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09/08/11
Lessons from Hurricane Irene
Filed under: Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 3:29 pm

Saturday, August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene started its rampage north past our home in the hills of New Jersey.  My wife and I watched its progress with the Weather Channel on our smartphones.  A map showed that the eye of the nearly 500 mile diameter storm was barely in North Carolina when we started to feel its fury.  We could see the rain bands as they headed in our direction.  Fortunately, the eye would pass to the east of us lessening its impact, but damage in our area would still prove to be severe.  We are thankful to have escaped serious damage.

Before heading to bed that night, we still had electricity.  A couple of hours later (after midnight) we were awakened to the sound of alarms from our computers’ battery backup units complaining that they had lost power.  By morning we had occasional sun before the main storm arrived later in the afternoon.  I started a small generator to power the refrigerator, phones, a laptop and a couple of lights in the evenings.  I only ran it when I was awake as it needed to be fed with gasoline every 1-1/4 hours.  Power was finally restored five days later.  After two days, I was able to get to a gas station that still had gasoline to fill up my cans.  I needed to go back a second time before power was restored.  Total cost of gasoline was about $50, certainly not an inexpensive and efficient way to generate electricity. 

During the power outage, we had no cable service (television, Internet or Internet phone).  One of our favorite links to the outside world was a 50-year old AM transistor radio.  For some reason, there was no wired telephone service for two days during the middle of the power outage.  Were it not for the generator and our cellular service, we would not have had any way to make emergency calls had we needed them.  We were also lucky to have a Data Card for the laptop so we had much better Internet and email capabilities than with the smartphones.   They were reserved for texting and occasional calls. A neighbor used Wi-Fi at a local Starbucks that required a circuituous route to reach due to many downed trees.

The Saturday after we got power back, we went out for dinner with neighbors across the street.  On the way, we passed a long row of utility poles and downed wires.  There were two trucks from the cable company surveying the damage.  After what we saw, we assumed it would be a long time before we had cable again.  However, much to our amazement, service had been restored when we got home from dinner.  The next morning it was out again until the following day.

Until services were restored, there were short times when cellular communications appeared overloaded.  Text messages were always reliable, but had we needed emergency services, there were enough downed trees to make it unlikely that they would have always been timely and dependable.

Thank you to crews from Toledo and Ohio Edison who came to our aid.  Had vegetation around power lines in our area been maintained better we would likely have gotten power back a couple of days earlier.  In any event, when a storm such as Irene is on the horizon, is not the time to be doing contingency planning.  It is the time for final preparations.  Now is the time to take what we have learned and consider where we might not have been so lucky.  We can start taking these things into account now and do even better the next time. 

Finally, it was a comfort to know that we had family members nearby who could have reached us in an emergency.  Too bad the highway department has never raised the level of roads and bridges so we would not always need to take long detours around areas that flood regularly.   

  

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