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What is going on with 2020? The Necessity of Disasters

George Floyd killed by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020. Photo: AFP.

It has been a hell of a year and we are barely in June.

I am personally done with 2020.  I am not going to put on the polished face and make out like everything is okay. It isn’t.

I have been pissed. Like, “I want to tar and feather the village idiot that opened up the Jumanji game and started to play it in 2020” level of pissed.

I have been so, so tired of wondering if I go to the store whether I am going to bring back viral death to my family. I hate that I have to have a Silkwood scrub down with disinfectant wipes in the garage before entering my home.

I have been bewildered that it seems as though the forces of Death and Destruction have taken over.  I mean, seriously, are they trying to get a performance bonus at the end of the year for outstanding accomplishments?

I have been stressed wondering if I am doing everything I can for my employees, my customers, and my business to make sure that we survive this year. I’ve also been wondering if I’ve done everything that I can for my fellow human beings in general.

Then I realized I am also just very sad. I am sad that as advanced as we are in this day and age that there are people who are so marginalized and targeted by the injustice hurled their way that they have to protest to feel heard. I am sad that there are some evil individuals that wear a police uniform that have hurt or killed innocent people with impunity. They have tarnished the reputation the overwhelming majority of police officers that perform that job with honor.  As a fellow small business owner, I am sad and heartbroken to see the destruction of dreams with businesses that were already struggling to survive COVID-19 to now have to permanently shut their doors because of the riots with looting and fires.  And I can’t even “go there” with the damages to churches and places of worship.

Without a doubt, the world has gone through challenging times in history when it must have felt like the world was going to end. We in the United States have, for the most part, had the fortune of being shielded from things that other countries experienced in the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries. We haven’t experienced genocide within our borders. The last pitched battle of armed forces within the United States was at the end of our Civil War. While we have citizens that go hungry and live in crushing poverty, the last time our country had anything approaching a famine was during the dust bowl of the Great Depression. We also don’t have children conscripted into paramilitary service forced to witness and commit atrocities.

Aleeya Barr, a US Army veteran, holds a sign during the Black Lives Matter protest march in Fredericksburg, Va. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Photographer: Robert A. Martin, the Free Lance-Star

Police in Camden, NJ march with protesters in rallies the weekend of May 30th over George Floyd’s death. Photo: The Associated Press

I am sad that as advanced as we are in this day and age that there are people who are so marginalized and targeted by the injustice hurled their way that they have to protest to feel heard. I am sad that there are some evil individuals that wear a police uniform that have hurt or killed innocent people with impunity. They have tarnished the reputation the overwhelming majority of police officers that perform that job with honor.

So, I have struggled over the past couple of weeks to organize my thoughts into a post to help others as they deal with yet another disaster in this horrible year.  I kept thinking, what could I possibly offer?  I am not a great philosopher and I am certainly not a savant.  Then it hit me.  While I may not be those things, I am an expert in disaster management.  So, I decided to do what I do best and look to see what disasters have taught us.

I wanted to answer the question, “When we experience a disaster, is there ever really a silver lining or do things just get worse in the end?”  I evaluated major disaster declarations in the United States as detailed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website since disaster tracking started in 1956.  Overall, what I have found is that even the most horrible disasters have led to improvements that have benefited others and helped to prevent future death and destruction.  In fact, many articles contained comments with the sentiment that if the disaster had not occurred, those changes that made the world better probably would not have happened.

This got me thinking of the necessity of disasters and what positive changes have occurred despite their origins in horrible situations.  With that in mind, I have highlighted three man-made disasters (declared by FEMA and/or designated as disaster by major news coverage) to illustrate my point.

  • Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident: In 1979, Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station suffered a partial meltdown resulting in no deaths, but a 14-year clean-up effort.  It was horrible for residents and required extensive clean-up efforts. However, it led in the development of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) that has improved industry safety and performance, emergency preparedness, and resulted in the consistent implementation of a strong safety cultures with increased focus on training for nuclear power plants.  This has worked to prevent other nuclear disasters for 40 years running.
  • September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack: On a fall day in 2001, terrorist-controlled airplanes were turned into ballistic missiles that struck the twin towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a field just outside of Shanksville, PA killing over 3,000 people.  While this was a series of horrible and senseless crimes against our nation, it resulted in the development of a cybersecurity and continuity planning focus of the Federal government for major disasters that had not occurred previously. These improvements then led to increased resiliency of all levels of government and business.  These changes have resulted in greater resiliency of our nation, which has ultimately improved the lives of the average citizen.
  • Death of Trayvon Martin: An unarmed African-American teenager needlessly died at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. While death was tragic, it brought attention to the continuing issue of racial injustice in this country and launched Black Lives Matter, now an international movement, which campaigns against violence and racism toward black people. It brought to the forefront the continued need for racial equality and justice in the United States and some thought had been addressed by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A boarded up business on West Broad Street in Richmond, VA. Photo: Joshua Cole

Overall, what I have found is that even the most horrible disasters have led to improvements that have benefited others and helped to prevent future death and destruction. In fact, many articles contained comments with the sentiment that if the disaster had not occurred, those changes that made the world better probably would not have happened.

