognized as the HUGE engineering and sociatal challenge.

    RE: NY a new normal will have to be recognized to economically survive. Just consider the subway system as teh canary inthe coalmine. It is going to be subject to chronic water related reliability failures as systems that have been ducttaped back together rather than be replaced -to get people moving. Gee, I wonder if ther eare structural issues after a fundemental and rapid change from design to nondesign loads? Any hydraulic forces there? Erosion?

    The possibilties boggle the mind, and thats just the subway.. How mant THOUSANDS of miles of above ground ANCIENT electrical utulity distribution??

    What incredibly nasty buried “Stuff” in NJ was floated out of the ground and spread around??

    Nukeiplants? dont even go there, I’m trying to be optimistic here.

    Just considering the scale of this storm, and the geographic scope of simultaneous infrastructue it’s compromised? The scope is fantastic and the resource reallocation WILL have to be fantastic.

    What happens when the next super storm hits in say.. two years? Or make that next year? Why not?

    Insurance industry actuarial quants are cranked on Red Bull.

    A boon foe large scale infrastructure engineering companies. Heck, just prioritizing the risks. Huge deal..

    1. optimader

      Also, compare the effort spent “preventing” terrorist attacks vs natural disasters.

      That to me is codeword “reallocation”. This needs to be a pivot point to reallocate wealth away from the corporate military-infrastructure to a corporate infrastructure-infrastructre.

      The government ciphers, the industries that bought them and the media need to refocus public resources away from perpetual war to hardening infrastructure and reevaluating the use and arrangement of coastline

    2. Ron

      accepting climate change and its impact not only along the coast but throughout our lifestyle which is fossil fuel dependent would be a significant change for the political class as well as main street but I doubt that much will be done along the lines you suggest other then some huge engineering build outs like the sea storm barriers that may or may not provide much relief. Suburban build outs that cover miles of American landscape have been created to generate greater auto dependence and now require a small army of workers to maintain basic services on a street by street basis. The White middle and upper class will hold on to this suburban lifestyle against great odds.
      Climate change will impact American lifestyle yet I doubt little will change until the white suburban masses throw in the towel and adopt traditional community driven lifestyles.

      1. optimader

        Yes, suburban sprawl was a phenom that beyond Sloan’s wildest expectations, but in the triage of risk-cost minimization, the highest value opportunites are the highest population density= the coastline. The US geographic advantage over the rest of the world’s countries has been the unique poadvantage of miles of coastline-we have the most. Now it can be man bites dog story.

        In anycase, suburbia? Electrified light rail can give it breathing space as a urban model.. Expensive, but very doable in a organized and well planned manner

      2. docg

        Climate change is for real, but it’s only one part of a vast set of problems. A city like New York needs constant maintenance and the older it gets the more important that all sorts of backup systems are in place. RELIABLE backup systems, I might add. The subway system, the electrical grid, the various bridges and tunnels, the aging buildings, access to basic supplies, such as food and fuel, etc., etc., these pose problems far beyond the scope of any efforts to ameliorate climate change, efforts that won’t have much impact anyhow, for at least the next 50 years or so.

        Climate change is flavor of the month, actually flavor of the decade I suppose. It’s not a fad, no, but it’s getting far too much attention and too many other immediately pressing issues are being swept under the rug.

        1. different clue

          Since climate change is the future as far as the eye can see, why not repair/replace/redesign the survival infrastructure systems with expected future climate and weather in mind? If one is going to repair/replace/rebuild them anyway? Why not do it right from a prepare-for-the-future frame of mind?

  22. JohnL

    To the list of vulnerable infrastructure add sewers, cable TV, internet. In the name of efficiency, redundancy has been designed out of the system. The solution is to add some back, even at the cost of efficiency. Likely though that an attempt will be made to fix it by adding more complexity.

    Also, compare the effort spent “preventing” terrorist attacks vs natural disasters.

