Saturday, November 03, 2012

Some thoughts post-Sandy

After the storm passed through my area, the AT&T mobile network did not work for a day or more (dunno about the others); nor did all those Internet Protocol based phones offered by Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, etc.; and all because of the lack of electric power.  What worked for me was the POTS (plain old telephone service) powered by central office DC power.  And a paper telephone directory.  This decades-old so-called obsolete technology was engineered for very high reliability, and NONE of the new-fangled stuff can match it yet.  You'd have thought that the problem of providing reliable power to cell towers should not be so much more difficult than providing power to a million phone subscribers on POTS lines; but ha! apparently you'd have thought wrong.

If it doesn't work in an emergency, then it working the other 99% of the time seems kind of not-so-relevant, once you've experienced an emergency.

In any case, we need to make our electrical grid much more reliable.  If we have to choose to strengthen it in parts because it is too expensive to make it universally reliable, I'd suggest the following order of priority for hardening the power supply - (based on the hardships I saw for people who hadn't lost their homes).

1. The basic communications network, power needed for water supply
2. Emergency services - firefighters, police, ambulance service, hospitals, etc.
3. Traffic lights
4. Essential goods - Gas stations and grocery stores

 I am very fortunate to live within walking distance of a Wegmans, which has a generator, and which kept open every day after the storm, serving hot food & drink,  fresh produce and perishables, and ice. So even without power at home, I was better off than some who had power but no such grocer anywhere nearby. (The traffic lights not working and gas stations not able to pump gas made it much more difficult for those who had to drive to get to such a store.)

I think a good part of the difficulties faced by the people in my inland town were -  technologically speaking - quite avoidable, and as an allegedly advanced society, we should make it so.