Sound Strategy: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L.P. Hartley

Sound Strategy: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L.P. Hartley

December 26th, 2022

“Sound Strategy”, a weekly commentary from our publisher Clark Twiddy, features issues, ideas and information focused on our mission statement of “Covering the Business News of the Greater Outer Banks”.

Life goes on as it tends to, and our memories fade as our minds are filled with the challenges of today.

And while it’s always important to learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them unless, as a community, we retain some ability to be self-reflective in our journey. Context, in other words, is the picture frame from which we peer into the future.

The scary days of the early pandemic in 2020 seem to be a long time ago.

Still, it’s worth pausing for a few moments to consider any enduring lessons from the stunning bridge closures that heralded the improbable local disaster of the pandemic’s impacts.

Hindsight is 20/20, we know, and it’s always easier to interpret the past with today’s knowledge, but it’s also essential to ensure we learn the right things in the process. Failing to learn is, in the end, the only sin.

In light of that, here are what I think are the top five lessons learned from the bridge closure decisions:

  1. Going forward, there should be an advance policy around potential bridge closures that clearly lays out a process and key facets of a decision. By extension, that same policy should be equally valid for defining the conditions under which a bridge may be reopened. Subjectivity, on the other side of the coin, is destructively unpredictable.
  2. Should such a condition arise again, there should be an implementation window leading to the closure and subsequent reopening–48 hours warning, for example, would allow a wide range of decisions to be made around critical travel and logistics. The shock of an imminent closure heightens emotions and fear instead of calming them.
  3. Without massive and unprecedented federal aid to businesses, the bridge closure would have largely rewritten our regional economy and, by extension, our healthcare and education system. In short, we bet the farm on a nationally-unique pandemic solution (there are more than 3,100 counties in the US; Dare was the only one to close its borders to non-residents). While one could argue that the pandemic itself did that and not the actual closure, we know that a sudden order bringing visitor cash flows to zero deeply scars even the healthiest of businesses. In the future, we should weigh the probability of state or federal aid heavily (the Hampton Roads MSA, for example, which includes Currituck County, received $4.4 billion in federal pandemic funding in 2020 alone).
  4. Travel-denied counties should provide daily updates in person and digitally, with the primary focus being to combat misinformation spread via social media.
  5. The damage done in terms of resident/non-resident divisiveness will take a decade or more to mend.

This list isn’t intended as criticism – our elected leaders were making tough, uncertain, and emotional decisions during a scary time, and it’s given to none of us to be perfect.

Instead, this list is intended to assess what we learned from the situation and what it means for future leaders should a similar situation occur again.

In short, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of those scary days and chisel on the proverbial office walls what we learned and what to pass along to a future generation of decision-makers who will, one day, be asked to make equally tough calls about an uncertain future.

There is, it turns out, something worse than failure–it’s succeeding without knowing why.

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