    1. optimader

      Well, I rarely see the explicit observation that our military infrastructure is the closest institution we have that is a arranged on a central planning” model.. This irony I’m sure is lost on our Uberpatriots.

      The military was not optimized for disaster recovery, it was optimized for creating disasters (for advesary dejour).

  23. Lambert Strether

    Rebecca Solnit may be a hippie puncher, but she wrote a terrific book on the San Francisco earthquake (“A Paradise Built in Hell”), showing the spontaneous cooperation and the complex, spontaneous systems that sprang up in the wake of the physical collapse of the city.

    The fire happened when the military came in and destroyed everything, basically based on an entirely false narrative of looting and riots and destruction. The great fire that followed was caused by that.

    Reasoning solely by analogy (but perhaps with a nod to the effects of the inserting rigidly heirarchical organizations into complex adapative systems like cities) we should beware of similar false narratives, and since huge subtext of all official pronoucements is compliance, similar interventions. (Goofy as Bloomberg’s marathon decision is, if a back to normal narrative prevents a chaos and looting narrative from taking hold — and all it would take would be one shot of brown or black people requisitioning the wrong dumpster to get that done — I can’t regard the outcome as being totally bad.)

    Taking my tinfoil hat off now…

    1. Ms G

      If the marathon is in fact draining police,(*) firemen and EMTs from areas of the city (Bloomberg quickly stationed lots of police in “at risk of looting” areas back 4 days ago), it isn’t at all clear how the marathon-narrative (keep your sunny side up) will somehow prevent crime in the areas from which cops and firemen and EMTs are now going to be *removed.*

      Quite honestly, Bloomberg may want to tune in to the temperature on Staten Island. Sunda, the Staten Island Sandy victims will have to endure the closing of the main artery for relief efforts (the Verrazzano Bridge) until 3pm; and will be forced into proximity of a crowd of recreational runners, being given massive support within their “private” event.

      (*) Mayor insists “no” (of course); other sources say “yes, obviously.”

  24. Valissa

    Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel take to the airwaves for hurricane relief tonight

    Tonight, the Boss, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Christina Aguilera and Sting will sing at a benefit concert and telethon for the American Red Cross’ relief efforts. “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together” will air tonight at 8 on many channels, including NBC, the USA Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and E!

  25. docg

    Thanks so much, Yves, for recognizing the real problem, and not falling for all the usual “climate change” hype. Not that CC wasn’t a factor in pumping up this storm, it probably was. But while the pundits are raising their fingers in the air and once again reminding us about “the science,” and how we have to do something about it NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, the reality is that even if we do all we can, it won’t make much of a difference for at least 50 years. And meanwhile we have far more immediate and pressing issues to deal with. Big cities like NY are great when they are functioning properly, but when things go wrong, they can be a nightmare.

    Are cities like NY dinosaurs, ripe for mass exodus? I’m afraid that could be so. Heartbreaking but possibly true. I for one do NOT want to be trapped in the upper floors of a hi-rise when the power goes out, that’s for sure. And if that happens, I won’t care a whit if it’s restored via fossil fuels, sorry Al Gore, but that’s MY inconvenient truth.

    1. optimader

      “it won’t make much of a difference for at least 50 years.”
      Yeaaahhh.. so why even start addressing it?
      Reminds me of Laura Bush’s reflection that stem cell research wont pay off for years, so why bother with it?

      “Are cities like NY dinosaurs, ripe for mass exodus? I’m afraid that could be so. Heartbreaking but possibly true. I for one do NOT want to be trapped in the upper floors of a hi-rise when the power goes out, that’s for sure.”

      Short of being incapacitated, how many days warning do you need to not get “trapped”??

      Big cities will morph,adapt and accomodate when it is recognized there is finally no alternative.

      1. SqueakyRat

        Many blackouts — most, perhaps — occur with no warning at all, e.g. the NY blackouts of 1977 and 2003.

