Being Agile in the Face of Hurricane Sandy

By Brian Lucas

This one is for Jessica! – Brian

“The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized.  Anyone can criticize.  It takes a true believer to be compassionate.  No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.” – Arthur H. Stainback

This is not a post I would normally write[1].  Hurricane Sandy however, had such a terrible effect on so many in the northeast.  So, after much persuasion, I was drafted by many of my friends and colleagues to talk about how I dealt with the storm.  While the effects of Sandy on my property were very minor, my thoughts go out to all who lost loved ones, suffered terrible damage or were set back in their lives and careers.

Even those who did not experience significant loss or damage were subjected to a disturbing previously unknown fear.  We were inundated with information about Sandy, for a considerable time, prior to her striking.  This gave warning and allowed some of us to prepare. Many also began to imagine the worse and become apprehensive about the reality of a large tropical storm making an uncharacteristic landfall on the northeast coast of the United States.  How this relates to agile, can be seen in the 14 points I have included in the footnotes.  I put these in the footnotes, so as not to interrupt the flow of the story itself.  The points allow those interested, to understand how I feel agile thinking and behavior can and should pervade all aspects of our life and work. There is also a hidden message here for those who are curious to find.  It leads to a treasure not of gold, but far more precious and lasting.

I regularly follow[2] the atmospheric scientific data on the meteorology, climatology, atmospheric physics, and atmospheric chemistry; as well as the hydrology considerations of hydrometeorology concerning climate change.  Having done so over the last 5 years; I was predicting and prepared for serious storm weather impacting the northeast in ways unprecedented in recent history.  The old saying “Fore warned is fore armed” is apt here.  So I created a vision[3] of being able to survive a storm at my house.  I derived a basic plan[4] in order to fulfill my vision.  It had two components to the plan: psychological and physical preparation. In creating the plan, I first drew on my existing[5] basic survival[6] knowledge as a backpacker, camper and hiker.  Then I did some initial research[7] into violent weather survivability.

In implementing my plan[8], one of the first acts I took was to ensure I would be notified of bad weather.  I found and installed two different weather applications on my cell.  One gives me day-to-day and emergency data, another does long term predictions.  I have alerts set up on both applications.  I am made aware of any impending serious meteorological conditions, even if I am too busy to do my daily weather check.  I do these checks so I am not surprised.  Eliminating or minimizing the possibility of surprise is a great way to prevent panic.  So psychologically, I was prepared for the storm.  Because of this preparedness, I first heard about Sandy on my Droid Bionic cell phone long before it became popular in other media.

When Sandy began to rear her head in the news, I began to physically prepare.  I laid in a supply of canned goods, dry goods, coffee[9], tea[10], jerky[11], bread, bottled[12] water, soap, bird[13] and cat[14] food, first aid supplies, kerosene, 20 pound LPG tanks for indoor/outdoor heaters and my grill.  I washed all my clothes, took cash out, filled the gas tank in my car and filled a 5 gallon can with gas. I took in the waste cans, bird bath, wild animal water dishes, bird feeder, lawn furniture and fastened down the grill. Sharpened the chain saw chains and got the axe handy. I also began exhausting the food in my freezer and refrigerator and not replacing it.

Back in September, I had decided to enclose the wrap around screened in porch on my Victorian style house with plastic; in order to enjoy some time with friends who were cigar smokers during the colder weather.  I briefly worried about the plastic holding through the storm.  I considered adding a lattice work tacked on top of the plastic inside.  However since the plastic was inside the screening, I held off[15] on this step.

As Sandy approached, a surprisingly large number of my friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and downright complete strangers were calling me, texting me, emailing me and even stopping me as I was walking by and asking me what I thought was going to happen.  I sensed a number of my friends were under a considerable amount of apprehension[16] about the impact the storm could have.  Some were highly sensitized by the ice storm we had in October of 2011, when many lost electrical power for days, even weeks.  As the storm approached and they were being bombarded by reports; their angst increased daily.  Rather than just tell those who were suffering this emotional distress to suck it up; I decided to do something[17] to ameliorate their travail.  Since my porch was now enclosed; I hit upon the “logical” idea of having everyone over for a hurricane[18] party[19].  I texted a group and they all responded pretty much in the same vein, “What an insane idea! What time is it and what should I bring?”

