Sense and sensibility

Traumatic events often make people over-sensitive to comparable circumstances. That is a normal reaction; it is part of how we cope with distress and prepare to deal with future events. It may, however, lead us to behave in ways that exaggerate the threat and stress us beyond what the situation warrants. A bit of that is happening in the wake of Typhoon Hato.
Many people complained about the perceived lateness of typhoon warnings in previous occasions. It seems the meteorological services are now clearly over-reacting, in what appears like an anxious yearning to cover their backs from any such future accusation – which many in the service may even find excessive and unfair. Now we have a permanent warning about typhoons on the top of their first web page, under the heading “Special Info,” all written over a bright red background.
It seems that any tropical depression, no matter how far away or menacing it may look, will deserve mention. That may help create a state of anxiety and alarm that is unjustified. Not all tropical depressions become typhoons; not all typhoons come our way; not all of those that do are equally menacing. We do not need to be reminded there are many tropical depressions in the Pacific each year; we do not need to agonize about every single one of them. We surely can do without the services contributing to a state of public alarm.
Take this quote: ‘The maximum sustained winds of “Talim” is expected to be stronger than Typhoon “Hato”’. It was issued when the typhoon, still in its early stages, was located more than 2,000 kilometres away from Macau, and the track forecast indicated that it might end up in China, five to six days later, anywhere between Shanghai and Hainan. What kind of purpose does such a statement serve?
We need to trust that the information we receive is pertinent, timely, rigorous and sensitive to the circumstances. Let’s find that balance. And then keep the focus where it most matters. We need to know why the civil protection services failed so miserably when they were more needed. The real or presumed failures of the meteorological services may be a part of it. But they cannot be the main one, or even a major one – unless we conclude that the protection services do not function at all.