The New York Times features dozens of fabulous pictures today. I especially like the one by Michael Kirby showing several police officers rescuing three-year-old Haley Rombi from dangerous flood waters. When natural disaster strikes, we need people to have our backs. As individuals, each of us is utterly vulnerable to many forces larger than ourselves. Acting together, we can protect each other against many of life’s scariest risks. Hurricane Sandy has battered the northeast. Watching the pictures, we glimpse the magnitude of destruction. Only we really can’t grasp it. One cubic meter of water weighs one metric ton, as much as my car. The energy contained within a storm surge raging towards us is literally unfathomable, out of human scale.

So it’s pretty damn inspiring to watch doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, fire fighters, utility workers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, construction workers. members of the armed forces, electricians, plumbers, engineers, public health officials, politicians, and ordinary people helping each other when such a storm strikes.

I feel the same way about some other things. I remember when Vincent moved into our home. Bewildering forms began arriving at our house, many from hospitals sporting impressive dollar figures, alongside the notation: “this is not a bill.” The totals quickly accumulated: tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of dollars. As I’ve said many times before, our family would have been whiped out if it weren’t for Medicare and Medicaid. These programs had our back when we needed them. most.

Writing in this morning’s Times, David Brooks worried that a second Obama term would ”be about reasonably small things.” The words “implementing Obamacare” were included within a list supposedly illustrating this point. That’s not a small thing. Quite the opposite. Until the Affordable Care Act is securely implemented, tens of millions of people will lack the protections our family received. So many people are one car accident, one serious illness away from medical bankruptcy. We finally have the opportunity to remedy this scandalous situation.

As Americans, we need to protect each other against these risks, too. One person loses her house to a tidal wave of rushing water. Another loses her houses to a tidal wave of daunting medical bills. Both people need help. As our glorious first responders struggle to address the carnage of Sandy, today is a good day to remember this simple point.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.