I have always subscribed to the psychological thought that you need to face your fears in order to get over them.  It doesn’t have to be under the worst conditions to be effective, however. Now sitting on a plastic enclosed porch in the midst of a hurricane is definitely facing a fear[20].  To keep everyone distracted and also teach them to be agile/adaptive and a basic survival skill to boot; I decided to cook on the top[21] of my kerosene heater.  I wanted to take advantage of the fire element.  Even though fire has an element of danger, especially in a storm, it also has a remarkably calming effect on the human psyche.  This reaches far back[22] in time and is, I believe now, a part of our genetic memory.  I needed something that could simmer and fill the porch with tantalizing aromas.  I decided to cook Italian sausage, sweet peppers and diced potatoes in tomato sauce with fennel, sage, thyme, crushed red pepper and garlic.  A friend of mine who makes his own wine supplied a marvelously young red to complement the meal.  Cooking in front of their eyes over the heater and using it for a dual purpose proved to be a point of fascination[23] for all.

We ate early, before the storm got to it full fury.  Having a good meal under their belt calmed everyone down a bit.  We were well into the port, scotch and various other liquors, when Sandy began to favor us with increased rage.  Of course I was foolish enough to mention that the plastic was holding up well.  As soon as I did that, WHAP; it ripped off the corner that was bearing the majority of the stress.  We instantly sprang (with great agility) to this misbehaving area to hold it in place before it could rip further.  I put some more tape on this section and re-stapled it.  Just as we were sitting down again another part gave way.  After a dozen episodes of this reprehensible excuse for aerobic exercise; we experienced a lull, and I, still not having learned my lesson, foolishly stated, “that’s got it!” BRANG!  Sandy took that as an insult to her indomitable nature and blew open the screen door.  It probably would have blown off its hinges, but the edge of it hit my truck which was parked in the driveway.  How fortunate!  We then tied the door shut.

A biologist friend of mine then suggested that we begin to purposely cut slits in the plastic to let the air pressure equalize and relieve the stress.  That began an argument about atmospheric pressure, wind vectors, ambient pressure, Blaise Pascal[24],  negative pressure, kinematic[25] pressure, surface pressure, fluid pressure, vapor pressure, the tensile strength of polymers, etc. There was a sudden lull in Sandy’s wind force.  I think we were boring her to death[26].  Needless to say I did not[27] cut slits in the plastic to let the wind out or in, though there was a considerable amount of hot air being generated on the porch.  Not just from the kerosene heater I might add.

Just when I had put some coffee on, Sandy awoke with a renewed fury (she must have smelled my coffee – damn).  SPLAT! WRAP! FLAP! The plastic broke loose in three different areas all at once.  Everyone dove for a flapping section and endeavored to hold it in place and keep it from tearing further.  I decided my strategy (plan) wasn’t working and decided to upgrade my response to the changing environment.  I got some scrap wood trim I had and a battery powered brad nail gun and tacked the unruly plastic down.  Just as we were finishing, someone (not me) was idiotic enough (some people never learn a lesson) to say, “Well that’s got it!”  Sandy’s response was to begin a campaign of constantly tearing loose a new section of plastic.  So for the next hour we were continually getting a new piece of trim and tacking the plastic back up.  It began to look like I was building a porch within a porch.

