We are just more than two weeks removed from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, the ‘superstorm’ that devastated the northeast like a bad Halloween prank from Mother Nature. Sandy is, by some measures, the second most destructive storm in US history. It was a monumental storm with national impact and significant implications for businesses across the country at a particularly sensitive time. The event offered some notable storylines concerning how social media, infrastructure, and our polarizing political climate affect American business:
– One of the first and ultimately most iconic images of the storm was a crane hanging off the top of a new 1000+ foot luxury high rise under construction in midtown Manhattan, its 80-ton swing arm damaged within just a few hours of the arrival of the storm. Fortunately the apparatus was ultimately secured after 6 days, avoiding further damage, but the twisted metal hanging in the balance for nearly a week served as a symbol the power of the storm and the damage it would ultimately cause. It was the first tangible topic across news outlets and exploded across social media platforms.
– Sandy exposed the fragility of our mighty infrastructure in cities and towns up and down the Atlantic coast. Widespread and prolonged power outages were one of the most common effects of the storm, along with damaged or flooded roads and interruptions in public transportation. The extensive infrastructure that characterizes the modern world is an extremely sturdy network, but was nonetheless helpless against this force of nature. It was a reminder of the looming unknown and the importance of contingency plans.
– The storm chose a highly controversial time to strike, landing in the run up to last Tuesday’s elections. Pundits from both sides of the political spectrum were quick to postulate on the effects of the storm and the government’s response. Contrary to many natural disasters, which can unify citizens in response, Sandy became a far more polarizing event, an unfortunate twist for the victims of its wrath who were seeking help but instead became simply votes to be won over. One congressional campaign manager even lost his job after intentionally reporting misinformation to sway public perceptions.
– Finally, many gears in the business world came to a grinding halt as New York City and other metropolitan areas affected by the storm shut down. Sandy kept employees from getting to work, cut off supply chains, and introduced a great deal of pessimism heading towards the end of the fiscal year. Wall Street was shut down as the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two consecutive days, the first time in 124 years. High end New York City restaurants served as a strong example of the broad economic impact of the disaster; they suffered millions of dollars in losses in operational revenues and spoiled perishable inventory, and the city’s army of tip-earning employees enduring a long stretch without pay has lead to a true worst-case scenario for a significant chunk of the Big Apple’s workforce.
The region is slowly recovering from the storm, and as the weather returns to normalcy, so too will the climate across politics, business, and everyday life. But Sandy will be long remembered as a resounding example of the perils of the unexpected. While many industries are still faced with new challenges brought by Sandy, others are rallying in response to increased demand and helping where they can. Business is a confluence, and a great measure of success is about adaptability in times like these.