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It is an extraordinary and difficult time for nearly everyone for sure. A moment, when that last little bit of lingering cigarette smoke has finally cleared from the room, that everyone will remember.

Unfortunately the cigarette smoke was not from some great one-off all night house party. That cigarette smell is from your Uncle Hal’s pack-a-day habit who was forced to “crash” on your living room couch for a few months. This one is going to linger and take time to clear out. We might even have to throw away that couch. No amount of scrubbing and Febreze is going to get that stench out.

Generations will be named after this moment. A moment that will have a distinct pre and post feeling sort of like 9/11. There will likely be newly defined playing rules with new acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors. What those rules exactly are we will have to wait for the smoke to fully clear (thanks Uncle Hal). But I think we are getting a flavor for some of them already.

The anxiety levels are high. I’m really trying to think of a more anxious moment in modern history that have touched so many lives at a single unified moment. Maybe the Cold War when the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R were in nuclear conflict? Maybe World War II? The Spanish Flu of 1918? I don’t know I wasn’t alive during these moments. They were likely times of high anxiety as well.

I do think it’s likely fair to say that not since World War II has such a significant portion of human population come together to solve a problem with such coordinated focus. The collective intelligence and problem solving capabilities of the human race across all corners of the planet are on full display, right now, at this very moment, in working towards solving COVID-19. I personally take some comfort and find beauty in that thought. It’s good to know that the majority of us are not in the “every man for himself” mindset. Unlike this ass-bag who should be tied up to a rocket and launched directly into space:

Some people really do suck.

Anxiety to some degree is healthy, but obviously not like this with COVID-19. One of my favorite podcasts is called the Tim Ferriss Show. What I really like about his show is the long form interview style. Tim Ferriss, like most great interviewers, and really all great artists for that matter, really has a knack for uncovering the minute details that maybe us common folk don’t always notice or take for granted. He really explores the nooks and crannies within the deepest corners of people in an attempt to find what makes people unique. What makes people excel at what they do.

One of my most memorable Tim Ferriss podcast episodes was on the topic of human emotions with CEO Chip Conley. I distinctly remember where I was when first listened to this episode. I was on an evening jog through Frick Park and I remember immediately stopping on the Braddock Trail to type into my phone this portion of the podcast:

Anxiety = (Uncertainty) x (Powerlessness)

The equation is so simple yet elegant. It struck a powerful chord with me while I was jogging as I was going through a particularly anxious time in my life. I needed to address what was I unsure about (uncertainty) and determine if there was anything preventing me from addressing the issue (powerlessness).

If you break down this equation for the COVID-19 crisis you can understand why we are likely living through the most collective human anxious moment in a very long time. Millions of people are uncertain about their futures, both health-wise and financially, and millions of people are powerless to do anything about it. People are unable to get a prompt screening test if they are sick and people can’t find a new job to earn new income if they’ve been laid off. Both of the factors in the equation are approaching infinity which is why it is heart breaking (and understandable) seeing photos like this:

When I look at that simple equation for anxiety, I also see people who are impacted by flooding. They have high uncertainty about when the next big storm will hit and flood their home or basement. They are also likely powerless to find a way to alleviate the issue. The people who are impacted by repeated flooding really have this equation for anxiety:

Anxiety = 2 [(Uncertainty) x (Powerlessness)]

They are doubly impacted by our current situation because not only do they have COVID-19 to think about, they have the thought of likely flash floods in the coming months.

Previously on this blog, I extracted all of Allegheny County’s tweets about flooding and determined by analyzing those tweets that May, June, and July were the start and height of flash flood season in Allegheny County. Unfortunately, if past trends hold true, it is likely a flash flood will occur, maybe even multiple times, which will require the services of emergency responders. This was a scene from last year in July in Plum:

I do wonder what extra or special measures do emergency responders have in place to help people impacted by flooding during the COVID-19 era? How do emergency responders adequately protect themselves as well? I would imagine social distancing rules and etiquette tend to go out the window when someone is trapped in their home or car due to raging flood waters.

I am not quite sure how I end this post other than my thoughts and prayers go out to those that are impacted by COVID-19 and flooding. Also the emergency responders and health care professionals. To the people who are working around the clock on solving COVID-19 in research laboratories. I hope and pray that this year will be a quiet year for flash floods and provide some relief both emotionally and physically to repeated flood victims.

Here’s what I do know and I firmly believe in my heart….

I know that we can ease people’s anxiety who are impacted by flooding. We can do this by providing less uncertainty and powerlessness to flooding victims. First, it’s up to us to start taking flooding seriously in the Pittsburgh Region.

There is no reason why a certain subset of people should be experiencing double the amount of anxiety everyone else is experiencing.

Join the Conversation


  1. Tom,
    A great issue, just the laughs and perspective I needed! I hope you’re doing well, presumably at home. With the exception of some field work for “essential industries” (donning steel toed boots, glasses with side shields, hard hat and reflective FR cape), I’m working from home. Give me your phone number if you will, it would be great to chat.
    John (cell: 412-260-8856)

    Sent from my iPhone


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