Finally we had all the plastic tacked down.  We were sitting down once again to rest and enjoy[28] the suddenly shifting cigar smoke patterns in the air as Sandy’s wind direction changed on a dime.  CRACK! CREAK! A huge elm tree in my neighbor’s yard was uprooted and began to fall.  A friend of mine, not noted for having gazelle like attributes, managed to leap over my chair, me, my cigar and cup of coffee (with a liberal portion of Rye). He ended up in my kitchen from this prodigious single bound, peering around the door jamb rather like a naughty three year old who has just knocked down mom’s favorite lamp before the “K” in creak finished.  Now if that is not agile, I don’t know what is.  At this point, there was a bright flash that resembled something between a giant arc welder and a lightening bolt striking us and the power went out.  From the sound of the crash, it sounded like it landed near my one friend’s Audi.  He of course valiantly prepared to charge out there and protect his car.

I interposed myself[29] in the doorway and reasoned with him intellectually with logic and by way of my being 6 foot tall and 215 pounds, that leaving the relative safety of the porch was foolish and there was nothing he could do anyway.  So as not to keep you in the same suspense he was, I will tell you now that his cherished vehicle was unharmed.  Why it is cherished is beyond me since it spends as much time in the shop as on the road.  Everyone was rather apprehensive at this point, so I decided to implement another change in our plan and scale back my vision.  If you remember, I thought we would ride out the entire storm on the porch.

Since it was getting a bit too ambitious to remain with the original plan we retreated to the kitchen and I lit a fire in the kitchen fireplace.  Everyone grabbed something from the porch that needed to be taken in without being told[30] to do it.  With the door to the porch shut; the voice of the storm became muted.  The fire was calming.  We began to return to the original intent of the party to eliminate the fear of Sandy.  We talked[31] and laughed about our experience, threw some more logs on the fire.  Before we knew it Sandy had moved on.  We had accomplished our goal.  Actually all our goals were accomplished.  The porch plastic was still in place.  We had an experience that everyone felt was positive.  We bonded[32] as a team.  We had survived and even we felt thrived in a challenging and dynamic environment[33].  That is being agile!  So remember till next time in all things, keep agile!

[1] I am writing this story with intentional humor, although I have actually toned down the rather ribald jocularity that was present at the time.  I have also written this very quickly (2 hours) with only one quick review (30 minutes) due to time pressures of other activities, but I wanted to respond to my reader’s requests for another post.  I realize that not everyone was in a position to prepare for Sandy as I did.  No matter what your circumstances, there are always those that are less fortunate.  It is impossible for one person to help everyone, but we can all do our part.  Sharing what you have with those who have less, is a lesson I learned from my mother early in childhood.  Some of my neighbors struggled in the aftermath of Sandy without power and short on edibles.  I shared the majority of my food supplies with them.  Others ran power lines over to their houses so they could have some power.  The point is everyone did something to help others.

[2] Point one in being agile is always keep your eyes and ears open.  And of course leverage free high quality information resources for things that could affect you negatively or positively.

[3] Point two in being agile is to have a vision; one that is not purely selfish.

[4] Point three in being agile is to have a basic plan. The plan is not set in stone; it’s only a starting point.

[5] Point four in being agile is to always leverage every scrap of knowledge you have to begin with; this means sitting down a doing some serious thinking.

[6] Something I always enjoy very much is backpacking, on foot or horseback, in the very wild, remote areas for 3 weeks.  I take only two weeks of food, (homemade pemmican is a fantastic food source, I put meat, wheat germ, oats, dried fruit, honey, kelp, chocolate, and nuts into my pemmican it can be eaten straight or made into a soup). I live off the land for the final week.

[7] Point five in being agile is to always do some research up front. With all the resources available today it is criminal not to do so.

[8] Point six in being agile is to always get some motion and not procrastinate in implementing a part of your plan.  It doesn’t have to be a big part, in fact it shouldn’t be.  As my interview with John Vernotica shows the importance of making a start cannot be overstated.

[9] I’ll admit to also laying in a supply of scotch, cognac, bourbon, whisky, vodka, rye, rum, absinthe, gin, beer, cigars and pipe tobacco, as well, strictly for friends of course.

