Boy Scouts Have It Right: Be Prepared

Norwalk's Daily Newspaper

Boy Scouts Motto: Be Prepared

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A recent Hour editorial (Jan. 22, 1999) tossed a brickbat at the Norwalk Department of Public Works for its failure to react quickly to the black ice that coated city streets earlier that week, resulting in a rash of fender benders.

I don't always agree with Hour editorials -- it's not something the editorial board requires of employees -- but in this case John P. Reilly, the Hour's executive editor, who pens most of the paper's editorial views, hit the nail right on the head, as they say.

Commuter Nightmare

The editorial points out that it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the runoff from recent heavy rains and falling temperatures would make a nightmare of the morning commute.

More importantly, it questioned, "Shouldn't the DPW have some sort of monitoring schedule...?"

Even DPW Director F. William Grumman, I'm sure, would agree. He ran the DPW in the '70s when I covered city hall and city politics for The Hour. I always found him to be competent and a good administrator, so my comments are directed not at him, but, rather, at the system.

The editorial brings up a much larger issue: Why do government agencies -- city, state and federal -- invariably, and inevitably, wait until it's too late before taking action?

Usual Bureaucratic Response

The usual bureaucratic response is: "We acted quickly upon learning the facts, and we are undertaking an investigation into the cause. A committee has (or will be) set up to see that this unfortunate incident never happens again."

This response always works like a charm. It absolves all the bureaucrats of blame, and the subject is promptly forgotten by everyone. On rare occasions, a committee report is indeed issued, but, even then, new procedures or appropriate legislation seldom follow.

The Real Question

The real problem in these situations is that the bureaucrats can't be faulted for undesirable outcomes when there is no preventive procedure in place. The real question is: Why not?

Maybe it's because governments have a plethora of departments to handle major responsibilities, but few people in those departments have the time to anticipate problems.

In Norwalk, for instance, commissions, departments and agencies exist under the city charter to take care of public works, recreation, health, planning, zoning, welfare, tax collection, etc. The commissioners and administrators handle the day-to-day routine, and, generally, they do a pretty decent job -- often for little or no pay.

Thinking Ahead?

But who among them has the time to think ahead?

The department heads have to do some thinking ahead when they put together their annual budget requests, and the planning commission probably comes closest to forecasting the future when it chews over the capital budget and its "master plan."

Myriad Potential Problems

But, in truth, few bureaucrats have the time to give serious consideration to the myriad potential problems that any city, state or nation face.

The amount and quality of thought put forward relating to the prevention of problems, however, has a proportional effect on how hard people are hit by "unexpected" disasters.

It seems to me that government at every level should create a panel to talk about potential problems.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Feb. 4, 1999. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Comments 11 comments

Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Agreed. If we put more money, time and thought into planning committees, there would be less need of reactionary/emergency committees. Thinking ahead seems to be something we are seriously inept at.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting, Constant Walker. I keep hoping that government officials will learn someday to think ahead, but I'm not counting on it.


Bob 8 years ago

Bill , I couldn't agree with you more , however, having been an engineer with the DPW in my County the reality of the problem might be alittle thing known as O.T.If perchance it hadn't frozen over and you had crews on stand-by, I'm sure the City Father's would have been screaming about the waisting of tax payers money. Some times due to budget restraints , you're damned if you do , and damned if you don't.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I wrote the column more than nine years ago, Bob, but I don't know of any governmental agency that has taken my advice. Budgets and priorities still rule the day, but I'd love to see a little more discussion and action on this problem. Thanks for commenting.


michael 8 years ago

hi just wanted too say hello an thanks for sending me your writes look forward to reading more have a good day bye for now michael


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, michael. Welcome aboard HubPages. It's a great site!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I agree with you William, all departments should be able to foresee certain situations and have a plan in place for potential problems.

Here in Canada, they won't put a stop light at an intersection until someone is killed there, except in instances where they are redoing a roadway.

I may be cynical, but I believe it's strictly a money thing. Once a situation blows up in their faces, they can find the time to address and do something about it. In fact, it takes more time and money to repair the damage (both practically and PR wise) than it would have taken to just take the precaution in the first place. Yet, they don't want to spend the money until they're forced to.

I doubt they'll ever change. Too bad.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

We're no different here in the U.S., Shirley. I can cite you many locations here where intersections are so dangerous that it's apparent they should be re-routed, but that would be expensive. I call them "accidents waiting to happen." There are some areas where several people have been killed, but still no action taken. Sadly, as you say, "they'll never change." Thanks for your not-really-cynical, but true, comment.


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

Shirley is correct. The only thing anyone is thinking about when something is being done is how much immediate profit they can make from it.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I agree, ColdWarBaby. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that somebody, somewhere, sometime will try to do the right thing for the right reason. Too much to ask?


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

Don't know William but I share your hope. You know what they say though. No good deed goes unpunished.

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