Our hearts were breaking on Monday as horrific images of Moore, Oklahoma began to come in from one of the worst tornadoes in history. The physical devastation was mind-numbing. The unimaginable agony of parents whose children were missing was gut-wrenching. The warnings had sounded, the people of Moore did the right things to take shelter, and yet that wasn’t enough. The fury of the storm was beyond imagination.
For me and for so many I talked to and for so many interviewed on television, the overwhelming sensation was one of helplessness. But for the public servants of Moore, and the area communities there was not time to feel helpless. It was time to act.
Before the skies had cleared, before the rain had stopped, before the storm was over, before in many cases they even knew whether their own families were safe and secure, city employees moved into action. Firefighters appeared on the scene to begin rescue and recovery efforts. Police officers began to manage traffic flow to ensure emergency access. Street workers began to assemble barricades to prevent access to dangerous areas. Utility workers began to repair broken water lines. Animal control workers began to deal with roaming and displaced animals. Public Information Officers began to deal with the onslaught of the media. Parks workers began to transform recreation centers into makeshift emergency shelters. Account clerks began to contact vendors to get needed supplies delivered immediately. Solid waste workers began clearing and hauling debris. Traffic engineers began repairing broken traffic lights to ensure smooth traffic flow.
I don’t know anything specific about who did what in Moore, but I do know all of those things happened. I know it because it is what public servants do day in and day out. The media tend to only care about the visuals of the flashing lights of police and fire. But the reality is that when disaster strikes, the entire city organization kicks into crisis management mode and everyone knows their job and begins to act with urgency and unity of purpose.
My heart is still breaking for the families whose lives have been devastated in Moore. But I am inspired by the quiet heroism of the public servants who no one sees interviewed on television… who no one knows their name… who no one notices as they work hour after hour late into the night to restore basic public services… who everyone takes for granted… and who place service to their citizens above their own safety, comfort, and needs.
It takes someone special to always be ready to spring into action while the storm is still raging to assemble barricades, to clear debris, to rescue animals, to repair broken water lines, and ultimately to do whatever it takes to protect the well-being of the citizens they serve. It takes someone special to work hard to be taken for granted. It takes someone special to live the noble calling of a public servant.
My belief in the nobility of public service is sustained by the actions of these quiet heroes.