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Centers of Presence

27 Aug

The National Hurricane Center is based in Miami, FL.

With Hurricane Irene currently battering the U.S. East Coast, it’s undoubtedly a busy place right now.

But I’ve often wondered about the wisdom of locating the center in Miami. After all, it’s Miami, along with other southeastern coastal cities, which are most likely to get by hurricanes. Is that really the best place to locate the central nervous system of U.S. hurricane information processing? What happens if Miami itself is devastated by a hurricane (1992: Hurricane Andrew)–wouldn’t that mean that our headquarters for hurricane information is right in the path of hurricane danger? If it gets destroyed, then what?

With modern technology, it seems unlikely that the hurricane center must be located in Miami. Weather data processing could probably take place from anywhere. And I seriously doubt that one of their main roles is to simply peek out their windows and comment on the storm as it’s heading toward them. Why then put the center in Miami?

I’ve served in a few different roles overseas. The large part of my work could be done from a laptop anywhere on the planet that has electricity and Internet access. So why live in a foreign environment in order to serve? Why locate in an area that potentially puts you in harm’s way?

Presence.

When trying to serve others, their perception of your presence is crucial. If you’re chatting with someone and a distant, unfocused look comes into your eyes while they’re talking (and you’re supposed to be listening), they figure out pretty quickly that you’re not really there, you’re not really with them in the moment, sharing communication together. And it will hurt the relationship.

When trying to care for someone, their ability to believe that you know what they feel, that you’ve had similar experiences, is key. It opens the door for trust and credibility, along with the healing power of empathy (or is sympathy?).

The hurricane center could be located in Montana. I imagine that Montana is considered extremely safe when it comes to the threat of experiencing a hurricane. They could build a huge data processing center to collect information from all over the east coast, process that information, and then send their reports back to the folks who are living in the storm’s path. But who trusts a bunch of weather scientists sitting behind computers in a state that doesn’t experience hurricanes? Instead, when those experts are themselves located in harm’s way, when they can–and have–looked out their front doors and confronted the winds and rains of a hurricane bearing down on their homes and neighborhoods, then they have instant credibility. They didn’t just read about these storms in a textbook. They’ve lived them.

In the same way, I could do my job from a laptop anywhere. But living in the same country (let alone the same time zone), facing the same pressures of culture and difficulties of language, gives me an opportunity to say: I know what that’s like. I’ve been there. In fact, I am there. And suddenly, there’s a relational opportunity opened to me that wouldn’t be open to others, even to those who have much greater wisdom and training than I do. They might “know”, but I have experienced. And even more: I am currently present.

Presence has value for relationship and communication. It even has commercial value: attending a live concert is far more expensive than buying a CD (or legally purchasing and downloading electronic versions) of the songs the musician performs. But people pay for the experience; they pay for the opportunity to enjoy the musician’s presence. It counts for something. It surpasses the experience of having an electronically mediated exposure to faceless musical notes.

So, I’m thankful that the hurricane center is in Miami. I’m thankful that those experts risk their own safety to speak to us from experience. I’m thankful for their presence with my fellow Floridians, as they provide warnings and advice–some of which is gained from looking out of their own front windows…which have a view of the storms just like mine.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Life

 

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