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Disaster Recovery in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy: A Personal Account
Andrew Borg
NOV 19, 2012 12:40 PM
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First, let me set the record straight: I have not suffered (much) as a result of Hurricane Sandy. My story is about minor inconveniences and life disrupted in subtle ways – nothing as compared to the many folks who have truly suffered: loss of homes, health, livelihood, and even loved ones. To them all I wish a speedy return to safe shelter, dry clothes, hot food, and a warm bed.

It is a brief and inconsequential personal account and observation on a) the lack of preparedness in modern life for the breakdown of modern life as we know it, and b) the brilliant performance during the disaster and its aftermath of that little portable SoMoClo™ endpoint, the smartphone.

My wife, two teenage daughters and I were in the NYC area the Sunday before Sandy hit, visiting close friends. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg was somber in his forewarnings about the disaster to come, and we took it seriously. We hightailed it out of town before the NY bridges and tunnels closed, and the Connecticut highways were shut down. Arriving home to the Boston suburbs, it was the calm before the storm: a little drizzle, no wind to speak of.

Monday morning, we woke to the real deal.  High winds, a river of rain, water in our basement, and at approximately 2:40pm, the power flickered.  Five minutes later, it flickered again. Then, it went out altogether. It has not returned as of this time – mid-afternoon on Wednesday. So what’s the SoMoClo-connected life like, for 48 hours without electricity? Two words stand between the cold isolation of natural disasters, and a thin thread of connectivity to news, entertainment, and potentially life-saving information: B A T T E R Y  L I F E.

Nickel hydride, nickel cadmium, hydrogen cell, solar cell… it doesn’t matter how you get it, it’s whether or not you got it. It’s the most precious commodity during a disaster: the Juice – battery power. My recent days have been all about obtaining or preserving battery power. Oh, and propane gas.

My wife, being much more practical than I, quickly realized that living through a natural disaster was, as long as none of us was injured or in harm’s way, a lot like camping. So rather than shuffle through the dark carrying candles or flashlights, she brought up the propane camping lantern from the basement.  So our teenage daughters had no reason not to do their homework.  And no internet or television distractions.  Sort of like life… 100 years ago. At least that’s what my daughters thought …

To keep the family chilled out, I play some soothing tunes via Internet radio on the phone, using a compact yet powerful, battery-operated external speaker.  All things considered, things are looking pretty decent…no problem… except for… THE REFRIGERATOR! It’s my daughter’s birthday, my wife’s made a fabulous cake with a whipped cream frosting, and … you get the idea. Using that smartphone as a browser, Google tells us that the freezer full of food will stay for 24 hours, 48 max, and the refrigerator 4 to 8 max.

Using the smartphone as a phone (what a concept), we call several stores in town for ice… but they’ve all lost power, no ice available.  Using the battery of my laptop which still had reserve, I plug my phone in and recharge.  Then set up the phone’s alarm to wake up me up the next morning.  Took a shower before all the hot water was gone, baby, gone. Woke up in the middle of the night to check on the house in the middle of the storm, using the phone’s LED camera flash as a flashlight. You starting to get the idea?  Let’s cut to the chase: the hero of this story is the multi-function, jack-of-all-trades app-configurable SMARTphone.

Day two, the storm’s gone, but so’s the power. Checking Facebook on the phone, my wife sees a post from a friend who is offering to loan out their brand-new out-of-the-box Yamaha generator, since they were fortunate enough to never lose power in the storm.

We pick it up using the phone’s GPS to locate it, gas it up, and fire it up. Works like a charm: refrigerator springs back to life, we recharge our phones and laptops. Life is good again.

So what have I learned, as a first time directly-affected-by-a-natural-disaster-of-this-magnitude private citizen? A back-up power source, battery back-up to the back-up power source, and wireless communications and data access backed up to the cloud are essential survival tools in a disaster recovery plan.  Not that different from an enterprise disaster recovery plan, come to think of it.

Andrew Borg
Research Director
Mobility Center of Excellence
Enterprise Mobility & Communications

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