Friday, November 4, 2011

Offline Wakeup Call

Usually when we're caught off guard it's because we've underestimated an irresistible force or resist the inevitable damages of an overdue payment. Gotta say, leaves on matchstick splits of front yard lumber debris might be the new normal or a black swan event. Either way extended power outages are no more exclusive engagements than they are failed lab experiments.

We can point our fickle time cards at the utilities. But the average flip-switcher is in the dark as much as a an irate news consumer than as an impotent ratepayer.

Goshen-based Marcia Yudkin weighed in today on the list with her assessment of the utilities as news producers. None of us were clear on how up-to-date mobile friendly our power utilities were before climate change. But most of us gave the benefit of the rounding error doubt that they would maintain the most up-to-date alerts, estimates, and outage mappings of an unfolding dilemma. Said Marcia: "Nope, not National Grid.  I used part of my precious battery time during the outage to check their website, and it was completely unhelpful." She goes onto say that you literally need to be an obstacle to merit any direct attention by people in the know:

"The power companies were updating the local fire and police companies regularly, but the only way I found that out was to get in my car (once it was dug out) and go there and ask."

So if your car is not disabled, your trees aren't draped over a drooping power line, and you're not suicidal, what's the fastest way to get our critical fix of preventative pills for blackouts? It's as if there were no meds for blackouts, if you ask Marcia.

Her storm intel trick or treat bag includes the following news goodies:

  1. Town-by-town information

  2. Risks and hazards, i.e. live wires, carbon monoxide poisoning

  3. Lists of stores or gas stations

  4. Bonus points: any reportings of price gouging, impassable roads, shelters, donation centers, etc.

Grid and Bear It

It wasn't just the sketchiness of the details that carried the post storm risks well into the following week. Current state weather forecasting in the post digital age is often pre-recorded and not locally based. Forget access to cable or rabbit ears. According to Hidden-Techie Tom Kopec, off-the-air TV is literally off-the-air. Kaput. Even from the blare of my transistor most radio jocks would rattle off two or three school closings and then advise listeners to check the complete web listings of websites they had no means to access. Does that mean they read the complete lists and kill the infomercials about soiled gutters?

Darn straight it does.

This is not about the clock radio blinking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00 before fumbling for the snooze button. This is about hitting radio reset. You don't need to be a ham hobbyist to have a personal stake in cutting through the static. This is not a business model. It's a survival tactic. The urgency reflects what the times demand -- not what the market supplies.

One feint glimmer according to Tom Kopec was FM 94.7: "It used to be WMAS. I don't know if it still is." Tom says they did finally go live and intermittently poured some meaningful factoids into a darkened and media-starved community.

From Charlemont Cheryl Handsaker related the bucket brigade messenging relay that was invoked by Hurricane Irene's arrival in late August:
"... Local emergency officials (and eventually the rest of us) [were] driving the roads and passing along information 'the old-fashioned way' by flagging down neighbors and asking them what they knew. Combined with town emergency robo-call updates when our phone line was intermittently up was an information life-line for us. We don't have cell service at my house so we don't have access to the 'smart-phone' route."

Tricks of Future Trades

Tonight I'll be returning to Amherst with the fervent hope that I can catch up on several missed wash cycles. I expect the house plants will be quivering and my freezer-bound ice cream, a temperate puddle of cone chunks drowning in preservatives. With any luck all those unturned yard leaves will have unclung to the arthritic branches of brittle trunks: forced to choose between foliage and mister frostee.

They say that Peru, Mass was able to endure 32 inches of snow and continuous power -- precisely because their trees were past peak. Maybe we'll need our leaf blowers to scale our unshedded deciduous before the next climactic spasm. Maybe next year we'll just have to rake trees the way we shovel the snow off our sagging, 19th century New England roofs. Those clinging leaves are almost as stubborn as us adopted and genuine New Englanders.

It's easy to compare Western Mass to a backwater: (1) because commerce is rarely the reason for settling here; (2) many privileged Valley folks express our activism through supporting global causes in the developing world; and (3) because there's an obliviousness to the outside world that includes the business of being outside. That doesn't mean a disregard for nature. It means a lack of preparedness for dealing with it.

The regional truism: "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" would likely include a drumbeat of acuweather updates in Boston. Here, you might have to wade five hours into the work day just to find out that you left home without the right attire.

It's time to put our fingers to the wind and get with the probable directions and velocities. Or maybe it's past time after a calendar of unscheduled events that include earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a week-long blackout from a white Halloween. Those costumes we sketched into the charcoal-like clouds of October would scare the daylight savings out of the solstices to come.


WFCR Responds to Vocal Valley « ututilis said...

[...] online discussion threads appeared like the offline wakeup call there are signs of a signal shift — both in terms of local station policies and [...]

Lisa said...

Interesting that the Internet alwlos friendships to develop in a way they couldn’t in the past. I can think of lots of people I wonder what happened to from college days, but we didn’t have this tool. Some in my generation ( and older) have used the internet to stay in touch with friends, even from high school. I just haven’t done as much of that, but for people I do correspond with using e-mail, I don’t write letters anymore. One thing that is a little irritating is people who send forwarded “cute” stuff or religious stuff or humor and never write a message. I prefer some kind of comment or message, though I must admit in the chaff that’s sent, sometimes there’s a nugget that I appreciate.I enjoy your blog. I hope you don’t lose interest this time

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