Op-Ed: Hurricane Sandy -- Hints of Orwellian Agendas

Posted Oct 31, 2012 by André R. Gignac
Instructions and orders issued by the authorities before Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast had overtones of Orwellian intentions, and the public shaming of free will could be a sign of things to come.
Aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast taken during a search a...
Aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast taken during a search and rescue mission by 1-150 Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard
U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen
With every crisis and every disaster, governments gain new knowledge on how to better communicate warnings and instructions to people, and each time they also take notes on the art of population control. But it’s a long and arduous learning process, and during a crisis well-meaning authorities can sometimes use words and expressions that fit right in with some Orwellian agendas.
In the case of Hurricane Sandy, the repeated warnings by various authorities were clear (and were later proved right), and the predictable consequences of the dramatic left turn of Sandy toward the East Coast and of its inevitable collision with human life were explained vividly to Americans.
In fact, the authorities were everywhere, well-prepared and visibly intent on avoiding the usual post-traumatic recriminations. That is why the real first surge of the storm to hit the public consisted of tonnes of information coming from various levels of government and security agencies. This has most certainly saved many lives.
But with this effort on the part of state and local authorities came also a tiny sliver of Orwellian discomfort, when governors, mayors, chiefs of security and federal agencies started peppering their briefings to the media and their appearances on the screen with pleas, orders and various instructions... accompanied by “pre-emptive criticism” against those who would not follow their instructions.
“… Do not delay, don’t pause, don’t question the instructions…” (President Barack Obama, during a press briefing)
“The adults are taking care of business, so don’t get scared.” (Governor Chris Christie, as reported in The Inquisitr)
“You need to take this very seriously and follow the instructions of your state and local officials…” (National Post)
“We’ve got to convince people this is very serious.” Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch (in CBS News Website)
“The more you follow instructions, the easier it is…” (President Obama, the day after Hurricane Sandy).
“We continue to do everything in our power to make sure that (…) our citizens are fully cognizant of what they should be doing” (Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut)
“You need to be paying very, very close attention…” (Janice Dean, Fox News Meteorologist)
“This is nothing to play with, and this is nothing to take lightly. So take it seriously.” (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo)
“All New York City residents told to go indoors until further notice” (NBC News banner)
The notice: “Go indoors immediately and remain inside. DO NOT DRIVE.” (A “blast alert” sent to mobile devices across New York City by the Office of Emergency Management)
“It is important that residents listen to directions…” (
“Hopefully the residents have listened to the instructions” (Jeff Pompper, Salem County’s director of the Office of Emergency Management)
“I’m very disappointed in the fact that some decided to disregard my instruction—in fact, my order” (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie)
While these and many other pleas were being transmitted, authorities were shutting down transportation, imposing travel restrictions, closing schools, cutting off power, issuing mandatory evacuation orders and preparing re-entry guidelines for citizens returning to their homes, declaring states of emergency and calling National Guards.
If indeed most people followed the instructions without question, others were cautioned by their own healthy skepticism toward the state’s benevolent intentions, or were convinced that not much would happen anyway, while some complained about “the hype from the media” and thought that the authorities were “over-exaggerating”. Inevitably, then, a number of citizens decided to resist the orders.
Lucky for them, New Jersey governor Chris Christie promised that they would not get arrested. But they would still have to pay a price for refusing to obey the state: public ostracism. Preemptive strikes were launched in more than one state against those citizens, along the same lines used by governor Christie: residents who did not follow evacuation orders were “both stupid and selfish”, they would put at risk the lives of first responders, and they would be monopolizing help that could be needed somewhere else.
In New York City, according to NBC News, the police sent mobile teams to broadcast public warnings, including one that said that residents who were not following instructions or orders were committing a class D misdemeanor.
Also in New York, according to the accompanying text of a photo published in The Atlantic Gallery, police officers went door to door in housing projects “to take note of which residents are ignoring the mandatory evacuation order”.
Quite the control.
It would seem a good idea if the various authorities, before they start issuing edicts and engaging in paternalistic behaviour to manage the next emergency, were to have a good look at the words they intend to use. Most certainly, they ought to drop right now the relatively new strategy of trying to shame publicly anyone who prefers the exercise of his free will to Big Brother’s instructions.
On that point, journalist William Saletan offered an interesting remark, in his article published in The Slate, about “Republican Governors who order evacuations to save lives but who oppose any requirements to buy health insurance”.
“The question is whether you should be allowed to make your own choices when the cost of bailing you out will fall on others. If the state has no business forcing you to buy health insurance, even when the premiums are subsidized, why should it be empowered to order you out of your home in a storm, just to save your skin?”