Editor's Note: Below is a brief excerpt from a complimentary Health Policy Unplugged note written by our Health Policy analyst Emily Evans. Click HERE to learn more about Emily's research process and the analysis subscribers receive.
At the time of year, such as this, when we remember our blessings, almost no one thinks of their government, and with it, the people elected to lead it and the bureaucracy that serves it. In the field of vision of most Americans are all the things that go wrong and none of the things that go right.
And a lot that could go wrong, doesn’t.
On the first weekend in May 2010, Nashville suffered an unprecedent 18 inches of rain or more; the measurement gauges were swept away by flash floods. One of the two water plants on which the city depends for fresh, clean drinking water was inundated and, to prevent contaminating the water supply, shut down.
The second water plant, whose primary pump was produced when Abraham Lincoln was president and has been drawing from the Cumberland River ever since, remained operational through the swift action of the Sheriff’s Office whose inmates were immediately dispatched to sandbag the c. 1870 facility. Anyone who could lift a 20 lb. bag joined the effort.
That is the story most people in Nashville know.
The story they don’t know is that when you reduce – or in this case eliminate - water pressure at what is known as “city low,” where all water plants are located, you create chaos in the hydrodynamics beneath the streets. Water pressures can rise beyond the tolerance of most household fixtures; it can fall to the point the kitchen tap is dry.
It was the valve crew, government workers with no reservations about climbing 10-15 feet below street level in all sorts of weather, that moved swiftly around Nashville opening and closing valves to adjust the water pressure and allow the surviving water plant to serve all 534 sq. mi. of the city for the next month or so.
Without them, it would not have mattered that one plant, Omohundro – affectionatly known as Omo – remained operational. The entire city would have been without water.
Avoiding disaster, like a city without fresh water, was driven by a vision, held in common, from the mayor’s office to the valve crew, that the role of government was to set things right and to do it as expeditiously as possible and without expectation of recognition. They succeed and life and business continued with little inconvenience.
Whether they knew it or not, Nashvillians were grateful.
Disasters are never without mistakes. In the wake of the May 2010 flood, a decision was made by the mayor’s office to close all car washes. Omohundro was not designed to supply unlimited water to the entire city and conservation was necessary.
Without much information to verify it, car washes were deemed to be heavy water consumers, or at least that was the story told.
In fact, hotels and restaurants require significantly more water to function. Car washes usually use recycled gray water and have little impact on supply.
The mayor, however, did not like the anti-conservation “message” sent by people washing their cars in full view of the dutiful water-conserving public. People still washed their cars but instead of going to the car wash, which employed conservation practices, they did it at home which put more strain on the supply.
The car washes sued; restitution supplied.
As COVID does what virus have done since the beginning of time, misguided policy responses like those lacking meaningful data on effectiveness and burdened with accumulating of evidence of harm – are receding. Comedian Bill Mayer declared COVID “over” not so much because it is over – it never will be - but because most people are “over it.”
It has taken far too long for policy makers at health departments and executive offices – not to mention that woeful White House - to relearn that they are there to set things right not to make their people miserable.
Better late than never and still worth giving thanks they have crawled out from under their desks to fulfill their responsibilities.
As the Cumberland River filled with water that May and began to creep up the levee built to protect the Opryland Hotel, Ryman Hospitality’s CEO, Colin Reed, had a decision to make.
The electric company had notified him that in 45 minutes, water would inundate a major power station and electricity to the hotel would be cut-off.
Despite entreaties from the mayor’s office, which was not prepared to accommodate 800 more displaced persons, the decision was made to evacuate. Killing your costumers is a bad idea under any circumstances but particularly frowned on by people in the happy world of hospitality.
Disaster plans were pulled down from the shelf, staff mobilized, guests evacuated to the nearby McGavock High School where new accommodations were located, and trips home booked, quietly and effectively. Never has there been such a pleasant disaster experience.
Ten months later the hotel reopened, and all 800 guests were invited back gratis to see the restored hotel and Opry House. Almost all came and it was a helluva a party.
Setting things right has its rewards. Let’s be thankful to those that understand that.
And let me thank you for reading what I write to try and make sense of how the pieces of a dynamic world fit together.
Have a great Thanksgiving week.