When Planning and Preparing Results in Very Little

Fourth in a series about the value of preparation
Here in Washington, D.C., yesterday we had a real-life example of the dilemma that leaders  face in deciding how to act in the face of an advancing storm.  As a major storm rolled across the country this week,  the predictions of a major snowstorm for the Washington area starting Tuesday night began to build.  First it was six inches, then nine, and before the day was over outlying areas were told to expect over a foot and half.  What to do?
One factor influencing decisions was a storm two years ago that paralyzed Washington and left angry motorists and parents saying governments should have done better. The Washington Post observed this led to “chastened officials erring on the side of shutting down ahead of any significant snow.”  By the 11 p.m. local newscasts, high anxiety levels were at their peak. The dean of the Washington weather forecasters, ABC’s Bob Ryan tweeted, “if any school in area is open tomorrow, somebody is nuts.”  And so the closings began.  When the federal government said it was closing, most every government and school in the area followed suit.
The result?  By now you already have probably guessed the answer:  not much. Very little snow fell in the District and nearby suburbs, with heavy snowfalls falling only in the mountains and low population areas. The Washington Post’s chief meteorologist Jason Samenow said in the paper this morning, “this was the biggest bust in (our) history.”
As storms increase in frequency and intensity, the dilemma about what to do in case of an advancing storm is only going to increase.  Shutting down governments and schools disrupts lives and probably costs millions of dollars.  And predictions that don’t come true can lead to skepticism and cynicism.  But as we learned in Katrina, the cost of not acting can come at a very high cost.
What would you advise officials to do?  How do we help the public to embrace planning and preparedness, while helping them recognize that a failed prediction is better than no prediction at all. Leave us a comment.
Sources:  Washington Post

Robert G. Ottenhoff