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October 30, 2012

Getting Sandy Kicked in Your Facebook - The Morning After Too Much Hurricane

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

For those of you who do not live in the Northeastern part of the United States, we at TMC (News - Alert) are headquartered just north of New York City. Unfortunately, we can report that the situation here is as bad, if not worse, than you have seen or heard. Hurricane Sandy, which hit us technically as a “subtropical cyclone,” will go down as “The Storm of the Century,” hopefully not to be displaced. This was a perfect storm, and the worst case scenarios regarding catastrophic flooding from storm surge and power outages from wind and rain are all too real. 

I am just back from a tour of my apartment complex with my wife and dog, I am grateful to be one of the few people to have power, wired Internet and phone and even very sporadic cell service. Below is the view from my patio. That is a small branch from one of the five big trees down on the property. One came to rest less than a foot from the complex’s transformer. There are wires down all around.

The current circumstances have caused some reflection on both the marvels and shortcomings of modern technology when it comes to dealing with disasters.

The good news is that I am able to do this, e.g., work remotely and post things to TMCnet. We have a global audience. Being able to provide insights as well as real-time information even under very trying circumstances is not just the mission of TMC but our passion and pleasure. It is what we do, and we relish being able to do it. In addition, I am proud of the fact that, without going into details, we had a sound disaster plan, an extremely dedicated and talented IT staff, and “E”verything is working great, technology as well as people.

What I have discovered however, despite my own personal planning, was a few things you may wish to think about in getting yourself properly prepared for a disaster be it based on earth, wind or fire. 

1. Get one of the VoIP apps for your smartphone. Ironically, I currently have Wi-Fi service but not cell service. And, while it goes without saying that if I lost electricity I would also lose my Wi-Fi and my triple play phone service, it is important to have a backup so you can always make a voice call regardless of access available.

2. I always thought having a spare battery for my smartphone was smart, and this has driven that home. Not only should you make sure it is charged, but I also recommend getting the following:

  • A portable PowerStick for even more backup.
  • A “NOAA radio.” Google (News - Alert) the term to find one you like. This is a necessity since it provides not just access to a variety of radio communications but also can be used as an alternative power generator. 

3. Keep at least one wired phone available. When electricity goes, so will your wireless home phone. Depending on the type of service you have you may still be able to use that old phone.

What I have also been struck by, as a result of this experience, are some things more macro in scope.

First, I have been listening to New York State’s Governor Andrew Cuomo’s most recent news conference where it’s said that that as a result of climate change, “no weather forecast will surprise me.”  It might be seen as politically incorrect on my part, but the list of “never has happened before,” is growing by the minute, and I am talking about the weather, not the physical destruction. What the Governor said he had learned (and I am paraphrasing) was that we have an old infrastructure that is not capable of handling the new realities.

What he highlighted was that all of the assumptions about things from the burying of electric and communications cables in transportation tunnels to even the placement of boilers in basements are going to have to be rethought. It is clear that with much of this country’s critical communications infrastructure — from communications for the financial services industry to the electric power grid —is vulnerable. This is an ironic twist on the phrase that “all ships rise on a rising tide,” and the consequences have been tragic.

Second, while I am not astounded by how reliant we are on electricity in our lives, what has been really poignant has been on utterly important having long-life batteries is to our peace of mind. As I write this, my daughter is in a high-rise building with no power and a flooded lobby that nobody ever thought would flood. She is safe, has food, has batteries for her flashlight, but has run out of battery life on both of her cell phones. (BTW. This is one reason for an Android versus Apple (News - Alert) smartphone since at least you can pop on another battery). We cannot reach her for the moment, all for the lack of an extended life battery and us not figuring she needed one of those NOAA radios. She has not car to use for a charge, and it would be under water where she lives anyway. She is very savvy and I am not worried, but as her dad I obviously am concerned. 

This brings up another interesting phenomenon that has startled me. The TV news people keep saying if you are without power go to their website for the latest news. Are they kidding? This makes no sense. If I do not have electricity, using the little battery I have on my smartphone to surf the Web would be nuts. Sorry Facebook (News - Alert), but in this case misery may love company but not if it means losing the ability to make a call.

There is a lot more to say. I and the rest of the TMC team will be back with more as this crisis progresses. In the meantime, for all of you in the impacted area, stay dry and warm, be safe, be careful and be smart.  

In fact, relax and have a beverage of your choice in a hurricane glass. And, as my wife just advised my daughter who used the last of her battery to call us, “be electric!”

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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