Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 2, 2012

Portrait of a family

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on November 2, 2012

One of the many stories emerging from the Sandy experience. This one comes from a friend back east.

I had a very interesting technology experience over the past 24 hours. I know we have heard and discussed this many times but it was surreal to actually observe it in real-time.

Monday Afternoon

– Hurricane winds and rain begin.

– I monitor the storm on cable news and weather channel.

– My wife uses the internet.

– My 17 and 12 year olds monitor by texting with friends.

– My 15 year old monitors through Facebook.

Tuesday Early Morning

– Power is out, house telephone is out and cable and internet are out. Generator gets water and some lights going but not cable and internet because of downed wires.

– I find out from my smart phone that a message was left on the house phone voicemail service (I get house phone messages emailed to my smart phone) that school begins two hours late.

– My son’s I-touch does not connect to the internet because the internet service around town is out. He exclaims that he has been cut off from the outside world.

– The cell phone batteries begin to die and texting ceases.

– While the rest of the family’s electronics either don’t work or have run out of batteries including dimming flashlights, I am good. I have my combination radio, flashlight and phone charger that operates by hand crank and solar – no batteries (thank you annual NPR fund drive gift). I have plenty of light and can listen to news about the damage and closings and can charge my smart phone.

Tuesday Late Morning

– Power is still out.

– Kids are at school which has power.

– My wife drives to work only to discover the college where she works is closed. Because of the outages, the college was unable to update their website with closing information and something happened to the automated texting service.

– My wife returns home and announces that she can’t do anything at the house because the internet is down. I remind her that just 13 years ago, we did not even have internet service at our house and that she would have killed back then for a day off to get caught up on life. Apparently, life ceases to exist now without the internet.

– I go to main street to the local coffee shop in search of internet. On one side of the shop are the old–timers who are sharing stories of what streets, homes and stores are damaged or closed. Every newcomer through the front door gets a personal briefing. In the back of the shop are younger folks trying desperately to share the single electric outlet to charge a table full of smart phones, tablets and laptops. They are frantic and stressed that they can’t get on Facebook or text. Meanwhile, the old-timers are laughing and sharing information word of mouth and organizing groups to go to help friends around town. The coffee shop becomes the town’s information center.

– I came into the coffee shop feeling kind of depressed and lethargic. I left 4 hours later feeling energetic and with a sense of camaraderie with the rest of the community. Friends had either seen me at the coffee shop or heard I was there and I received text messages offering up houses with power for me to work at.

Tuesday Night

– Power is still out.

– The kids announce that they can’ do any homework or prepare for next day debates or quizzes because they do not have internet access.

– We head out to McDonalds with two laptops thinking we can have a quick dinner and use their wireless to do homework. As we eat, two customers with laptops in hand are running around the restaurant with the manager trying to get the wireless to work. No luck, the whole internet service to the area is down.

– We head back home. It is raining again and we can’t run the generator in the rain. So my sons construct a lean-to out of tarps, ladders, bungee cords and other miscellaneous things found in the garage. They now have a direct interest in the generator which for the past year I could not get them to take time to learn about. We talk about how it works. We head into the basement and continue the conversation at the fuse box as we switch over circuits from the electric grid to the generator. I have them do all the work. When the house lights up and toilets are flushing, both boys are feeling pretty proud of themselves.

– We sit at the kitchen table and my 15 year old is panicking because he can’t get on the internet to prepare for his school debate. So I ask, what is the topic? He says, “We have to defend whether modern day text books should refer to the abolitionist John Brown as a freedom fighter or terrorist.” This led to a great debate amongst the family around the kitchen table. What is a freedom fighter? What is a terrorist? Was Osama Ben Laden a freedom fighter during the 1980s? At what point did his actions make him a terrorist? After 45 minutes, my son had all the talking points he needed and the rest of the family had fun helping.

– I did not have as much luck helping my other son with his calculus homework.

– I announce that at 10pm I am going to shut the generator off for the night and will restart it at 6:30am. Everyone was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. They were done with their work and in bed by 10pm. At 10:15pm, the power came back on. Everyone got out of bed retreated to their own separate spaces and fired up computers and I-touches. The internet was streaming from every room and no one went to bed until 11:30pm and of course, I couldn’t get anyone out of bed at 6:30am the next morning because they were tired.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 2, 2012 @ 4:50 am

Chris, Thanks. There’s a first-person narrative of disaster preparedness in today’s Times that was — especially in its subtext — meaningful to me… and I think shares an important meaning with your friend’s experience.


Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2012 @ 7:05 am

And now for the CAT 5?

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