Monday, 29 August 2011

So how do you dress for a national emergency?

As I sit in Soho House the mood is unusually muted, sombre even, for a club that is known for its comings and goings and buzzy atmosphere. And the top floor is cluttered with buckets and mops. That's because because I am sitting in Soho House, New York; indeed I am trapped in New York thanks to Hurricane Irene and although we have just been informed it wasn't as bad as it might have been and the conditions have now been downgraded to 'tropical storm' Irene, it looks like I am going to have to wait for a week before I can get a flight home to London.

Outside it looks wet and windy and the general sense of weirdness is highlighted by the sandbags that protect the Apple store next door in New York's Meat Packing district. So we stay inside for shelter and keep the TV switched on in the vain hope of better news on the weather and travel fronts. All of which has provided a terrific opportunity to study the Presentation Skills displayed by politicians and commentators at the centre of the emergency situation.

Mayor Bloomberg has been the undoubted star of the saga, delivering a steady flow of rich information in a measured way that exudes authority and inspires confidence. President Obama has clearly learned a lot from Bush's failings in New Orleans and the media is striking a generally good balance between snippets of dramatic footage and regular localized updates.

What strikes me most, however, is the apparently more trivial aspect of 'severe weather
wardrobe'. This is probably due to memories of UK broadcasters famously covering last year's heavy snowfalls wearing an assortment of garish anoraks, invariably emblazoned with unsuitably large logos. Like the rest of us and our infrastructure generally, they seemed to have been caught on the hop.

By contrast, the Americans appear to be all ready for it, with a selection of changes ready to go as the situation unfolds. On the day before Irene's arrival Mayor Bloomberg was looking immaculate in a business suit surrounded by his team - all very conducive to implying order, calm and readiness for the coming storm. The following day, however, it was very much a question of shirtsleeves for both Bloomberg and Obama - perfectly in tune with the mood of that particular moment. Reporters on location, meanwhile were wearing the obligatory anoraks, but in the colours of their networks, and with perfectly proportioned logos.

So Americans certainly know how to dress for an emergency and they recognize that it is all part and parcel of an efficient communications process. I am, however, left with one nagging thought - aside from how and when I am going to get home - and it's this. How would Boris have handled it and would we be sleeping safey in our beds as a result? I like to think he would have risen to the occasion with aplomb, but would he have banked enough goodwill and respect to have inspired the necessary confidence?

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