snowflakesIt’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Everyone was watching when forecasters went nuts this week predicting record-breaking snow totals for the Eastern seaboard. In Philadelphia, the mayor closed schools a day ahead of what was proposed to be a snow total that measured close to a foot. Boston was expected to receive (and did) feet of snow. New York City residents were ordered off the streets and traffic came to a halt in anticipation of its own foot-to-feet prediction. New Jersey, along with Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and New York, declared a state of emergency.

When the storm blew by Manhattan, New Jersey and Philadelphia without incident, another storm followed in its wake — who’s to blame for the serious misstep?

Civic leaders, of course.

The anger is understandable — businesses had to close doors and lose sales. Deliveries weren’t made. Roads and rail systems were inoperable. A lot of revenue was lost to the storm that didn’t show.

And yet given the impact and loss associated with megastorms (and this one was shaping up into just that), public officials are finding themselves in the unpopular position of making the tough decisions that might be the wrong one. With Hurricane Sandy still a painful memory, officials along the coast from New Jersey to Maine were unwilling to live through another round of “Why didn’t you do more?” allegations.

Today, they face the “What the hell were you thinking?” allegations.

Instead of being relieved that the storm veered farther east than expected, residents and businesses are up in arms over the paralyzing of cities for what turned out to be an average-sized storm in some areas.

News media, the driving force behind the hype and fear of the storm’s impact, have now turned the microphones toward the officials, demanding answers. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, no stranger to frank talk, put it right back on the media in a post-storm television interview — “”We were listening to all of you. You know, the fact is that you were working off the same information we were working off.”

My take:

It’s a no-win situation for politicians and city officials. Protecting residents has to be a priority, and sometimes making the wrong decision can have fatal consequences for those residents. Do you run the risk of angering them for wasting their time and costing them money, or do you just play it as it lands and hope it all works out?

The former, of course.

While it’s tough to say if legal consequences will come as a result of the over-zealous preparations, they won’t be coming as a result of doing nothing and seeing dangerous, disastrous results. In my opinion, the officials did the best they could with the information they were being funneled.

What’s your take?

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  • Paula V. Smith January 28, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Lori, I write about risk in higher education, and recently I’ve been looking at research on cognitive fallacies (D. Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow) to glean insights for risk management. There is a factor called “outcome bias” that Kahneman describes as”the quality of a decision judged by its outcome rather than the soundness of the process followed.” Decision-makers who fear this effect tend to be risk-averse and/or to document the process of their decision in bureaucratic detail so they can go back & defend their approach after the fact.