Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Hurricane Sandy

An image of city streets in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, just a few blocks from where my family lives. Taken by David Shankbone

I live in California. However, I hail from New York City. All of my immediate maternal family still resides in New York State, with most in New York City. So it was a great deal of concern that I watched the news leading up to the storm. I texted my mom and other family members, asking what their plans were. I kept track of where the evacuation zone was and found my mom’s apartment building was in the mandatory evacuation zone. However, because of the…not as destructive nature of Hurricane Irene, many people decided to stay put, thinking the news was exaggerating. Much to my chagrin and understanding, they didn’t want to stay in a shelter and didn’t have family living in safer parts of Manhattan. They stocked up on water and food, along with many people.

My mom lost power and water. When a ConEd transformer blew up (the video is insane), more people than anticipated also lost power. Trees fell. Streets were flooded. I spend a lot of time on Twitter looking at tweets with the hashtag #Sandy and #LES, checking on the status of my old neighborhood. I sent my mom info on power and bus service restorations as I could, trying to find people who could offer my mother some respite in the city. My brother called with 10% battery, asking me to try and convince my mom to go to a shelter, a shelter which was later evacuated when they lost power. My mom called me from her job yesterday, telling me they were charging their various electronic devices, making use of the bathroom and taking advantage of stores having things like…food and well, being open.

Two things struck me about the storm. One, this storm devastated Lower Manhattan. Big time. New York City gets extreme weather; winters are often snowy and with below freezing temperatures and summers are hot and humid as an armpit. They get thunderstorms and blizzards but this storm…we’ve read the papers. Flooded tunnels and train stations, moved vehicles, disrupted power to millions of people, knocked down trees and more. It is a mess. A slowly but steadily getting better mess, but still, it is going to take weeks for some people to get power back; some just got water running today.

Second, I was able to keep in touch with my family. I was able to get information about the storm as it became available. And I was able to share it with my family in the hopes they could use that information to help them. I texted my mom Monday morning to tell her her area was going to be without power for 3-4 days, the estimate at the time. When I was growing up, every summer meant calls to Puerto Rico to make sure relatives were safe and sound during/after hurricanes, accounting for everybody, find out who was staying with who. It took time to get a hold of people and getting information on what was happening there. Here in 2012 in most parts of the US, information is created and sent out so quickly, all you need is a way to get a hold of it and its yours (though of course, erroneous info can be created just as quickly as factual). Information can be used to get your family to safety, to plan the next few days more efficiently, to let you know when it’s time to get the hell out or stay put. In the case of other countries affect by the storm such as Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, infrastructure, agriculture and housing has been devastated. Depending on where you get your news, you might not have known they were affected at all.

A natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy wreaks havoc on everything it passes over. Things taken for granted like clear roads, dry homes, readily available food and water can all be swept away as the storm spins over, dropping rain and blowing through the land. Lives and property are lost. After the storm has passed on and dissipated, there is cleaning up to do. People must be accounted for, homes rebuilt, roads cleared and life goes on. Some places get more help than others. Everyone presses on and hopes enough time passes before the next storm to built stronger than before.

For GMs

  • How do people forecast natural disasters?
  • When is hurricane season in the region? What are the typical paths and patterns of hurricanes?
  • How does the topography affect how towns, villages and cities are affected by hurricanes?
  • How is infrastructure affected by natural disasters? Roads? Communication? Ports?
  • How do people prepare for hurricanes? How do they spread the word when one is coming?
  • Where do people congregate during/after hurricanes? Where can they go for respite and essentials like clean water and food? Where can they go for counseling?
  • Where do people get the resources/money required to prepare for/deal with hurricanes?
  • Which regions are reported on when hurricanes hit? What regions are forgotten and left to fend for themselves?
  • Who organizes evacuations and disaster relief?

Plot Hooks

  • A city ravaged by hurricanes year after year has finally been graced with technology meant to keep flooding from overcoming the city. A storm is looming on the horizon and the citizens are rushing around preparing when the PCs receive the word: part of the wall is malfunctioning and must be serviced before the storm hits. The PCs must maneuver the storm, the population and then fix the issue or risk having the city devastated again. What is the new technology? What is malfunctioning exactly? What makes the PCs the one to go fix it? How is the town preparing for the disaster? What obstacles, natural and otherwise must the PCs face to get the job done?
  • Flooding from a hurricane pollutes the water, resulting in the outbreak and spread of illness throughout the region. When the PCs go to get medicine in the city, they receive word that another storm is looming on the horizon and must rush back with the medicine and to warn their friends and family. What is the medicine? Is it hard to come by? Who do they hear about the new storm from? What will the village hope to gain by being warned early?
  • After a devastating storm, looters are running around and taking advantage of the destruction. The PCs take it upon themselves to protect their neighborhood while trying to care for those stranded by the storm. Who is looting? Who is staying put? What kinds of things are they stealing? What are the other dangers the PCs must avoid, beyond the threat of malevolent citizens?
  • After a huge storm, the town is out of supplies, the caravan that was supposed to deliver relief late. The PCs go to find the caravan and fine only downed trees, empty carts and washed out footprints. Are all the supplies gone? Who was in the caravan? What will happen if the PCs don’t recover the supplies? How can they let the capitol know the relief never came?
  • When a storm wall is breached, the PCs must evacuate a portion of the town, going door to door and ushering the people to a safer location. With the water approaching they must keep track of everyone they are relocating and get them all to their final destination safely. Who has sent the PCs to evacuate the people? How do they get the people to trust them? How many people must they evacuate? Where are they taking them? What dangers, natural and otherwise must they face as they lead the people to safety?

For PCs

  • Have you ever been through a huge storm before? What do you remember about it?
  • If told to evacuate, do you pack up and go or do you stay put?
  • Do you take storm preparation seriously? What kinds of items do you stockpile when a storm looms?
  • If a huge storm was to sweep through and you were forced to evacuate, would you have anywhere to go? Family or friends you could bunk with?
  • When disaster hits, is there anyone you feel you have to protect?
  • While trapped with others, how do you pass the time? How do you deal with the stress of being cooped up?
  • Where do you get your information from, regarding places to get clean food and water, places to stay, places to avoid?

To everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy, in the Caribbean and the United States, it is my sincerest wish that you are all doing well and recover quickly from this, that you receive all the help you need as soon as you need it. Be safe and hang in there.

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