[10] Hot green tea is still a great treatment for emotional shock, although I am very fond of Earl Grey Tea at tea time and Jasmine tea in the evening.

[11] Coffee, jerky and beans or bacon are real cowboy food I eat when horseback camping. There is nothing like a coffee perked in a porcelain pot over a fire made with creosote wood.  It adds a dramatically unique flavor and of course bacon toasted over an open flame, served with beans and pan bread is a phenomenal way to start and end the day.

[12] I also filled several 3 gallon water containers from my reverse osmosis (RO) water system see Employee Suggestions for details on bottled water (bad) versus RO systems (good).

[13] My yard is the Waldorf Astoria for a surprisingly large number of animals such as Blue Jays, Robins, Song Sparrows, Black Cap Chickadees, Cardinals, House Finches, Gold Finches, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Grey Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Grackles, Tufted Titmice, Redwing Blackbirds, Nuthatches, etc. and the occasional Owl.  There are also a plethora of squirrels that enjoy the Black Walnut trees and numerous rabbits (there is no such thing as two rabbits).  My resident ground hog, who lives in a corner of my garden (we have an agreement I plant and pull specific crops for him and he doesn’t raid my garden) as well as transient visits from possums, red fox, skunks (I have another agreement with the skunks after raising two young ones whose mother was hit be a car) and raccoons. They enjoy the oil type sunflower seeds and natural food sources and ground covers I have planted as well as the heated bird bath and fresh ground water I put out daily.

[14] I have a cat called Penelope who is an indoor cat.  She was a feral kitten, mostly Russian Blue, who was the size of a mouse and just born when I found her in a field.  She was crying her head off and struggling to run to me through grass that was 5 times taller than she was. Her mother was nowhere to be seen and she was alone and afraid.  She now sees absolutely no reason to check out of the luxury spa she ended up in and refuses to go outside.

[15] Point seven in being agile is to not do something before you have to, it is not procrastinating.  If you wait until it is actually time to do something you might have more information and can change your mind.

[16] In the immortal words of Larry Fine of the 3 Stooges, “Apprehensive is scared with a college education.”

[17] Point eight in being agile is to adjust and adapt your plan(s) to changing circumstances and environmental demands.

[18] Point nine in being agile is to combine ideas and initiatives and leverage them together to their maximum benefit. The sum being greater than the parts.

[19] Music (ZZ Top), food, drinks, cigars and friends can make a party under any circumstances. Just ask John Vernotica.

[20] For those of you who think this was a crazy idea.  It has been my fortune (or misfortune) to encounter three rather nasty storms at sea while sailing small craft and I can tell you that sitting on a solid mahogany porch with a solid stone wall behind you is much tamer and sane experience.

[21] Before you start yelling I realize that the heater was not designed for this, but I was very careful and it worked out splendidly.

[22] The controlled use of fire dates back to 400,000 years ago and the opportunistic use of fire probably started by lightning can perhaps be traced back as early as 1.4 million years ago.

[23] Yes sometimes my friends and I are easily amused.

[24] The SI unit of pressure (the newton per square meter) is called the pascal after the seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal.

[25] Dynamic

[26] Of course it was just one of the natural lulls that happen in tropical storms and hurricanes when you are between the arms (called feeder bands) that reach out from the eye.  Lightening is often prevalent in these bands.

[27] Point ten in being agile is not to change your plan just because someone says so.  Being flexible and adapting does not mean being rudderless or mindless. Think before you change and change when it makes sense.  Don’t wait to be dragged kicking and screaming.

[28] I did warn earlier that at times we are very easily amused.

[29] Point eleven is that at times the executive sponsor and/or facilitator which is the role I was playing here has to be firm and lay down the law for the protection of the team and the initiative.  This is something that should be done very rarely if you want the team to be empowered and efficient.  And this is very, very important if you ever do this and you are wrong.  Admit it completely, apologize and move on don’t cover it up.

