Without the Internet We Quickly Become Deaf, Dumb and Blind
Hurricane Sandy was thought to be a perfect storm from the beginning. Computer models were amazingly accurate at predicting where Sandy would hit. And the world watched at the storm took its toll on New Jersey, New York and surrounding areas. What happened next is the important lesson.
As the world watched millions of people cope with the devastation that Sandy had wrought, an amazing headline came across the wire: "FEMA, W.H. send storm victims to Internet"
That's right, at the point when there was no electricity, no cellular service and especially no internet for millions, the US Government was directing storm victims to the internet.
That fact alone shows how ubiquitous the internet has become in our lives. We cannot imagine a world without the internet at the ready. Not even the folks who are responsible and presumably the most seasoned veterans of disasters can imagine a world without the internet. But a natural disaster is the fastest way to send any modern civilization into the stone ages.
Without the internet we quickly become deaf, dumb and blind.
In the recent past we had portable radios (AM & weather), portable televisions and hardwired phones. When a disaster struck we could rely on one of these devices to provide important news and information. Now we expect our smartphones to play all these roles reliably and that is our Achilles' heel.
When an earthquake struck Virginia in 2011 I personally discovered how quickly cellular service can fail. Not even SMS, the often touted solution to jammed cellular traffic, was working. It was a complete communication failure. I had to find a hardwired phone to contact loved ones.
Think about it. Many people no longer have home phone service, or if they do it's a VOIP solution that relies on limited battery backup and a working internet connection.
Portable TVs are a thing of the past with digital television replacing analog at the point when smartphone ownership was growing exponentially. And to be honest, I can't remember when I last saw a portable radio for sale or kept in ready condition for just such an emergency. As for myself, I keep a portable AM/FM/Weather radio that will work from a hand crank for just such an emergency.
As wonderful as the internet is we, especially FEMA, must learn again how to address emergency situations without it.
Paul Wheeler is a software engineer specializing in web application architecture, design and development since 1995.