The adage “communication is key” could not be more apropos when talking about events such as a hurricane. Irma provided us with several examples of how true this is. Whether it is the absence of communications (comms) when telephones, television, or internet is down, or the overload of comms when some of those devices (think 24/7 TV weather coverage – “look at the size of that puddle from the storm” or “something just fell off of that high rise building” – that something turning out to be a water bottle). The difficult part is to find a balance. In the first place, getting your systems to work is challenging; cell phones and cordless phones need power. Being prepared to keep cell phones charged is not that difficult, but few of the friends we know who weathered the storm were prepared with anything other than a charger that required electricity from the grid. My “be prepared” mindset prepared me with not only ways to charge batteries, but with alternative comms. A landline telephone is not inexpensive these days, but it works when cell phones fail. A marine radio, a CB radio (which, along with the marine radio has a weather radio), several AM/FM battery radios, and more, are a part of my kit. Overkill, maybe. But you never know. One thing that worked especially well during this storm was a digital television antenna picking up local stations – for free! When the cable is out, or the satellite is out (or blown away), old fashioned broadcast TV will get us through the storm. In a world with so many forms of communication, communicating about the comms is critical. Ensuring people have phone numbers is just the start. Facebook did its part, as I’m sure did many other apps that worked as long as the internet or service was accessible. But, the other part of communications is communicating. Communicating clearly, communicating early, communicating without panic and with clarity. Irma gave Melissa and me several negative examples of people who, due to stress, fatigue, and panic, did not communicate well with each other, or with us. Part of that is due to the 1 way forms of communications we often use today – texts or Facebook posts. You put something out there that makes sense to you – but may not be understood, as intended, by others. A dialog is much different and, even if brief, may be a better way to communicate in such stressful situations. One of our examples of missed communications resulted in a much worse hurricane experience for several people, and probably lasting hurt feelings, or worse. All because of the lack of clear comms.
There is a great song by Led Zeppelin called, “Communication Breakdown.” The song’s chorus is:
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
I’m going insane
There is also a famous line from a great movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I’m thinking of both this song and this movie line as I contemplate things that worked well and others that did not work so well during Hurricane Irma. Failures to communicate are common causes of many negligence cases on which Magnus consults, including and most tragically, medical malpractice cases in which medical professionals fail to work together for their common goal of providing patient care. Similarly, in an impending disaster such as a hurricane, lives are saved and lost based on people’s ability to communicate with one another. David and I witnessed, first hand, communication failures among our friends and family that resulted in numerous problems that could have been prevented if only they had communicated with other people in clear, concise ways and without the unnecessary drama that distracts everyone from the real issue, that is, ensuring everyone’s safety. We were shocked at the panicked reactions of these people who engaged in numerous counterproductive activities, including: (1) evacuating with no idea of their final destination; (2) refusing to evacuate as a family unit, instead, having some family members in one place and others, in a different place; (3) not informing out of town family and friends that conditions in their area had worsened, making evacuation necessary; (4) waking up in a panic, then deciding to return home without considering the fact they could not leave their safe haven due to a mandatory curfew; and (5) not using the most modern and up to date technologies, combined with old school, tried and true technologies, to stay informed about where the hurricane was going and what to do about it. David and I do not live our lives this way. We are thoughtful, intelligent people who painstakingly plan every course of action, particularly when we are involved in a potentially life threatening situation such as a hurricane. Hurricane Irma has taught us valuable life lessons, including the essential lesson that communicating in a clear manner is far more likely to result in a positive outcome than a communication breakdown.