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Without Power, 24 hours to become digitally disconnected

by Scott Hoffman on March 15, 2010

I was amazed that within 24 hours of a major event that disrupts the power grid, my family was digitally disconnected.

Three days ago, on Saturday, March 13, I lost power along side of hundreds of thousands of other residents of Westchester County, NY. I am still without power at my home and the prognosis is not good, Con-Edison has issued an advisory to begin preparing for a lengthy time without power. Rumor has it that we will not have power restored until the end of the week.

Being a digital professional, I wanted to chronicle the sequence of events that impacted how my family uses electricity to keep connected. I also wanted to demonstrate how fragile those connections are even though we have become so dependent on them.

On Saturday afternoon, as the power went down in our house, our first communication devices went offline. Devices that depend on direct power, like Televisions, Desktop PCs, & WiFi routers went dead. Our laptops (we have several in the house) which still had battery life, are dependent on the WiFi to connect to the internet. With the WiFi router powerless, the laptops became our home entertainment system (which we used to play a movie and then music to drown out the sound of the wind storm.)

Our house phones which are on a PBX system with battery back-up were the next to go, about 6 hours after the initial outage. Which left us with wireless devices on pure battery. My wife and I both have iPhones, which have notoriously short battery lives – I adjusted to the setting on the iPhone to preserve power. With all those settings in place our phones lasted until mid-morning the next day, when we both got the low battery signal signs. We were completely disconnected by the morning after the power outage.

NOT REALLY – we still had the car, which we used as the would largest iPhone battery charger. I am also very fortunate that I have relatives who still have power (and High Speed Internet Access!) that live close by. They have graciously taken us in and that is how I am writing this post.

I was amazed that within 24 hours of a major event that disrupts the power grid, my family was digitally disconnected.

If your interested in this topic I recommend two entertaining novels that delve into the topic “what would life be like with the sudden loss of electricity:”

One Second After
An electromagnetic pulse instantly disables almost every electrical device in the U.S. Airplanes, most cars, cellphones, refrigerators—all are fried as the country plunges into literal and metaphoric darkness.

Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change In the aftermath of an uncanny event, “the Change,” that renders electronics and explosives (including firearms) inoperative. As American society disintegrates, without either a government able to maintain order or an economy capable of sustaining a large population, most of the world dies off from a combination of famine, plague, brigandage and just plain bad luck.

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