In an Emergency, Technology Falls to the Lowest Denominator

One of the take-aways from my days as an earthquake engineering student is in a disaster, the first thing that happens is the power goes out.  Another thing that happens is people are asked to limit telephone and cell phone calls so emergency and support people can keep in touch.  Hence, in an emergency all of our wonderful electronic gadgets and web enable do-dads become useless little boxes of plastic, silicon, and metal at a time when we need to be connected the most.

The journey from Las Vegas back to our home in San Marcos is a tale of failed electronics and a reversion to analog methods of communication, including paper.  Our tale begins Sunday night after Steve and I had just settled in for the night and were getting ready to go to sleep.  We turned on the TV to find out what was going on within and outside of “La-La Land.”  The news of the moment was the fires in Malibu and the potential of displaced movie stars.  This happens every year, so we didn’t pay too much attention to it.  We went to sleep, peacefully, only to awaken the next morning to the news that San Diego was on fire. 

The worst thing about being out of state when there’s a disaster at home is getting accurate and timely news.  Too often the news is generalized and exaggerated for a national audience so it’s difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t.  I got on the Internet to check the websites of news stations local to SD and the Union-Tribune website.  It was early Monday morning and the SD’s local news websites were not working well.  The upload and download speeds were very slow.  I was frustrated because CNN was making it seem like the state was under the influence of a wall of fire that extended from Malibu to the US/Mexico border.  Steve’s cellphone started ringing.  It was his manager calling to discuss what needed to be done IT-wise to shutdown their worksite.  While I was fighting with the Internet, I finally got some news from SD, an e-mail informing me that the HP SD Site is closed.  Technology was working okay so far and when I finally got through to the Internet, the coverage websites were simply enacted.  There was a picture of flames and the same information from CNN.  As the morning progressed, the coverage was turned into a running blog and as the locations of the fires were learned, the locations were overlaid on Google Maps — a “mash-up.”  This was very helpful but as the same time misleading — as there was a flame symbol sitting on top of my hometown, San Marcos.  Meanwhile, Steve was on his cell phone initiating emergency plans and, over the Internet, moving data and doing whatever to save data and sever the electronic link from the SD site of his company from the rest of the company.   I called my parents who were in Atlanta at the time.  They informed me that my Dad was flying back to San Diego.


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