Reactions to Hurricane Katrina's incredible destruction and its impact on the region's population often included comments about its damage to the "fabric of society," which indeed seemed to be unraveling under the extraordinary stresses produced by the storm's aftermath. The common bonds between individuals and the normal restraints upon behavior were severely disrupted. The imagery of woven material coming apart into tatters and shreds so aptly fit the disintegrating lives and disorderly actions that one might forget that "fabric of society" is merely a figure of speech.
Or is it? We instinctively perceive our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and employers. These connections are so numerous and crisscrossing that, taken together, they do seem to create a weave. These connections and relationships may be intangible, but they are surely not imaginary.
Fortunately, we can see this "social fabric" being restored as the massive relief effort makes progress in the Gulf Coast region. Much like mending a torn cloth, the severed threads are being tied back into place. Some of the best stitching is being accomplished by like to like, counterpart to counterpart. Hospitals are helping hospitals, schools are helping schools, fire departments are helping fire departments and so on.
This is true in our own industry. Organizations such as the National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) (www.ntma.org) and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) (www.sme.org) provide just two of many, many examples. NTMA is helping companies damaged by the storm to locate members with open machining capacity to help the stricken companies minimize disruptions to their customers. Likewise, SME is helping members displaced by the disaster to locate job openings so they can get back to gainful employment.
The physical infrastructure in the hurricane-effected areas will be repaired and rebuilt. Perhaps the culture and charm of a distinctive city can be restored. Yet beyond that, our new awareness of weaknesses and vulnerabilities elsewhere will also have to be addressed, lest lessons learned go unheeded.
Much the same can be said of our notion of the fabric of society. Although we pulled together as a nation and even drew strength from the generous aid of other nations, we have to confront the weaknesses and failings that still exist in our own cities and neighborhoods. The storms of nature are not the only adversities to be weathered in this world.