The past week has been a sobering lesson in what does and doesn’t work during a disaster. My personal experience has been nothing compared to those who suffered grievous losses, with some still displaced. It is heartbreaking, and we hope that conditions improve immediately. (There are many ways to volunteer and contribute; here’s one.)
We think we are connected all the time. We comfort ourselves that with all of our virtual and technological devices we can keep in touch any time, any place -- and, with the ability to access the Internet, we can get news easily and effortlessly no matter what catastrophe befalls us.
Well, throw that idea out the window.
We lost our electricity at 8:15 on Monday night. About that time, as my AT&T iPhone was half-charged, I could call family and friends to give and receive updates. But the battery drains quickly, so I shut it off to save it for the next day. I shouldn't have. The next day I had about half a battery charge left, but there was no signal in all of lower Manhattan so there was effectively no service. Isolated on an upper floor of an apartment building as neighbors left in droves, it is remarkable that one can be in the middle of a city but suddenly realize that help was just a little too far away should we need it immediately.
I am so happy that I am married to a Luddite, someone who still has a flip phone and who listens to his transistor radio every morning. Those vital items were our only access to the outside world during the week, since all our state-of-the-art devices failed.
Our bundled Time Warner service -- including the landline we keep for emergencies -- went out with the electricity. I guess that "landline" phone will be good for any emergency as long as we don’t lose our electricity.
My husband’s Verizon flip phone worked beautifully and held its charge through the first four days. He also started to receive text updates from Con Edison as soon as the electricity went out -- which my smartphone never did.
His trusty transistor radio kept us informed and provided a modicum of entertainment, helping us pass the time when there was not enough light to read. And, since we subscribe to print magazines, we could catch up on news that way -- and even read all the daily delivered newspapers that our absent neighbors had left behind.
Vittorio, the owner of La Lanterna, a local coffee shop on MacDougal Street, offered free phone charges from his restaurant's generator. A lifesaver! His restaurant turned into a lively beacon of community in an otherwise dark neighborhood.
The word “connection" in times of catastrophe takes on an
entirely different meaning. While we worship all the sophisticated and fascinating services the newest devices provide, when the chips are down, it is the older media and forms of connection that will
be there for us. In fact, this may be our only link to the world when disaster strikes.