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Cancel the NYC Marathon

Over the past several days, we’ve seen some remarkable examples of leadership in times of challenge. Mayors, Governors, even a President of different political parties have buried their verbal hatchets to work together and with anyone willing and able to bring aid to those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. It is simply what we should expect of our elected leaders over 300 days a year but sadly don’t see much of anymore. It has been inspiring to see lessons from previous disasters being applied to bring support and aid to those who need it while communicating candidly and openly about the difficulties of the situations in New York and New Jersey. For as good as all of these efforts may be, there is one decision that makes no sense to me.

The decision to proceed with the New York City Marathon this weekend is the wrong decision.

Let’s put a few things on the table here first.

There can be no doubt to the heart, spirit and resilience of New Yorkers. They are tough red-blooded lot with all of the grit you would expect from residents of a city that doesn’t sleep. No one can call a New Yorker a wimp and get away with it or as one of my favorite lines from the Spider-Man movie franchise, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” We’ve seen this played out time and again and the tragic circumstances surrounding the impacts of Hurricane Sandy once again reinforce that deserved reputation. They are the epitome of resilience, but holding an event with more than 100,000 participants that literally weaves itself through the five boroughs that are bearing the open wounds and fractures of this week’s storms is imprudent at best.

An event such as this requires thousands of police, fire and emergency management officials, as well as thousands of volunteers and other logistics that frankly could be put to better use and mobilization. Police, fire and emergency services are already stressed enough responding to day-to-day operational calls. When you add on top of that the burdens of neighborhoods that still have flood waters and tons of debris strewn throughout them, little to no fuel, fractured and partially operating transportation systems, hospitals that are operating on generators and a citizenry that is struggling in many areas to get the basic essentials of everyday living, does it really make sense to host a whole new smattering of people to run through the streets?

If New York City cancelled its legendary Marathon, I don’t think there would be any reasonably sized chorus of people crying out in anger calling them “Wimps!” or “Quitters!” Common sense would dictate that due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, there are really good reasons to pass this year’s race by.

Again, I stress that this decision by the Mayor and race organizers is not about resilience or a reflection of NYC’s spirit or operational capacity to be resilient. Resilience is about setting and operationalizing decisions that can keep you, your organization, and your community up and operating.

Right now in Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and other sections of the Big Apple, they are not operational nor up and operating in a way to host America’s greatest race. Photos, released statistics on power and damages, the current state of transportation, and fuel access all tell us that in spades. Getting each of those locations (as well as the Jersey Shore and other impacted areas) to a state where they can get clean water, power, daily essentials, and access to transportation to move more relief efforts and fuel into those areas is far more important than saving face for the Marathon organizers.

I don’t want to say a decision like keeping the Marathon going is based upon ego or pride, but it certainly makes me wonder why those behind it think it would be a good thing for the city to do with all that is on its plate. Frankly, I think a decision like that is selfish in the midst of everything that is going on in Gotham and based upon the chatter in newsrooms, social media and blogosphere, I don’t think I’m alone in that judgment either.

The race that needs to be run needs to be for the residents, neighborhoods and businesses damaged by Sandy. Not the Marathon organizers or its runners. It’s the only race that really matters right now.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More