Tom Del Beccaro: Coronavirus is proof that US not ready for a serious disaster

How long will the coronavirus crisis continue?

No one can say for sure, but the experience indicates one thing is for certain: America is not ready for a major national crisis, such as the failure of an electrical grid a bioterrorist crisis or worse.  The silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic loss it involves, however, could be that wise leaders stop using government to buy votes and instead prepare for us future crises.

A month ago, a Fox News headline read: How dangerous is coronavirus? At the time, “an estimated 75,000 people have been sickened globally and some 2,000 have died, leading to questions of just how alarmed the public should be.” Those numbers have significantly increased and, with the recent news that even world leaders have come down with the virus, fear itself is becoming wide-ranging.

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In tourist capitals of the world such as Florence, Italy, the streets are deserted.

In the United States, hoarding has suddenly become commonplace. Seemingly everywhere, major retailers are subject to scenes of people searching out bottled water and finding empty toilet paper shelves. Meanwhile, major industries are literally shutting down, like the entire sports world.

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Not long ago, California was hit by major power outages as its main energy provider, PG&E, shut down power in response to wind and fire. During the process, huge numbers of people not only were literally in the dark, but they were hard-pressed to get reliable information from public officials. Why? Because during an extended outage, without electricity, not only do televisions and radios not work, cell phones – America’s prevailing communication device – don’t work either.

As bad the coronavirus is, in plain truth, much worse problems are possible for the United States. The country’s electrical grid is precarious and interconnected. It is quite vulnerable to foreign attack, and leading providers, like PG&E, have their database administration in India.

Experts know that if portions of the grid failed or were disabled by an attack, huge portions of the country could be in the dark for weeks or possibly months. Those companies with their databases in foreign countries would, to say the least, have a difficult time accessing the Internet.

We have real vulnerabilities with respect to the very infrastructure of America and critical drugs. It is time our government secures our safety before it is too late.

Those same experts fear the intense social disorder and economic dislocation that would follow. No one should think we are ready for such a circumstance. The amount of economic dislocation occurring now is proof of that.

Returning to the coronavirus, another Fox news headline tells yet another stark story: China hints at denying Americans life-saving coronavirus drugs.

The United States remains alarmingly dependent on foreign sources for critical drugs. The economist Adam Smith would tell us the world works best when a country produces products and services for which it has an advantage to produce and sells its excesses to the world.

In our interconnected world, however, China – a stated enemy - has been the producer of many of the drugs critical to the health of Americans. They are not our only foreign source. One infectious disease expert, Michael Osterholm, has pegged that number at 153 separate drugs on which we are vulnerable.

While Adam Smith is unquestionably correct in time of peace and in the absence of peril, the coronavirus and China are surely a prescription for danger. Little wonder why American companies and doctors are currently scrambling to secure medicines for Americans to counter this pandemic.

We are fortunate that this pandemic has hit us after the dead of winter. It is likely that the warming weather will slow the coronavirus. Even so, it has caused hysteria, the flames of which have been fanned by a partisan media.

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The reactions of Americans and the media to this crisis have been stark. How we would react if an even more serious crisis arose?

Before we get to that point, Americans should demand that our politicians stop using government to buy votes. We have real vulnerabilities with respect to the very infrastructure of America and critical drugs. It is time our government secures our safety before it is too late.

That doesn’t mean we should turn to government to be the healthcare provider for all like Bernie Sander would want. Nor should we have the government take over utilities, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom has threatened.

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It should mean that our governments and their ardent advocates must stop being a roadblock to domestic production of essential items. At the same time, America needs reliable communication in a crisis and our governments must secure our nation’s infrastructure.

In plain terms, the warnings are clear. It is time for our leaders to do what is right, not what is political.

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