      2. docg

        “Big cities will morph,adapt and accomodate when it is recognized there is finally no alternative.”

        Yes, let’s hope so. Same with the world at large with respect to global warming. We can’t turn back the clock — but we can adapt to the new reality, that’s what the human race has done over the millennia, and with spectacular success.

        1. different clue

          Actually, we can indeed slow the clock down, stop it, and then run it backwards over the next few decades if enough people in and around power want to enough badly enough.

          Since a unit of thingmaking-output in China costs several times more carbon emissions than what that same unit of thingmaking-output used to cost in the United States, one simple (though not easy) way to reduce world-net carbon output from industrial thingmaking would be for the United States to abrogate every Free Trade Treaty and Agreement we have . . . cancel MFN for China, withdraw from the WTO, etc., and bring back out production-in-exile from anti-efficient high-waste China back to semi-efficient lower-waste America. Once we have disconnected from all Free Trade Agreements and Treaties, then we are no longer subject to punishment for charging a “carbon-dumping tarriff” for example against any item from overseas whose production involved burning more fuel than producing that item within America would have produced, for example.

          And yes, I realize the entire world would declare war against America if we did that, the same way the entire world declared war against the infant USSR in 1918-1920 to try and stop that. The International Free Trade Conspirators would immediately launch World War Three against America if we established a Fair-Trade-Against-Free-Trade “Conservationist Capitalism in One Country” social order here. That’s why I said it would be simple . . . but not easy.

          But if we could begin with that, we could move on to fio-fixing and bio-sequestering more airborne carbon all over our 3 million mile landmass area than what we do now. And we could establish bilateral fair-trade arrangments with other countries which do the same. (Several countries are already more carbon-use-per-economic activity unit than we ever were so far, for example).

          1. different clue

            . . . that last sentence should contain “carbon use eFFICient” of course. Computer running so slow and jerky its hard to see what I’m typing.

  26. Mattski

    “Selfish fools”? A few, maybe. A lot of them, like my brother (a school psychologist) are being pressured to get back to work. A return to normalcy is also what many people crave.

    And–I suppose your friend is well-off–but most people need to get paid. Most don’t if they’re not. . . tada!. . . WORKING.

  27. steve from virginia

    Comparisons will be made between New York and New Orleans post- their respective hurricanes.

    The level of damage to both places and surrounding areas is very similar. The actual level of physical destruction won’t be accurately determined for months (if New Orleans is a guide).

    New Jersey, New York and Connecticut governments plus FEMA are more effective now than Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama plus FEMA post-Katrina. Law enforcement/emergency services have been much more effective and helpful. In New Orleans many police ran away, others looted or formed ad-hoc death squads that randomly shot at- and killed negroes. Later, ‘security duties’ were given over to Blackwater goons who harrassed and abused inhabitants. Meanwhile, road-blocks and miscommunication kept food and water trucks out of the city.

    Many rescues took place because Louisiana locals ignored police/military commands to stay out of the city and patroled areas with bass boats.

    Cleanup after the storm was a bonanza for well-connected ‘contractors’ who subcontracted and subcontracted again and again much of the public work. So far, none of this seems to be taking place in the NY-NJ area … but it is too soon to claim that such abuses won’t take place in the future.

    Most of the storm destruction in the south was outside of New Orleans: coastal Mississippi was particularly hard hit. Ditto the coastal areas of New Jersey and Long Island. Right now there is little information about LI damage but it is likely to be severe.

    Reports of looting and violence ignored that people had no access to food or water or means to travel. There was no violence @ Superdome or Civic Center even with packed with thousands with no food or water or working toilets … despite numerous reports of violence at these places in the news media.

    Where govt has failed in NY-NJ-CT region is to keep private autos off the road and leave space for delivery, emergency and transit vehicles. There should have been rationing at gas stations: 3 gallons per vehicle/container at whatever price the market commands ($20/gallon).

