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Social Observations from a Texas in Crisis

Sitting here in Austin, Texas one week ago, none of us Texans foresaw the ultimate extent of the damage this disastrous weather event inflicted on our communities.

Over the past week, a gradual but then rapidly increasing succession of texts, calls and social media posts I received revealed an ongoing onslaught of state-wide utility failures and their effects on my friends: power out for days, no running water, using snow or pool water to enable basic sanitation. This week in February, which started romantically with a Valentine’s Day snow and 4X4 sleigh rides captured on Instagram ended up testing the mettle of every Texan in a way that is not soon to be forgotten in these parts.

I admit - miraculously, I have experienced uninterrupted power and water during this terrible crisis. I am ashamed to admit this to friends who are suffering greatly. All I can do is make a somewhat empty offer for them to shelter with me - which of course would be fine if they could actually drive on the roads to make it to me.

This harrowing experience which has tested us all makes me personally feel not only incredibly fortunate but also more aware of those less fortunate in my community. When the local news told Austin residents to conserve power and water, I turned down my thermostat and didn’t use any appliances. I have not showered or done laundry or dishes in many days. I know many friends who gladly made the same sacrifice.

Sociologists call this a social dilemma, where the behavior of one individual - who can probably get away with his or her behavior without anyone else knowing - directly impacts the greater good. However, I hope that COVID and other social movements have awakened us recently to a new sense of community and greater good.

Without question, there should be investigations into the catastrophic failure of our critical utility infrastructure, which have likely already begun, to help the general public understand what exactly happened, What are the exact circumstances which caused one of the most economically robust and largest (both in geography and population) states in our nation to be within minutes of a complete infrastructure failure, according to the experts. I am certain many of us shudder at the thought that this can be the actual reality in 2021 America.

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