In the Absence of Leadership

The power went out in my neighborhood yesterday. It was three-thirty in the afternoon when a transformer blew. Everything came to a halt. No light, no internet, no air conditioning, no microwave, no TV, no hot water for the shower, no landline.

I live in the middle of Los Angeles. In the middle of a very large apartment complex with high rise and garden apartments. 18,000 people. Bigger than many small towns. The complex has an emergency protocol for situations just like this.

At ten-thirty pm, there was still no light–not even in the stairwells. I live on the second floor of a twelve-story building. My legs are strong, my lungs are good—I bounded up and down the stairs to get what I needed and was only moderately inconvenienced by the blackout. But Mrs. And Mr. Smith live on the tenth floor. She’s in a wheelchair. He uses a walker. They don’t have a cell phone. They were trapped. The Department of Water and Power said power would return by midnight. In the meantime, there was zero communication from management.

At four in the morning, I was awoken by the stillness. Sometimes it is the absence of something the calls our attention. No refrigerator hum. No air conditioner hum. Morning came and still no power. And no word.

I got dressed, packed my computer, a writing pad. and pen and went to find food and electricity. There was my neighbor Shannon talking to a guy from the power company. Maybe power will be restored by 9:30, he said, lacking conviction.

Shannon was this side of livid. “The apartment complex has a whole emergency protocol, but not one person came to the building to see if everyone was okay. There are people on the twelfth floor who need medical attention, there are people on the tenth floor who can’t walk, there are people who live alone. Where’s the team? This is reprehensible,” she told him.

At 12:30 pm—twenty-one hours later—power was restored.

This power outage was a minor emergency, a trial run. There was a lot of whining about how inconvenient it was. The annoyance of no TV or no internet. There was a lot of looking around for people to blame and an unspoken expectation that we’re entitled to life without disruption. And an expectation that leadership in some form will make it right again.

But what happens in the absence of leadership?

We are called to step up as leaders.

There will be more blackouts, more floods, more fires, more hurricanes, more tornadoes. Some communities will have good emergency plans in place. Most won’t.

In the absence of leadership, get to know your neighbors. Make a plan. Find out who needs assistance. Step into your leadership. Create community. Turn a crisis into an opportunity.





13 comments on “In the Absence of Leadership

  1. Your story is a good reminder of the fragility of our interconnected society. We depend on so many complex systems, with so many unknown, invisible people behind the scenes to keep it functioning. Sometimes things fail. That’s when your plea to seize leadership could become a the difference between life and death for some. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Davia,
    This is a really good piece! We now live on the 11th floor of a 12 story building. Who would carry our elderly puppy? Knowing your neighbors is an important first step to forming a community.

  3. Nice! And disconcerting. Have you heard of Resilient Neighborhoods? Their mission is to reduce carbon footprints AND to connect neighbors with each other in situations like this. Much is based on lessons learned from hurricane Katrina. Connected neighborhoods were more resilient.

  4. The things we take for granted, especially that someone will come to our aid in an emergency! Thanks for the wake up call.

  5. Thank you Davia,but is any one listening to you, sounds like you’re telling this story from mars,but its down here,continue to sound it loud and clear,love your work

  6. When I saw the headline “In The Absence Of Leadership” I expected a column about the absence of leadership from Donald trump. Big picture or little picture, it’s still our world, and there’s always a place for truth and action. Thank you.

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