Did Bloomberg overreact?
That's a narrative being formed online already, no doubt shaped by the fact that the people who can get online still have electricity, unlike many in the city. Dear fools: You aren't everyone. You may be, like myself, high and dry and online, but in some parts of the city they're getting people who didn't obey the evacuation order out of their homes. (I don't blame people for not evacuating, by the way. Most people in evacuation zones who don't evacuate consider the idea, but have personal issues—health, lack of a place to go—that make it harder for them. Risk assessment is hard in these situations.)
Here are the facts: Last night, when I went to bed around 1AM, the storm was actually picking up steam and was still a Category 1 hurricane, and the eye was headed straight for New York City. It downgraded to a tropical storm, minimizing the damage, and that's a good thing. (Though, don't get cocky. Many parts of the city are out of electricity and many parts are flooded.) But it was a matter of luck. There was a strong fucking chance that it could have been much worse. Don't mistake a lucky break for a certain outcome.
Mayor Bloomberg evacuated to a Cat 1 hurricane. And until literally a few hours before it hit, Irene was a Cat 1 hurricane heading for New York City. His response was exactly what it should have been: no more, no less. People who weren't in immediate danger weren't evacuated unnecesssarily. But people who were in danger were. Balancing the need not to displace people unnecessarily with the need to keep people from drowning to death isn't an easy thing to do, and one should err on the side of caution. With what looked like a 50/50 chance of a Cat 1 hitting the city, Bloomberg evacuated the Cat 1 areas. It was the correct decision. That we got lucky doesn't change this.
I get why assholes enjoy screaming "overreaction". It makes you feel superior, like somehow you have magical powers and just know better than scientists and experts that Irene was absolutely not going to be any worse than it was. But your pleasure at feeling like you magically knew before what you know now is toxic. It feeds the narrative Republicans are trying to shape up, that we don't actually need government to prepare for extreme weather events like hurricanes. But I would argue Republicans got their chance to try that theory out, and Katrina demonstrated that they are completely fucking wrong. Obviously, Irene wasn't as bad as Katrina. But the problem with Katrina was that the conservative philosophy was in play—which is to assume the best possible outcome—and the worst happened. The liberal solution, to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, was in play here, and the result is that the death toll and damage was minimal. And if the storm had been worse, it would have still been minimal because we were prepared.
Democrats and liberals need to immediately start fighting this toxic narrative. Irene's minimal damage is evidence that government, when run properly, works. Republicans are going to point to the low death toll and say that shows we didn't need government. In fact, the low death toll shows that we do. Even smaller-than-predicted storms, if mishandled, have unnecessarily high death tolls. And while there's no such thing as a perfect response to a storm—because that would require having magical powers to know exactly what's going to happen—erring on the side of being overly prepared works. We need to say this, over and over. And we need to point out that our crumbling infrastructure will make future events more deadly if we don't fix our problems. And hell, we need to argue that we need to improve the infrastructure, not just fix it, so that future evacuation efforts go even more smoothly.