Disasters test us and teach us survival

Monday was tough.

We began to discover the extent of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irma in Florida, as many Caribbean islands struggled to grasp the storm’s vicious blow. And with images as fresh as if it were yesterday, we marked the 16th anniversary of 9/11 by recalling those who lost their lives and those who tried to save them.

Whether we huddled under storm clouds or gathered under deep blue skies, we all were reminded of our human condition:

We live and we learn.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and its incomprehensible loss of life, we learned that our brave first responders need to communicate with each other on a single radio frequency. We learned that workers must take more precautions when toiling on toxic piles. We learned we have a responsibility to take care of those made sick by that work. And we learned about the daily vigilance needed to combat terrorism and the importance of heeding early warning signs, lessons bolstered by Monday’s announcement of $39 million in federal funding for counterterrorism efforts in New York.

From Katrina to Sandy to Harvey, our worst storms also have taught us a lot. We learned of the importance of protecting our power sources and our transportation grid. We became more aware of the need to build more wisely and, sometimes, the wisdom of not building at all.

Climate science must be funded

Nationally, the slow federal response to Katrina in 2005 showed that political hacks cannot be put in key leadership positions, like the then-head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Harvey and Irma revealed that governments had learned to put emergency response personnel in place before storms hit to assist in decision-making and speed up the recovery in the critical first days. Irma showed that residents learned from Harvey a scant two weeks earlier as Floridians heeded official warnings, evacuating by the hundreds of thousands to seek shelter.

But some important learning about predicting severe weather comes from scientific research, and that must be funded. The Trump administration, which shows a dangerous disdain for science as well as the workings of government, has proposed budget cuts that defy logic — to the National Weather Service to update models for more accurate predictions, and to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for satellites, advanced forecasting and to help coastal states prepare for bad weather. As much as we know about wind, we need to better understand how water feeds these storms and how storms move water.

The government also needs to keep citizens safe and to help them recover from harm, which makes inexplicable Trump’s proposals to slash FEMA funding for grants for local and state governments, eliminate block grant funding that helps homeowners and businesses rebuild, and cut international aid that would help our desperate neighbors in the Caribbean.

In NYC, many of us understand what the victims of Irma are feeling, what it’s like to experience rising waters, shuddering gusts of wind and the sudden loss of power in entire communities.

We continue to live through these national calamities. We must continue to learn from them.