Our state and local finance problems are just as much a part of the Superstorm Sandy story as pillorying LIPA officials and refilling beaches. So far, nearly all attention has been focused on Washington for damage relief funding. Already, there is pushback. Some House and Senate Republicans want offsetting spending cuts for the aid, which delayed disbursements for Irene damage last year. This will work itself out, one way or another. What’s really scary are the still-abstract long-range costs that will begin transforming into solid wall, soon.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nassau County local governments built a formidable Civil Defense (CD) complex designed to keep residents safe and alive in case of catastrophe. That CD system is gone, although bits and pieces are still with us today. Our auxiliary police units are vestiges of CD. First set up during the Second World War and revived during the Korean War, the “auxies” weren’t formally folded into the Nassau County Police Department until three decades ago. In 1965, the Levittown Public Schools contracted with the local unit to keep order during special events, and slowly the auxiliaries came to be thought of as “anti-crime” units.
The WWII civil defense system had been almost completely dismantled when the Soviet Union’s acquisition of atomic technology in 1949 jump-started the creation of CD systems at all levels of government. In less than a year, Nassau County had a working emergency headquarters, a series of air raid warning stations, a Civilian Air Patrol of volunteer pilots and detailed plans for police, fire, health, public works, transportation and other services for every village and unincorporated area.
All parts of a power transmission and distribution system can be put underground. The larger transmission lines that usually run along main roads and railroad tracks, the “tap lines” that branch off into neighborhoods, the substations and transformers, all of it. Underground systems are not perfectly protected, but they are better protected from wind, ice and trees.
The cost of underground wires in new developments is only a little more than putting in overhead wires. Replacement of existing overheads with buried wires is something else. It costs more, but how much more and if it’s worth the cost are questions that need serious study from some objective source, once and for all.
“Due to the high call volume we cannot assign you a representative. Please try again later.”
By the second week, that’s what LIPA was saying.
In government, there is a direct link between performance and trust. LIPA has lost that trust, and not just for itself. This just sets back everything in our local public weal. Long Island is damaged.
(This was originally published in September 2011, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. It is reprinted exactly as it appeared 13 months ago.)
There was a palpable shift in attitude toward LIPA on Wednesday, August 31. Frustration and outright hostility spilled over as the flow of useful information about outages and repairs slowed and sometimes stopped. A lot of good will has been lost by LIPA. Perhaps they can start to earn some of it back.
There will be enough political stress over the next several days. This week, I offer the pipe of peace and urge thought and action on the most nonpartisan of subjects. Though the focus here is on local governments and public agencies, it all can be applied just as easily to businesses of all sizes and to your personal work. People in authority over public records, archives, libraries and data of all kinds need to dedicate the near future to checking, rechecking, rethinking, revising and re-envisioning their plans and procedures for keeping those materials safe for now and for the future. Clocks are ticking all over.
If you’re a data caretaker or policy maker, some problems you thought you had licked a long time ago may be coming back to haunt you. The true life expectancy of optical media (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) is unknown, and it’s clear from published reports and personal observation that some types are failing faster than anticipated. In particular, many writeable CDs from 10 years ago or less are giving error messages, with demagnetized spots that make some or all data irretrievable. Software needed to access some data is no longer published or supported, and may no longer run on newer machines or operating systems. CDs themselves are soon going the way of microfilm and vinyl records.
1. The polling. The polling. Media obsession with polling. It’s already insufferable where I now sit on the time-space continuum, on October 17, twenty days from Election Day. Ghosts of the Future, reading this a week later, I feel sorry for you, because the polling frenzy is probably even worse where you are.
2. The media loves polls because reporting on them is cheap and easy. The work is all done for them. It fills space during lulls in which there’s nothing much more to say or write. Very quickly, the polling itself becomes the story, crowding out true analysis and oversight of important issues.
2. Changes in federal and state legislative district borders, effective on January 1, have forced the merger or splitting of some election districts (neighborhood level voting precincts). It didn’t help that the Nassau County Board of Elections, run by the two major parties, was late in finalizing new election district-level maps (making ballot qualification problematic for outsiders).
We’re very good at paying homage to the men and women who have died in service to our country. We’re not as good at honoring those who come back alive, many of whom continue to pay a price after their return.
Several months ago, a survey of 4,200 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that their top concern was unemployment (followed by mental health, disability benefits, health care and education). 17 percent reported that they were unemployed, a rate significantly higher than the official statistics. At the time of the survey, there was an official unemployment rate of 30.4 percent among veterans aged 18 to 24 and 48.0 percent for young black veterans.
New York was the national leader in developing special services to help veterans of our armed services readjust to civilian life, and for many years Nassau County played a special role in which residents took great pride. It is part of our local public heritage.
In 1929, before the crash and the Depression kicked in, Nassau was the first county in the state to have a formal relief operation to help former soldiers and sailors in need. It was run by veterans for veterans, but it had official ties to the county government. In 1938, when the new “home rule” county government kicked into gear, Nassau was the first to have a government division dedicated to aiding veterans. A system was developed in which government worked closely with veterans organizations to reach those in need of assistance or advice, and this is the same basic model that is almost universal throughout the state and the country today.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org