So true to its date, so false to its subject

–Those who told us, “You can’t plan for a catastrophic event,” and those who said, “I don’t believe every emergency is unique,” need not be at odds. Catastrophes differ from other emergencies, and the interviewees are, I believe, pointing to different sets of interconnections and configurations: the latter more circumscribed as “local,” the former more as “well beyond that!”

One interviewee expressed that they were best when following plans and another at their best when surprised by the unexpected. Operations people seem like cowboys to the engineer department because both are talking about different sets of interconnectivities: We are at best when what we plan can apply to emergency preparedness, while we are best when what we improvise applies to actual response. “I don’t think you respond to 92 breaks in 13 days without having the ability to adapt on the fly,” said a city’s water distribution manager.

–So what?

Well, that can be quickly answered: It’s too early to decide, even case by case, what’s better than reliable operations in the face of turbulent conditions and buttressed by thoughtful emergency preparedness. Why? Because some cases are still early days, e.g.:

It is easy to forget that even in the so-called advanced world, domestic running water – for toilets, cooking, personal hygiene, washing clothes and dishes – is a very recent and ephemeral phenomenon, dating back less than a century. In 1940, 45% of households in the US lacked complete plumbing; in 1950, only 44% of homes in Italy had either indoor or outdoor plumbing. In 1954, only 58% of houses in France had running water and only 26% had a toilet. In 1967, 25% of homes in England and Wales still lacked a bath or shower, an indoor toilet, a sink and hot- and cold-water taps. In Romania, 36% of the population lacked a flushing toilet solely for their household in 2012 (down to 22% in 2021). . .

Marco D’Eramo (2022). “Odourless Utopia.” NLF Sidecar (accessed on line at https://newleftreview.org/sidecar/posts/odourless-utopia?pc=1464)

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