There are several names given to such events... "Perfect Storms", "Once-in-a-million year event", "Outlier", "Freak Event"... all give the connotation that there was nothing that could have been done to prepare for it, and hence those who should have seen it coming should be absolved from any blame or responsibility since there is nothing they could have done in the first place.
There are a couple of notable events in recent history that have been attempted to be explained away as "perfect storms" or "outliers". These include events such as the Great Financial Crisis, which brought the entire US banking system to its knees, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill disaster, which is the single largest and most damaging oil spill in US history, and the recent stock market blip that resulted in the biggest intraday point drop ever in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
In close examination, history will find that these events were actually results of Systemic Failures, rather than "outlier" events. The Great financial crisis was caused by systemic failure across the entire financial system - from excessively low interest rates by the central bank, to over-deregulation of the banking system, to overly lax lending by commercial banks, to greedy investment bankers. The Deepwater horizon spill was caused by executive decisions which put cost-cutting ahead of safety, by complacency and hubris.
Closer to home here in Singapore, Yaacob Ibrahim has attempted to explain away the recent flash floods as "intense storms" and "freak events." The most famous quote he has given Singaporeans is that floods of this magnitude happen "once in 50 years". In short, Yaacob Ibrahim is basically trying to say that the flooding is caused by outliers and perfect storms, not by a faulty drainage system.
But are these intense floods really "freak events"? Or are they signs of system failure? Why is it that floods that are supposed to happen "once every 50 years", have occurred 3 times in the past 2 months alone? (even as I write this post, there is massive raining outside my window). Yes, it is obvious that these floods are being caused by "intense storms". But isn't it precisely the job of a sewerage system to be robust and to be able to withstand these "intense storms"? Isn't it precisely the job of the Ministry of Environnment to build redundancy and flexibility into the system to deal with such events?
What is most likely the case, as in the GFC and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is that the flash flooding in Singapore has been the result of institutional hubris and complacency. The PUB has obviously never conceived of floods of such frequency and magnitude, thus never built the kind of redundancy, flexibility and adaptability into the sewerage system to withstand the kind of storms that we are seeing today. And instead of doing the wise thing and acknowledging that these flash floods are probably indicative of a new normal, they are continuing to rationalise away these as outliers and freak events.
This rationalisation allows them to absolve themselves of the blame and responsibility for the damage that has been caused by the flooding. It allows Yaacob Ibahim and the senior PUB officials to continue collecting their fat salaries and bonuses without penalty. Yet it is this sort of hubris and complacency that sets the system up for greater failure in the future. Such a mindset creates the conditions for even greater storms and even worse damage, in time to come. What is not done is that these events are not given the due attention they should be given, and that the system is not properly upgraded and modified to withstand the greater shocks that are coming its way.
The truth of the matter is that these "Freak Events" probably aren't freak at all. What probably is the case is that we have a "Holey Sampan" that is unable to withstand the "intense storms".
It is time to fix the Sampan - plug the holes and upgrade it, instead of blaming the rains and the storms. If we keep blaming the storms without fixing the holes, sooner or later, the Sampan will Sink.
"Why is it that whenever something happens that the people who should have seen it coming didn't see it coming? It's blamed on one of these rare once-in-a-century 'perfect storms' that for some reason, take place every ****ing 2 weeks!!
I'm beginning to think, these are not 'perfect storms'! I'm beginning to think, these are regular storms... these are regular storms, and we have a sh--y boat!."
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