    New Orleans was closed to all for about 6 weeks … this allowed for a second major hurricane to smash the city and add more flood water … but kill no more people.

    No doubt much of the traffic on roads is gawkers. How about arrests?

    Transport into the city? How about trucks with open cargo beds? Pack them full of commuters @ $1 per head and use them as taxis. This works in the 3d world, BTW. NO PRIVATE CARS ALLOWED INTO NYC, PERIOD.

    Flooding: it won’t hurt the subways. Ironically, it is the pump motor controls that are broken, (subway tunnels have very large, powerful ejector pumps located in pits in low areas. Motor controls are not designed to be 100% immersed). NYC is a maritime environment, all metal is exposed to salt air/water constantly. If the trains themselves are not flooded there is little the water can do to the tunnels, supports, rails, 3d rail and signals (which are sealed into water-tight boxes).

    Flooding in buildings: it will take weeks to fix. However, heating and electric plants can be rented.

    15 yrs in NYC.

  28. kevinearick

    NY, NY

    So, the switches should be closing at this point and you should be increasing your distance accordingly. Weather variability is only going to increase. You cannot change aggregate human behavior in real time. On one side of the mirror, you have implosion. On the other, you have explosion. Position, time, yourself accordingly. If you think about it, oil is a derivative of electricity.

    As you can see at the pump, the economy does not hinge on oil, or gold, at the gas station or under Iraq. It hinges upon electricity, and more specifically to the empire, fragile dc control. Beginning with politicians at the front of the line, followed by successive event horizon layers of certified “electricians,” waiting for their turn at the trough, empire GDP will grow with extortion in positive feedback loops, while real, unmeasured losses will escalate to threshold.

    The point of the parallel discussion on socialism was to allow as many to participate as possible, but don’t hold your breath. The vast majority see the empire as the beginning, middle and end of the universe. You should be able to adjust your development, height/distance/time, to any gravity, by adjusting the perception of the latter.

    Do as you like, I intend to watch the burn-off until the church burns to the ground and the lizards have no choice but to pay my kids 150k/yr.

    1. kevinearick

      mating is now about politics, the birth rate is at an all-time low, and the resulting kids have 0 real work skills. Imagine that.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      1. Try looking at a map, say of Brooklyn or Queens v. Manhattan (as in many people commute in) or even Inwood (in Manhattan but a full five + mile walk from Midtown. Or better yet, how you get from Hoboken to Manhattan.

      2. I suppose it does not occur to you that some people who live here are not robust physically?

  29. Paul Tioxon

    I have just had my electricity restored. I live with 130 families in my complex. Some of the power was restored 3 days ago, but with a loud explosion of another faulty transformer, it was taken away from me and about 1/2 of the people here. It is now fully restored. That meant no heat, no cooking, there is no gas only electric in these buildings, no hot water, all cable services including for me, Comcast triple package, no phone, no internet, no tv. Cell phones barely worked due to reports of 1/3 of cell towers being knocked out. Cell phones really only sustained service last evening in this area. Water is not an issue for us, it is gravity fed from several large water towers within eyesight of my bedroom window. At least I had the dignity of using the toilet in the cold, dark bathroom.

    I have spent the last 3 days going to supermarkets, sandwich shops with free wifi. Free universal wifi should be a consumer demand. Even local pizza joints have it. It would be a good idea to push for this as a norm for as many retail places, including public places like hospitals, libraries, day care centers etc.

    The regular warnings to the public were to fill up your car and fill up gas containers as well. Many grocery stores lost power, including the local Wawa chain, which sells more hot and prepared food to the Philadelphia Metro public than some supermarket chains in the area. They were closed, and they sell gas in many of their newer, bigger locations. Wawa closing is like 7/11 closing. It never happens. But this time it did when 1/3 of them lost power and it was too dangerous until Wed to open the other ones.

