When the chips are down

There are two lines of reasoning when it comes to major disasters. One states that, when the chips are down, humans will revert to behaving like animals and survival of the fittest will morph into survival of the strongest. (Strongest are not always the fittest. Not when it comes to humans.) Basically, we get the world where Mad Max exists and law and order have disappeared and get replaced with brute force and odd alliances.

The other line of reasoning is one where we all stick together to try to get over the disaster and make the best of it. The line of command in civil and military authority is preserved, and we all pull together to help each other get by. There is no looting, no price gouging, no roving gangs trying to assert their authority. In short, we get the Star Trek scenario where something like WW3 makes us ban war and come to our collective senses.

But let’s not talk about fiction. Let’s talk about real situations. On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought down two enormous office buildings in New York City, collapsed part of the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC, and brought down a plane in Pennsylvania. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered an immediate grounding of all flights over the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. Communities with airports had to suddenly deal with a mass of passengers that landed and another mass that couldn’t leave. Yet we didn’t hear of any kinds of riots at airports. We all kind of knew that there was something going on that was more important than us getting somewhere on a schedule.

In New York City, all available first responders headed to the site of the World Trace Center towers to try and help survivors of the collapses. This included policemen and, eventually, national guardsmen. And yet crime in the city actually declined despite the fact that most of the police departments were involved in the rescue efforts. Well, either it truly declined or the victims of the crimes didn’t deem it necessary (or just plain couldn’t) report the crimes in light of what was going on. All in all, during the attacks of September 11, we all stuck together.

Yet the attacks were not a disaster in that basic infrastructure was kept intact. The chain of command in civil and military authority was not broken. Hospitals were open for business, electricity flowed freely, and the confusion and commotion was limited to only those places where planes went down. For an example where everything collapsed, let’s look at Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Now, that was a mess. Even with days of advance notice, very few people of New Orleans heeded the advice to evacuate. Few, relatively speaking. There were still enough people who tried to leave and ended up jamming the highways and roads leading out of the city. In my opinion, the leadership of the city made a big mistake in having people cram into the football stadium as well. You just can’t put that many people in an enclosed space like that without supplies and without authorities to manage the situation. But that’s neither here or there.

We all saw what happened. The water levels rose and inundated neighborhoods. Those who stayed had a collapse of infrastructure seen only before in places outside of the United States. There was looting. There were people in mortal danger not only from the storm but from each other. It was utter chaos. The kicker was that the government at all three levels failed to be prepared and respond appropriately, even with days of warning of the impending disaster.

So what’s going to happen next time the chips are down? Because there will be a next time.

I write this because this is where “The Poxes” is heading. There is an impending disaster coming to that universe because of the events in the first two chapters. Our hero will find himself in a losing fight against not only the interests of the anti-vaccine people who are pushing to do away with all vaccines, but there are other forces at play in his town. And so, I intend to analyze what happens when the chips are down. Who will step up to the fight?

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