Disasters come in many flavors, and we have seen quite the box of chocolates of late. There have been natural disasters such as earthquakes in Mexico and mudslides in China and monster hurricanes, all of which are natural and will happen. We have seen a human-inflicted disaster in Las Vegas, which we all knew was as inevitable as an earthquake. 

The more the media plays up the story, the sooner it will be outdone. We used to show fans jumping out on to the field of play, but their notoriety only served to encourage more of the same. When that practice was stopped by the media, the jumpers stopped jumping. Media! Pay attention to your own rules.

We are just humans. All we can do as humans is react to the disasters that befall us. In Mexico City, they had a well-organized force of people, equipment and dogs who were trained in earthquake rescue operations. They were able to save many people. They knew there would be another earthquake, but they could not know when. All that can be done is to plan ahead in order to minimize the effects of the disasters we know will come our way.

In Texas and Florida, we had a well-organized force of people, equipment and volunteers with knowledge of hurricane rescue operations. They were able to save many people. Our president could fly in safely and pass out pre-prepared sandwiches with a cosmetic smile. It was polite gesture, yet still, he was able to fly home to sleep in his own familiar bed.

But Puerto Rico was another matter. FEMA did manage to have some assets pre-placed. I don’t fault them that the one-two punch of hurricanes only a week apart made their logistics all the more difficult. But they were not prepared. They knew the likely path of Maria well enough in advance to have done better.

Even today, weeks later, we get reports that entire towns in the rough mountains of that island have yet to see anything FEMA. The military has been unacceptably slow. The hospital ship Comfort is just now providing help to Puerto Rico. Even the commercial cruise ships were more reactive.

Puerto Ricans are Americans just as much as Texans and Floridians, you and me. Are Puerto Ricans a different kind of people who do not need help? It is an island, true, but that has never been a problem before. We have yet to see any major media report from Vieques Island, which was a favored bombing range for our military for 40 years, but is now off their radar. They can’t get there anymore? 

Instead we get pictures of our president tossing “very soft” paper towels out like T-shirts at a football game. Have you ever tried to drink a paper towel, or administer it to your dying grandmother who can’t get refrigerated insulin? No matter. The president was safe in his bed at the White House by midnight.

The man-made disaster in Las Vegas was unpredictable, at least in timing. It is true that a well-organized force of people and equipment with training helped to mitigate what might have been a greater disaster. We know that such a human “earthquake” will eventually happen somewhere again. 

Our lawmakers didn’t do the only thing that can be done. We need to have the courage to melt swords into plowshares. We can’t ever prevent human violence, but we can, we must, make the weapons for mass violence exceedingly hard to acquire. That is planning ahead.


Philip Truax is a third-generation resident in Sharon, with degrees from UCSB and Yale. Replies welcome via The Lakeville Journal or Philip@PhilipTruax.com.