    The local public transit which is not as large as NYC, is still a behemoth people moving operation, connecting to NJ, and 5 PA counties. It was up and running pretty quickly with minimal flooding. We were just lucky in that regard, but being above sea level, 60 miles inland helped.

    What was really exposed, was the antiquated electrical distribution system, which has to go underground. It is no longer acceptable to have electricity hanging from popsicle sticks in the air. Not in the internet and smart phone age. My father, who lived until the age of 94, and would would be 104 this year, used to tell me how ridiculous it was for a nation as wealthy as ours not have buried the phone and electric lines. And that was before gadgets overwhelmed our everyday lives.

    The local paper published a long opinion piece which spoke of critical our infrastructure is and how neglected. Burying the telecom and electric lines is long past due. It will be an effort on the scale of the highway system build out, but a least we will have something to pass down to the next generation of some value. Protection from nature when the winds are too high for dangling wires. It has left too many people dangling as well.

    1. optimader

      “…At least I had the dignity of using the toilet in the cold, dark bathroom…”

      wether in your dark bathroom or recycling a plastic grocery bag, dont kid yourself that there is a dignified way to take a poop.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        opti, while you’re at it, do tell us how the U.S. Grunts do it in Iraq and elsewhere, following the “Arabic” tradition.

  30. KFritz

    After a check of Google Maps, I feel safe to say that the NYC metro area has the most problematic geography of any US metro area for this sort of disaster. Approximately 85% of NYC’s population lives on islands. One of the islands is the area hub, which fills and empties itself of millions of people per day. Only San Francisco Bay, which separates several distinct population centers, compares as a logistical nightmare.

    This isn’t a contradiction, but a modifier to the premise that complex systems aren’t resilient. Geography amplifies the non-resilience.

    1. Lyle

      Yes indeed if you think about it NYC and SF are the most vunerable areas in the US to transport disruption. Most other cities don’t have large civil engineering structures to connect to the rest of the country. Take Chicago as a counter example lots of streets run into the country so if one had to route goods there would be lots of alternatives. For SF Oakland and the east bay are not as badly off as SF and San Mateo county however.

  31. Tyzao

    It all amounts to a severe lack of urban and regional planning, while surely not every calamity could have been avoided, a great many yes could have.

  32. Burgernaut

    Is someone going to acknowlege that governments are playing with weather control? Has anyone noticed yet that the most destructive hurricanes that have occurred on the east coast of the U.S.A. have happened during U.S. presidential elections?

    Sandy 2012
    Ike 2008
    Katrina 2005
    Rita 2005
    Wilma 2005
    Frances 2004
    Jeanne 2004
    Ivan 2004
    Charley 2004
    Allison 2001
    Andrew 1992

    2001 and 2005 were not elections years, but two major events happened in those years… 9/11 and the revelations of U.S. Domestic spying on its citizenry.

    7 out of 11. Do hurricanes have a “natural” affinity for U.S. presidential election years?

    1. redleg

      Destructive in terms of $ denominated damage? Lives? Displaced households? Maximum windspeed? Highest storm surge?

      You have a cherry picked list.

      There is a rough two decade cycle (+/-) in the Atlantic/Gulf for number of storms per year. We are currently on the high end of that cycle. I’m sure you knew that already and are prepared to discuss how that fits into your conspiracy.

  33. Burgernaut

    Also of interest, there was a 7.7 earthquake off the west coast of Canada Saturday Oct. 27th.

    Sandy Made Landfall near New Jersey on Oct. 29th.

    Last year, on Aug. 23 2011, there was a good size earthquake in D.C. that rattled everyones nerves. Hurricane Irene had formed on Aug. 21st 2011 and dissipated on Aug. 28th 2011.

    What a U.S. Secretary of Defense has said about manmade weather disruptions:
    “For example US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, said on 28 April 1997 at the Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy, University of Georgia “Others are engaging even in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.””

