Disconnected: When Technology Fails

By Lori Castle, Editor-in-Chief — November 05, 2012

While the weather reports warned and the state and local governments went into action, we sat in doubt that Hurricane Sandy would be as bad as predicted. It was truly a disaster from which recovery will take a very long time.

Prior to the storm, I wrote about prepping the enterprise for downtime, protecting data and enabling the mobile worker should the power go out. Turns out even the most prepared company and individual was ill-equipped to deal with this storm. The power went out, and is still out for many. From a user perspective there were many mobile technology fails — some obvious, some unexpected.

Phone Power/Phone Calls
At the top of the prep list are always batteries for lights, but what about extra cell power?  An extra charged cell battery or other portable non-electric dependent charger should be kept on hand. In the beginning, I relied on my car charger, until gas became scarce — yes, those lines you heard about are real. 

Of course, a charged cell phone does not matter if you can’t use it anyway. The most unexpected result of this storm was the unavailability of the cell towers, which not only prevented you from getting any kind of data connection, but from making phone calls. At one point, five major East Coast towers were down and, with so many people trying to make calls, the remaining bandwidth was to capacity, disabling most calls. Some of the major carriers merged networks to free up the systems and enable communication.

Texting Rules
At first, even SMS was spotty. Messages would fail or take a long time to send. But after the first day, texting was the only way to communicate. We checked on family members and stayed in contact with the business. Our company sent texts with system status updates, as did many of the local governments.

All Systems Not a Go
Our company had prepped with a variety of ways to communicate status, access servers and email. Aside from SMS, all failed the first few days. Finally, a move to the cloud enabled access on the back end, for those with access on the front.

And just because you’re disconnected doesn’t mean the world knows. Sitting in the middle of the mess that Sandy left, it’s easy to assume that everyone else in your business world knows you’re systems are down. That’s simply not true. You’re so busy trying to get systems back to normal, it’s easy to forget that you need to communicate with your customers through any means possible until you’re up and running again.

Social is Where the Real Info Is
The one thing that was different about this crisis than any other recent disaster, including Hurricane Irene just last year, was the availability of real-time info.  Our governor, Chris Christie, was in constant communication with citizens through radio and TV (which not everyone had), but he certainly couldn’t provide details on my specific street or a particular beach town.

But from Twitter and Facebook, I knew when my power came back on; what the main boulevard of Long Beach Island looked like near a family member’s home and so forth. It was also, unfortunately, the way many people also found out their homes were gone, but in any case, not knowing is usually worse.

“Old-Fashioned” Technology
No cell calls. No data connection. How to stay in touch and informed? Bring back the landline and transistor radio. At one time, they were technological innovations. Most people who had a hard wired phone were able to make calls. It’s something I am considering getting again. In addition, the radio was the only way I knew what was going on outside my four walls before my phone was back online.

No one wants to be forced into disconnecting, especially from a disaster of this magnitude, but it does remove a lot of noise from your mind and forces you to slow down, consider and prioritize. It makes you appreciate the technology of the past and marvel in how far we come.

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