[30] Point twelve in being agile is an especially important one if you don’t trust and empower your team you can under no circumstances be agile.  You aren’t a team you are a micromanager.  See The Night of the Deadly Micromanager

[31] Without realizing it we were having an early retrospective to use a Scrum term.

[32] Point thirteen goes hand-in-hand with point twelve which is why I have raised it here and not earlier.  If you don’t have team bonding in you organization there is no way you can be agile.  Team work is the heart-and-sole of an agile lattice organization structure.  See The Imperative of having and Agile Organization Structure

[33] Lucky number point fourteen is that this is the definition of being agile. Thriving in a time of challenge and change.

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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95 Responses to Being Agile in the Face of Hurricane Sandy

  1. Robin says:

    Holy Smoke Batman you have one heck of a blog here!!!

  2. Matty says:

    Wow! You should be writing scripts for movies or television. This is the best and funniest thing I have ever read about agile or maybe anything else for that matter. Wish I had your talent!!!!!!

  3. Polly says:

    I know you won’t remember me! I am sure you are the same Brian Lucas I knew years ago. There can’t be two guys who are so brainy, funny and considerate of his friends. This was so much like you it made me smile when I read it. I wish you were on Facebook so we could reconnect. You are too interesting to be as private as you are. I will send you an email to see if you remember where we met.

  4. NarlyGirl says:

    Hi Brian: Great post! I didn’t know agile was more than just the software development we do at work. Glad you weathered the storm and didn’t get hurt or have damage. Where do you hang out? Let’s hang out together! I can drink Scotch too!! lmbo

  5. April says:

    Hey Brian I am sooo disappointed… you didn’t invite me to the hurricane party. when is the next party at your house? it’s been awhile. I luved the post thou… who jumped over you when the tree crashed? i have to know!!!

  6. Sally Anne says:

    This was so cool Brian, I am at a loss for words. Please write more like this. I am so sorry that you are not on Facebook. Please reconsider, these little tidbits are driving me crazy!

  7. Darlene says:

    Hey Brian this was so funny I have to know when you are going to set up the live web cam! lol [deleted segment] Seriously I learned something from this about thinking and reacting and planning and being a good friend. Thanks for sharing this with us!!!! -DD

  8. Morton Crowley says:

    I never would have though this would be worthwhile from a business perspective. My wife Hazel who is my VP insisted and for once she was right. Good solid no nonsense thinking told in an armchair manner. Got me to think in a whole new manner. Nice job Brian you’re teaching an old dog new tricks.

  9. Alice says:

    Hey Brian! Its been ages why didn’t you tell me you were blogging! I am hurt! lol This story is so YOU, to know you is to receive an education! I promise to be agile in the next storm. What have you been up to? :AE

  10. HoneyGirl says:

    Wow Brian, I would have been scared to do this. I hope you don’t need a hurricane to have a PARTY! I really, really enjoyed reading your footnotes. I can’t believe I actually said that, but its true. I would love to have a yard like yours, but I live in NY so that’s not happening. Do you lecture in NY ever?

  11. JudyW says:

    Hi Brian: What a great story! I did not know you had this blog. Marissa texted me your link. So glad to see you are finally finding the time to write and publish your work. You were always so good at it. I just love the way you used the venue of the storm to teach about agile! I did not know what agile was. It reminded me of the TENT parties you used to hold, they were the greatest. Text me when you get the chance. See Ya! -Judy

  12. Bela says:

    Had you shot video it would have gone viral by now. You didn’t think agile enough!!!! Just teasing, I enjoyed this very much!

  13. Loney says:

    With all your agile planning Brian, I am heading for your house when the next storm hits. What’s the address? lol

  14. AliceE says:

    My friend sent me this. It’s a Good Story! I read it just on that merit. It was the kind of humor that appeals to me. I looked at some of the footnotes which I never, ever read and was surprised at how much was being taught at the same time about being agile. I don’t know anything about it from a computer standpoint, but the life messages are very valid. I found the underlying sensitivity very moving. I hope the author, Brian, posts often and lives a very long life.