    This quote is on the U.S. DOD website. More about tectonic weapons here:

    Why is no one in the U.S. asking any tough questions? If this is a global phenomena, why does the U.S. keep taking the brunt of it?

    1. SqueakyRat

      Why does the US keep taking the worst of it? You mean like the Japanese tsunami? The Indian Ocean tsunami? The Pakistan floods? The earthquake disasters that regularly ravage China, Turkey, and Italy? Get a grip, Burgernaut.

  34. Tyzao

    The problem is a complete lack of urban and regional planning, including the lack of a national, comprehensive land use plan — it is the primary cause of the financial crises as well for that matter…a complete lack of vertical governmental integration…until we start to see a coordinated and coherent system which manages land development, you can expect to see a lot more fragmentation, general disintegration and unmitigated decay across the entire country. Locally some areas will adapt and mitigate, but on the whole it’s a general downward trend until comprehensive land use planning at the national level is implemented.

    1. optimader

      Why does the US keep taking the worst of it?

      Burgernaut, It’s all just harmonically induced phenomena -The unintended consequence of low frequency tranmissions between a tranmitter/reciever site in Salt Lake City and certain suspects of interest on the Planet Kolob. They arent aware they are harming our fragile planet, they just want baseball and football scores for the office pool.

  35. freedomny

    It is all bad. I worked remotely for most of the week and had my “first” commute It took me 2 1/2 hours to get into NYC and 2 hours to get home. I shudder what Monday will bring.

    Which brings me to another point, that is not economic, brainy or erudiate. There are so many people suffering. I have gone on the Red Cross websites and other volunteer sites… and all they ask for is money. But the Red Cross and Fema are no where to be seen in Queens or Staten Island.

    Since no organization is providing me a way to volunteer and they just want my money but are apparently are not showing up…

    I tried to rent a van…but no one has gas. So I posted on Craigs List for people who had gas and could help. I am going down to Costco tomorrow. I will fill my little car with as much supplies as I can. But it would be great if you could help me spread the word.

    Fema and the red cross are clueless. But if we could have a “Caravan of Hope”…that would be great.

    So sorry that I am so emotional…but I am. This whole thing stinks. But these are my people.

    My email is

    Yves..if you know any folks that can help me this weekend, please share my email with them.


  36. Lou Puls (@MonkeeRench)

    The fragility of complex systems is precisely the latest concern of Nassim Taleb, of prescient fame for his concept of Black Swans in financial transactions. Rather than trying to predict a rare, unpredictable, and disastrously consequential event, his emphasis is on striving to prepare economic systems by developing their anti-fragility rigor against instability.

    To me, this is intimately related to the concept of Structural Stability, ala’ Rene Thom and his Catastrophe Theory. Systems must and can be dynamically kept in their phase space far from the catastrophic cliffs of abrupt qualitative change in critical parameters.

  37. nycer

    The fragility of complex systems is definately th big learning event from this storm. Gov Cuomo said on Wednesday that that the things which made NYC develop into the city it did (harbour, river, and schist rock) are also the things which make the city fragile (ocean surge, river flood, and honeycomb drilled schist). The right angle of the NJ coast and Long Island funnel storm surge into the NYC harbour and into the honeycomb up to 30 stories underground. All urban environments are fragile systems, and this one is no different. The issue is for the inhabitants to understand the fragility and plan their lives accordingly. It makes no sense to live on a sand bar 2′ AMSL in a building that was designed for somewhere else. It makes no sense to expect someone else (the gvmt) to come to your rescue because you didn’t use your head. There is a reason rural people don’t resepct urban people, and this aboslute ignorance of nature and reality by urban people is a key source.

    Along with the fragilty of the infrastructure and the transport/delivery systems, there is another fragile system that is very important to point out: peoples’ own life provisions. Do not live without the ability to deal with unforeseen diaster. Have enough money saved for these types of problems. Instead of getting that smart phone with the 12 hour battery and the mental masterbator on it, get the cheap simple phone with the 5 day battery. Instead of streaching your paycheck to get a bigger house so you each of your three kids can have their own room, instead only have one kid, a smaller apartment, and have savings for a rainy day. People unecessarily strive to put themselves into fragile systems, to put themselves into slavery, to set themselves up for pain.

