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Letter: Storm Recovery and Resilience in Northern Virginia

To the Editor:

As terrible as this may sound, when I think back on my experiences with Hurricane Sandy I seem to most vividly recall the five-day weekend.

As a senior in high school I was more than thrilled to spend a few extra days at home (granted, without power) and "catch up" on schoolwork, otherwise known as saving the work for another time. Surely I wasn’t the only student with this mentality. However, if I placed the five-day weekend in the back of my mind for a moment, it is evident that Hurricane Sandy tested the resilience of the counties in northern Virginia. It is safe to conclude that we were not prepared for the "Frankenstorm" that sent our trees and power lines crashing down. Now that the anniversary of the storm is amidst us, I pose the question:

Have we improved our resilience?

I’m sure we all recall the last minute scurrying that took place before the storm touched down in our neck of the woods. Virginia residents bustled around running errands just in time for Sandy’s arrival: stocking up on groceries, grabbing flashlights and batteries off the shelves of Home Depot, and closely monitoring the constant news reports for any possible updates.

The "Frankenstorm" did in fact strike the area with the roaring gusts of winds and inches of rain that had been predicted.

Power lines and massive tree trunks collapsed onto roads and residential yards. Families remained in their homes for about a week without power, telephones or utilities. Public transportation systems such as Amtrak, Metrobus, Metrorail, and Railway Express Service temporarily discontinued their services. Flights arriving at and departing from Dulles Airport, Reagan National and BWI were all cancelled. Finally, last but not least, the counties of Northern Virginia reported school cancellations.

And recovery was slow.

Tree trunks and power lines remained in streets and yards for quite some time, making transportation, or just leaving the house for that matter, almost impossible. Power, utility and phone companies slowly restored their services while angry residents placed incessant pressure on them. Have we now, a year later, learned from the experience?

To increase our resilience to such inevitable natural disasters, we should always be prepared. Flashlights, batteries and food that does not require refrigeration should be stored in homes to ensure we don’t encounter the empty shelves at Wal-Mart in the face of an impending storm. Also, families should establish plans regarding shelter areas, especially those living in wooded neighborhoods. What if the tree that fell in the front yard had fallen a little closer to your home?

In the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s anniversary, we should assess our resilience to future storms that may heavily impact us as a community. Are we prepared? Are our homes, buildings and power lines strong enough to endure the wrath of another storm? Or did we simply fix the damage, without taking measures to ensure that this level of destruction does not occur again?

Throughout the observance of Sandy’s anniversary, we are reminded of the importance of resilience in our communities and the significance of having a plan in the face of natural disasters.

Noelle Dorgham

Oakton

The author is a student at George Washington University whose relatives were effected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.