Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How NOT to cut costs

For those who may have missed this story, California has been hit by a stunning combination of forest fires and the failing housing market. In response, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to slashing the pay for more than 200,000 state employees to the federal minimum wage of $6.55. The order is said to be needed because of the state's $15.2 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that started July 1st. California minimum wage is $8.00, $1.45 higher than the federal minimum wage. How this measure is going to help the situation in California remains unclear. The forest fires and housing market have combined to cause thousands of Californians to lose their homes. By reducing the salaries of some 200,000 state employees to $6.55 an hour, it can only add already dire housing situation in California. The mental stress and anguish of this move causes me to wonder how the safety and well-being of the state of California may now be compromised. Slashing salaries may look interesting on paper but in reality thousands of people have come to rely on a regular paycheck to support their families. Jeopardizing those employees’ livelihoods at such a critical time simply goes beyond any rational explanation. These employees include those responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of California including police officer, public works officials, and transportation specialists. I know California does things differently but even by their standards, if enacted this decision is extremely troubling.

Unfortunately bad decisions tend to multiply and spread. Revenues from the federal gas tax are down since fewer people are driving this summer. Funds to support repairs to roads and highways are lower than expected. In Ohio, the problem is compounded by diminishing state tax revenues as more employers leave increasing the jobless rate. Fewer employed Buckeyes means fewer tax revenues for the state of Ohio. In Cincinnati, city and county officials just levied a 6 percent cut to the budget. The local sheriff created a stir when he removed deputies from running metal detectors in the courthouse. Other agencies responded by providing the funds to continue operations of the metal detectors in the courthouse. With reduced federal funds, demands for state and local dollars will only increase. More services will be reduced or even eliminated but as measures are taken to stretch austere budgets need to be balanced by the need to maintain safety and security of our communities

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mass Panic

Disaster behavior (or what is sometimes called “mass panic”) is again coming to the forefront of discussion amongst emergency planners. Originally a topic of research during the Cold War, emergency management researchers and academicians are speaking more of the resilience of people. Movies and news media have in the past created this expectation of citizens panicking and fleeing in the streets in the event of a catastrophe. Research though shows quite the contrary in that people will react and behave in an orderly fashion during a catastrophe. Events ranging from 9/11 to Katrina show that people, for the most part, tend to behave in accordance with laws and civility in the face immense threat. People have an overwhelming desire to return to normality, referred to earlier as “resiliency”, and the desires normally trumps desires of looting and lawlessness. What about though Katrina victims shown on the news reports pushing shopping carts full of loot through downtown New Orleans? Resiliency is tied to information, if citizens know what to do or what to expect they will act appropriately, however when information is withheld then people lose faith in officials and begin to take the situation into their own hands.

There are numerous examples of where officials, fearing a mass panic, withheld telling the public the truth. Most famously was the decision by senior officials at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generation Station to call the partial core meltdown as an “aberration”. The true nature of the accident was not made public until five days later. The delay and subsequent loss of faith by the public is still felt almost 30 years later. There are still examples today of public officials not getting out in front of a story with the results being widespread distrust in the best cases to widespread rioting in the worst cases.

Of course equally problematic is the tendency of “learned irrelevance”. Think of multiple false fire alarms in the building or tornado sirens sounding when there are no storms in the area. The public has to be educated as to what steps to take and to never ignore warnings. We stress at our programs at Cincinnati State to get citizens to exhibit the appropriate behavior FIRST (such as evacuate or take cover) THEN seek further information.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.