Now back to 2020, with COVID-19 resulting in more than 100,000 deaths and the current political protest because of the senseless killing of George Floyd, there is more than enough of fear, anger, and sadness to go around.  This year has highlighted that our country and communities are in desperate need of change.  While that may be a clear goal, it will not be a clear or linear journey. To get through these disasters and create a better country, we must work together and each of us has a part in the clean-up crew.

While we are cleaning up and fixing what is broken, we have to understand that we may stumble, and we may even have to metaphorically box each other’s ears for not doing our part.  But we will also learn what needs to be done to make things better in the long run and put things in place to make sure we do not regress as a society. To do this, we will need to be more involved in our communities and be accountable for what is going on around us and that starts with me. This year and the last 10 days have finally shown me that is no longer “their” problem to solve, but “our” problem to solve.

In all my years of studying disasters and managing disaster response, I can tell you one thing:  A disaster can bring people together if we let it. Disasters not only remind us how fragile we are, but what we have in common as it provides an opportunity to see the good in humanity.  I remember the night of September 11, 2001 when members of Congress despite their political party and their ideological differences sang “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.  They weren’t Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, black or white, Jewish or Christian.  They were Americans united in resolve.

We can disagree on policy, on the way we worship, and the way we live our lives, but we must stipulate that all people deserve to be treated with dignity unless they harm others. No longer should anyone have to live in fear of “driving while black”, being stopped for being in the “wrong” neighborhood, or wondering if asking a police officer for help will result in the end of their life.

I have seen great things accomplished in the wake of a disaster that people previously thought impossible.  Even though I have seen the worst of the human condition, I have mostly seen the best of humanity by those who have worked to bring peace and equal opportunity to succeed, not just the chosen few.

Members of the Amish community at a Black Lives Matter protest in Oklahoma City, OK. Photographer: Unknown — image posted on Reddit.

We can disagree on policy, on the way we worship, and the way we live our lives, but we must stipulate that all people deserve to be treated with dignity unless they harm others. No longer should anyone have to live in fear of “driving while black”, being stopped for being in the “wrong” neighborhood, or wondering if asking a police officer for help will result in the end of their life.

So, now it is time to pick up our masks and brooms because we all have a part in the rebuilding process from the disasters of 2020.  If you have been in the business community longer than five minutes, you have had to deal with cleaning up a mess that might not be your fault, but nevertheless is your responsibility.  We have a world to make better and each of us has to step up and do our part.  We have people who need us to ensure that safety, fairness, and justice are the fulfilled promises of our country.

It’s up to us to recruit, support, and elect people to office that are committed to human dignity and the security of everyone within our borders.  It’s up to us to hold them accountable for hiring chiefs of police that walk the talk of citizen protection, not just for some but for all. It’s up to us to hold our elected officials, civil servants, and ourselves responsible for civil discourse, vigorous debate, and action – not divisiveness, coarseness, and vulgarity.  This isn’t a conservative or liberal issue. It’s not “dog whistle politics”. In fact, it’s not even a political issue. It’s a human issue and it won’t be easy, clean, fast, or perfect to effect change, but it’s time.  It’s a matter of getting honest with ourselves and working on reshaping how we as a society interact with each other.  It’s the 10,000 hours we each need to put forth to master this skill born out of existential necessity.

It’s time for us as a society to be better and to make things right. We have neighbors to help and comfort to give to those in need.  Our best days are not behind us as some would like for us to believe.  If these disasters have shown us anything it is that we can build the best version of ourselves and this country.

If my posts have shown you anything, it’s that I’m a realist and not some Pollyanna living in a vacuum tra-la-la’ing through life spouting platitudes (if you still don’t believe me, ask my staff).

It’s time for us as a society to be better and to make things right. We have neighbors to help and comfort to give to those in need.  Our best days are not behind us as some would like for us to believe.  If these disasters have shown us anything it is that we can build the best version of ourselves and this country.

If my posts have shown you anything, it’s that I’m a realist and not some Pollyanna living in a vacuum tra-la-la’ing through life spouting platitudes (if you still don’t believe me, ask my staff). This isn’t about politics, it’s about being a human being with common decency.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll share with you what I and my company are doing to drive change. I’m proud of my colleagues in the business world who are taking a stand and saying publicly, “enough is enough”. But just taking a stand and sending an email or posting a graphic on social media with a message of solidarity clearly isn’t enough. Only concrete action is enough. Everything else is just empty words.

This is a seminal moment in our country’s history. Now let’s get busy and do this.

Stay agile. Stay safe. Stay sane.

-The Disaster Lady (Karen)