Perceiving Irene

Posted on August 31, 2011

Make no mistake about it: Hurricane Irene, traveling up the east coast of the USA was a major force to contend with. It wreaked havoc with shorelines, electricity, transportation, navigation, housing and more. Four days after it left US territory, flooding is still a major concern as are power outages. But the conversation is not on all the devastation and destruction. It’s about how mild the storm was compared to the cataclysmic predictions.

Before Irene was close enough to drizzle on dry land, news outlets and weather centers started predicting catastrophic destruction – Category 3 levels; winds over 100 miles an hour; 12 or more inches of rain; hours upon hours of sheer environmental torture. Mother nature’s brute force heaped upon millions of innocent bystanders with no way out.

Such constant droning reverberations of doom on minds still fresh with the images of Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami even brought cities to attention. Perceptions were heightened to Titanic levels. Unprecedented precautions were put in place. And then….the worst never materialized for most of the East Coast states. Wind, rain and destruction: yes. Complete devastation: no.

The problem with Irene wasn’t its damaging force –it was a wind-whipping, rain-pounding hurricane. The problem was the perception that preceded the storm. Perceptions were out of proportion with reality. Bad vs. unthinkable.

Could there have been a better way to prepare the masses than a wild, media-frenzied bandwagon? Perhaps. Cities could have taken precautions without all the media-circus hoopla, but would they have done so? And the news outlets could have presented the information with a few caveats of other, less devastating outcomes. Either might have presented the risk without over-amplifying the perception. But would it have made a difference? With the way media outlets love hyping the fear-factor facts, we may never know.

One thing is certain. When perceptions reach zenith levels, even a hurricane can’t compete.

Recipe of the Month

Kidney Bean Salad
(great antioxidant summer side)

1- 26 ounce can kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
1 -2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Mix all and serve chilled.

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