Homes and other buildings shake violently not once but twice minutes apart on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning. Electricity is cut off 10 minutes later. The cell phone shows it has a signal from the cell tower but can’t dial out for a voice call or get an EDGE data connection. The apparently lone surviving radio station plays a pre-recorded political panel discussion. No live human is on the air. The wireline phone still works but terminates to an all circuits busy message. Overhead, gray clouds roll over the valley.
An episode CBS’ Jericho TV show? No, this was Hawaii between 7:07am and 8am on October 15. Since my part of the world was safe and sound after the rocking and rolling, it seemed like a good time to take stock of the tech available to me, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and use what works to get by until things returned to normal (more or less). Here’s what I found… I use a familiar A to F grading system.
- A : DuraPro hand-cranked LED light. We had three of them in my home. A couple of seconds of cranking generated useful bright light for many minutes. It also has a flasher mode for distress use.
- A : A 15 year old propone camping stove. Stuck the not-quite-as-old (but still pretty old) propane cannister in it, clamped it down, turned it on, and hot food was ready shortly there after.
- A : Nintendo DS. Got small bored young ones that you would prefer be within visible distance? The batteries weren’t even fully charged. But, it lasted for several game playing sessions through the day and night with power to spare.
- A : iPod nano (1st generation). Same comments as the Nintendo DS.
- A : Chemical light sticks. The ones I have are probably a couple of years old. Some may be 10 years old (or more). Snapped one rated for 5 hours of light at around 7PM. It still glowed when morning came.
- A : Canned foods. I don’t know anything about canning technology. But, you gotta be impressed when you can’t open the fridge or freezer and need to depend on room temperature food cans sitting in the cupboard to be safe, fresh, and tasty.
- B+: Designated emergency information commercial radio station. It took about 30 minutes to get useful information on the air. Once they did though, they get an A+ for basically being the only information source available.
- B+ : Telephone company (wireline). I may be biased here. I spent the 90s working for a large telco. The lines stayed up. The all circuits busy message was expected (at least by me). The people who thought their phones weren’t working probably had a phone that required A/C power. Folks, get a cheap phone that can be powered from the phone line. It will still ring when the power goes out.
- C- : Electric company. No lines down or damage to any generation plant. But, the complexity of the infrastructure only allows them to restore power to less than half their customers 12 hours later. What would happen if one or more of the power plants was taken out by a hurricane or more nefarious forces?
- F : T-Mobile’s voice and data service went down soon after the power went out. Other cellular services (Cingular, Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless) stayed up. I called T-Mobile the next day (Monday) to ask what happened. The response was something about tower problems? What? All the towers? According to people calling in to the radio station and face-to-face discussions, the service went out all over the island of Oahu. I don’t buy this so-called tower explantation. I also don’t get much satisfaction since they only offered to add minutes to my plan as compensation. I don’t need more minutes. I’ve got plenty of minutes. I need a viable explanation for the failure of their service.
Fortunately, for most of us, things worked out pretty well. Monday morning was not too different from last week’s Monday morning. But, the lesson learned on Sunday was: If the radio tower had gone down… If I didn’t have two mobile phone service providers… If I didn’t insist on keeping my legacy wireline phone… If the radio station’s towers were downed… Maybe I should watch Jericho more regularly to prepare :-)