5 days after Hurricane Sandy New Yorkers have gone from waiting in line for the newest iPad to waiting in line for a few gallons of gasoline.
A few days ago I wrote about our societal reliance on technology and the risks it imposes in the event of incapacitation. Now I see this is even broader in impact, it is the proverbial weak link in the aftermath of a disaster.
At this moment over 3 million people in the northeast are without electricity and that includes almost 1m who get their service through Con Ed. Access to electricity affects everything… from how we charge our cell phone to our ability to purchase the essentials of life, like groceries. Supply chains grind to a halt without fuel, businesses cannot restart operations, and services are disrupted.
There is another dimension to this that cannot be ignored, which is the transition of information services that are essential in an emergency from traditional broadcast forms to the Web. FEMA has been directing those impacted by the storm to go to the website or call the 800 number for assistance.
If you live on Staten Island and have not had power in 5 days or have suffered significant property loss, how will a website or call center help you? For many of these people the only course of action is to physically present themselves for assistance.
We simply cannot allow ourselves to be deluded into the notion that communication is a zero sum game, where a website will supplant other forms of service. Our communication network is more dependent on power at the end points than at any other time in the history of telecommunications, if you can’t charge your cell phone or provide power to your cordless connected phone you are incapacitated.