  15. Stephanie says:

    What a remarkable way to teach agile thinking. Very original concept!

  16. Gail Bowen says:

    This was hilarious! I can’t believe how funny. This video would have definitely gone viral. It actually took me a second reading to discover how educational it was. If teachers had been this entertaining I would still be in school and I just turned 30!

  17. Giorgos Papadakis says:

    I am very surprised that I read this article. Even more so that I read the comment. It was the humor that kept me reading and when I got to the comments and read how well you tied your storm experience to agile thinking I was astounded at how clever of a writer you are. I can’t begin to imagine why you aren’t writing more. This blog should be carried by the major news groups!

  18. Zane says:

    This was the coolest article on agile I ever read! Wish I had been at this party. I could have cared less if the tree fell on my Nissan junker!

  19. A. Camus says:

    This is so creative and informative and well done, it shames me when I call myself a writer. Wish I had talent like this. You’re wasting your writing a blog! you should be writing novels.

  20. Deborah Fluck says:

    How do you do it? As far as I can tell Keeping Agile is TOTALLY unique in agile blogging, maybe in any blog. Your posts are all so different and entertaining. I cannot believe you don’t post every day a tweet. You are so talented and have so much to share. A friend sent me your link and I got hooked. I love reading it before I start my day at the bank. There are so many lessons to be learned here. Thanks for sharing!!!!

  21. Carolyn Haverly says:

    Hello Brian! This is a great story made even better because you used it as an effect teaching vehicle for the agile content you are promoting. All the high flying, self important, hot shots that post dry, low value and trivially obvious content should take a page from your book. Speaking of which when are you going to write one? There are so many worthless books out today you need to elevate the medium. Thanks for posting!

  22. Sushan Chou says:

    My friend sent me this link. It is the funniest thing I have ever read. Most importantly though I feel I now have a better understanding of what agile is all about. As a software developer I know agile is a better way to develop software. I never thought that it was a better way think. Thank you Brian for teaching and entertaining me at the same time.

  23. Samantha Fox says:

    Brian I just read this a friend forwarded your post’s link to me. You are the best blogger in the world very informative and entertaining. And you are soo funny, I just love your dry humor!!! This post shows so much sensitivity and concern for your friends, not many people are like that anymore. I am going to read the rest of your blog and follow it. Do you tweet?

  24. Kendra says:

    Quite a story Brian. You should be writing Hollywood scripts.

  25. Hillary Bolten says:

    This is the funniest thing I have ever read and one of the most informative! You’re and artist Brian!

  26. Jaisen says:

    Cool story Brian!!!! It was funny and was full of practical information!!!! Write another!

  27. Lorelie Hewette says:

    I just love this post about a personal experience of yours Brian. It entertains, shows compassion and teaches all at the same time! I would love to meet up with you at a seminar or book signing. Can you send me your schedule? I live in LA, but travel often.

  28. Uris Goldberg says:

    This was a very good read from beginning to end, including the footnotes. I found the story telling highly compelling and the example of how to be agile in severe weather conditions by actually planning was revelation to me. I always viewed agile as very minimal planning as you go. Your broad interpretation of agile has opened up a new world of thought for me. Thank you!

  29. Christine Welmont says:

    Hi Brian! I was very entertained and moved by this post! If I ever had to ride out a hurricane, I hope it is with you! 🙂

  30. Charlene says:

    This was so funny Brian!!!! I actually wish I had been there!!!! Please invite me to your next hurricane party!!!! 🙂

  31. pooki says:

    you seem to know a lot about everything – do you believe the climate is going to get really bad?

  32. smalltowngirl says:

    Hey, Brian thanks for this post!!! I live in SC and I can tell you first-hand storms are something we worry about all the time. There are good tips here. Your story is funny and warm and makes it seem less scary. I hope you write again soon and not about a storm! 🙂

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