Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

I feel power outages would have the biggest impact in my area. We have evolved as a society that relies on machines to clean our waters from disease, process our foods, keep us warm or cool, entertain us, connect us, and give us a sense of 'all is well'. With power, we can solve virtually any problem or overcome any obstacle.

I saw this during Hurricane Juan that hit my city in 2003. The darkness across the city, people trying to find some form of comfort, the pounding rains and sparks that flew through the air. Everyone had thought the storm was heading out to sea when it turned inland and struck. I still remember trying to reason with a group of guys from some soccer team at 1 in the morning that said they had a 6am flight out the next morning.

I should mention that I was at an industrial/goth event at a bar with over 200 people. We had been told at 11pm that the storm was not going to hit, that we might get some rain, nothing more. Just after midnight the power went out right in the middle of the music, the thunderclaps and shattering of glass outside with the howling winds. We were able to move everyone down to the sub-floor of the building, which had a small dance area.

I remember how calm everyone was at first. Many phones came out, like little twinkling lights. People laughed, joked, tried to keep spirits up. Then as time went by, people became edgy. No alcohol was being served, people had to go to the bathroom, nobody was having fun. The outfits and clothing people were wearing that were made up of leather and latex became itchy or chaffing. People wanted to smoke, but couldn't. Even with some candles and phones, people were reaching their limits. That 'helpless frustration' even if a person is safe and taken care of, that need to be in control and able to do something.

Around 2:30 the fire inspector and police arrived to check the building when they discovered how many of us were there. Over the next half-hour, most people were moved out elsewhere.

Next day... the silence. That had to be the hardest thing of all. It seemed so unnatural. Walking around, seeing how much damage had been done here in the 'city of trees'.

The kind of data I would track during a crises like this would be when the power went out, who needs emergency help or medical aid and where, what is still working (wireless, phones, water, internet service, local service, LEOS, radio) and setting up devices to monitor those services, what areas are affected at first or later (since sometimes bringing up a grid may fail and drop it and the surrounding ones it seems), and note any oddities (odors, flashes, sickness, etc). I would monitor the social conditions of groups (assuming different areas) and try to designate information points in each area that I could deploy information out to. I would ask for the number of men, women, children, medical needy, and what resources they may have.
The kinds of urgent information and resources I would need to collect and share would be the extent of the power outage (what areas, locations, etc), if there was any time frame to restore it, if any areas were stable with emergency power to take people with medical needs, shortwave communications or point-to-point communications for volunteers to keep in touch while searching for people trapped in elevators, hurt in accidents due to auto collisions, etc.

Power outages to some may not seem like much at first. But it's one of those things that as time goes by without it, the real damage and hardship to a community starts to take a toll. Looters and crime from desperation, people addicted to a lifestyle that runs on electricity going crazy, children bored out of their trees (literally) resulting in acting out. You're also grouping together people that normally are alone without the comfort of privacy or personal space. Eventually, people will get stupid and snap.

Without power, many places become too hot or too cold to breathe or exist in. Even with generators, there's still that feeling of dependency. The illusion of routine and 'all is well' is gone and would bother people. Even worse is if the generators run dry and need to be refilled before restarting. That ominous reminder that life is still not right.

One of the things I fault with places is how many people don't know what to do when the power goes out.
Not just homes, but restaurants and work places as well. What if it's -20 C outside when your power goes out? Or above 40C? How can you get water if an electric pump sends it up? Is it fair to charge for bottle water during an outage?

Take any disaster and note almost all have a power outage in one form or another. Power outages are like fish left out. The longer they stay out, the more stink that comes from them to the surrounding area. Many people do not realize how much their living fiber depends on the vibe of power. Until it's gone.

Thank you for reading this.

Views: 35

Comment by kiyash on April 16, 2010 at 9:50pm
This is a powerful (pun definitely not intended) account. Thank you for writing down your story, and thank you for posting it. So often I feel like the "official" accounts of disasters, even disasters that are extensively covered, don't capture the quality of the experience the way you've done here. The emotional toll of something as simple as an extended power cut, not to mention the health and safety risks that come along with it, is something that I think goes under most people's radar.
Comment by Dante Ranieri on April 17, 2010 at 7:28am
Thank you for compliment. I really wish I had a camera or a phone with audio to record some of the things that went on. I remember watching out the back door the flying debris, fiery sparks of wires flying off, and a wind that just wouldn't quit. Many people were upset at how much beauty was lost, more grieved for the lone death of an ambulance driver that got caught by a tree that fell on his vehicle. But that silence in a city of over 400.000 people.. Even to this day, it was so unsettling.
Comment by nomadHAR on April 21, 2010 at 12:47am
during an ice storm, my family was out of power for almost a week. we were fine and happy.

we were prepared. we had plenty of food. we cooked meals on the fireplace. we tend to keep plenty of candles, and have sealed Faraday 'shake' flashlights. we also aren't so dependent on powered devices. we talked as always; read books; played music.

the trouble is when power outages hit places such as hospitals. true resiliency plans must be in place. the tragedies that happen in power outages are the result of lack of true preparation by corrupt government officials, as well as a lack of preparation by individuals. true resiliency means decentralization, redundancy of essential systems and technologies that are in harmony with nature.

the current urban lifestyle popularized in culture is completely untenable. It is a culture of over-consumption and flashy entertainment. the urban unit itself is fragile because it is an artificial and unnatural construct. one link gone, and the wh*** city breaks down. MORE power and MORE technology is not the answer.

http://www.urgentevoke.com/profiles/blogs/reducing-energy-use-why-this
Comment by Jean Frankly on April 21, 2010 at 2:29am
Thanks for sharing your story.

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