    German society is something we could all learn from. Twice in the past 100 years the german people worked together in a planned fashion to build an amazingly wealthy and the worlds most sophisticated society from nothing but rubble. They did this because they have a culture of high societal inter-trust. They are willing to sacrifice their individual desires for the betterment of the whole. The USA once had a similar culture. It no longer does. Watching the madness of the ‘gas fights’ and the gridlock and the ‘need to get to my ever important office job’ tells me that we have fallen a long way.

    1. ginnie nyc

      Um, I wouldn’t use the Germans as a good example – it’s not equivalent to the present situation.

      In the second instance, post-WWII, they had massive loans (and grants) from the U.S. through the Marshall Plan. In the first instance, post-WWI, their recovery came from a centralized, planned war economy designed by the Nazis. Not my idea of a good model for anything.

      1. nycer

        I am sorry, but what you wrote is nothing more than repeated US propaganda. Please study the GERMAN history books a lot more closely.

        1. ginnie nyc

          Sorry, but 1) I do read and write German, and have reviewed many primary sources as part of my work, particulary of the Nazi period 2) why do you imagine German history books, of any era, would be without their own biases; 3) your retort is neither an answer nor a critique of mine.

          My remarks are based upon an economic analysis of your statements, not a vague, unsupported mythology.

    2. different clue

      People who don’t go to their ever important office job don’t get paid. People who don’t get paid don’t pay their rent. People who don’t pay their rent get evicted and become homeless. That is why people go to their ever important office job.

  38. skippy

    WOW…. the media blackout is just massive, attempting to massage the events is staggering… exceptionalism does have a price… eh.

    Skippy… Denial…

    1. Lambert Strether

      The picture I have is that the Powers that Be turned off the lights, and left.

      Whatever’s happening in the zone without power we just don’t know about. And it can’t be that nobody lives there; Chinatown is dark, yes?

      Pounding through the coverage in NJ I was struck by the lack on an overall view; reporting wasn’t terrible, at least there were people on the ground, but the narrative was a stream of events, period. Maybe, for example, there was a map of the region that showed the areas without power, but if so, I did not see one.

      1. ginnie nyc

        Yeah, and the media narrative construct is all about how things are improving, when some things are actually deteriorating, like the Manhattan hospital system.

        Another hospital has had to close on the East side, and Beth Israel is operating at 96% capacity, with sporadic electricity provided by subcontracted generators parked outside.

        I won’t go into my own adventures with this; most parts of my support system have evaporated.

        1. skippy

          Freezing temperatures are going to complicate the recovery something fierce. One good cold snap and the hole thing is super glued together by – toxic – water.

          Skippy… checking soil and run off via water sheds etc… this didn’t occur in the middle of nowhere… eh… sigh.

  39. Phil Kaminski

    This is terrific, maybe now the Erudite, NYC Yuppie Scum will do a little more due Diligence and start prepping, just a little bit. You know like the God Guns, and Apple pie hillbillies they love to rip. Hahhahahh. good for you chumps, its called a reality check! I have little news for you, in case there is ever a big Disaster, you chumps are toast. Those of use prescient enough to have bought arable and timbered land, will have the last laugh. The only thing saving you is; more Billions in Federal Aid, you’re pathetic leeches, try to do it on your own! Now remember, prepping is for White Trash types, not you smart New Yorkers!

  40. Phil Kaminski

    Poor Americans, soooo picked on by the Weather Gods, The people in here are probably mostly financial types, no wonder their response blew chunks! PS, to all the smart New Yorkers; don’t move your vacation house quite so close to the beach. Hurricanes do and will continue to happen,

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