Disaster and Technology Seizure

In watching the coverage of hurricane Sandy’s aftermath on the east coast I am struck by something that is a consequence of our technology driven society… what happens when all that technology becomes disabled because of environmental conditions, otherwise known as water?

We depend on electronics in nearly every conceivable object we encounter on a daily basis and the fragility of electronics due to water and power surge is well known. This one image of a NYC subway station really drives home the point, even a simple turnstile is chocked full of electronics that count passengers, deduct credits from stored value cards, prevent against tampering, and probably a lot more than I can imagine.

In our increasingly complex society we have lost the simple elegance of mechanical things. For example, we no longer have telephones that can work when not plugged in to a power source, or worse when not able to transmit to a cell tower, and as a result our condition is that much more fragile as a result. How many people in NYC this week were left incapacitated because they were unable to get information from the internet and could not get a cell signal? Probably more than we would like to admit.

Now in all fairness, if a subway station is flooded the last thing you need to worry about is whether or not the turnstile works… you aren’t going anywhere, period. The problem arises when the water is pumped out and the trains can start running again, how long will it take to restore service in the station itself as a result of all the water damage?

The solution isn’t to go back to a bygone era and re-introduce mechanical machines, not by a long shot, but perhaps we need to consider the consequences of electronic mechanisms that can withstand environmental conditions and have the capacity to operate in a standalone mode in the event that a connectivity network is not available. Of course the first strategy every person should rely on is being prepared to rely upon yourself in the event of a disaster, have emergency supplies and a plan for what you will do and how you will do it.