We take for granted the conveniences of modern day life. We shuffle through our day checking voice mails, emails, texting and surfing the web. As audiovisual professionals our days are deeply layered with additional technology, such as videoconferencing, displays systems and control systems. Suffice to say we spend our days shepherding this technology. Our industry has made habit of evolving with trends and challenges. Similar to an undersized and overmatched fighter we have risen to the challenge and find a way to survive. On October 29th New York and New Jersey A/V professionals were formally introduced to a new opponent that would bring the fight into our businesses, homes and communities. That day we met “Sandy.”
For a week newscasters was preparing the area with the “usual” storm warnings. Weathermen showed models of how this storm was different. As the week went on the mood of weatherman changed. The TV was now painting a grimmer picture of what was heading our way. You could hear it in the voices of newscasters as they tried to deliver the ominous news without spreading panic. As someone who recently spent some time in the dark during Hurricane Irene and a freakish Halloween ice storm, I took the warning seriously. I wasn’t too worried since I purchased a portable 5000-watt gasoline generator. I thought that as long as I had a generator I could take on anything Sandy would throw my way… I was wrong.
Sandy came into southern Jersey on Monday and began to pound the NJ coastline. The rains came in waves at first. It was disturbing because it was so random and with such force. My obvious fear was the wind, which reached 90+ miles an hour. Having large oak trees on my property added to the fear. As the day turned to night I moved to the lower level of my home and by 6 p.m. Monday the power had gone out.
The last news I heard was that Atlantic City was underwater. That was the last time I saw or heard the news for days. We spent the night getting pounded with rain and winds in the pitch black. The only light coming through was the eerie green and blue glow of power transformers exploding in night sky. At one point I decided to go outside to see for myself what was going on. The noise from the wind was deafening at that moment I had the bright idea to pull out my SPL meter to take a reading. The idea was shot down the minute I saw aluminum siding flying through my yard never once touching the ground. Getting back inside was a much better idea.
The next morning I came out from my “bunker” to see what had happened. It was obvious the day would be filled with the sounds of chainsaws and generators. My neighborhood was smacked around by the storm. Many trees were uprooted and snapped in half. Streets were impassable due to debris. The only positive thing to come from the storm was that the streets were not flooded. The winds caused the most damage to my area and they were what took out the power. I’m grateful for underground utilities in my neighborhood, but those wires eventually come back up to the surface and that’s where they were cut into pieces.
I spent the better part of the day helping neighbors clear broken and battered trees and debris. Later that day I fired up my generator to get power into my house. I also ran a spare line over to my neighbor so that they would have light. As soon as I had the generator fired up I began to think tech. I immediately fired up my laptop while I pulled apart my wall unit get access to my cable, TV and Internet connection. I wanted to see what was going on and how bad the storm had hit us.
As I waited for the TV and Internet equipment to sync I slowly started realized something was not right. My first realization was that my cell had drained completely. I swapped the battery of my smartphone with a spare that I had charged and ready to go. Once the phone rebooted it became very clear what had happened. The cell phone was in constant search for signal. There was not 4G or 3G. The phones constant search for a signal drained the battery quicker than normal. Forget connecting to the Internet — that was next to impossible.
My next effort was to connect the set-top HDTV antenna. I had purchased an antenna at a local big box store as a backup. The only backup I saw from that idea was me backing car out of my driveway to return it. I was not able to get a signal. I tried everything from every room in the house. I gave up and moved back to resetting my cable box, hoping that it would magically work. I gave it a good effort but not having TV was becoming reality. I had hopes for Internet too but since I’m on the TV, Internet, phone combo plan I was completely in the dark. Realty hit this technology guy hard. How could I be so dependent? Dependent enough to create a to-do list to prep for the next storm. I did not like sitting in the dark with regards technology so here is what I am doing to change that.
I will be installing an HDTV antenna in my attic to pick up local channels in the event I lose cable. Many people have removed their old standard definition antenna in favor of cable or satellite. I’m not a fan of satellite TV due to the box restrictions but cable companies are now moving in the same direction. The new antenna will get me the basics to stay informed. I’m currently researching what is on the market and that I should consider.
My next purchase will be a portable weather band radio. That I have researched and the American Red Cross has partnered with ETON Corporation to make some very nice emergency radios. Most are standard battery operated radios with the NOAA weather band feature. The particular units I am looking at are battery operated, but they can also charge via solar or via hand crank as well as charge a cell phone in an emergency. People battling in stores over scarce batteries and lack of supplies have driven this to the top of my list.
I was fortunate to have purchased a generator right after Hurricane Irene. What I did not expect was the gas shortage and rationing. This is was problem unlike any other. Gasoline was in short supply, gas stations did not have power to pump the gas, red gas cans were in high demand and as days went by people became irrational. I drive over 50 miles each way to work each day to be onsite for a customer. Even though I have an economical car, the gas tank eventually does needs to be refilled. A three- or four-hour wait for gas to fill your car was not unusual. Don’t forget that you also had people in line who were now dependent on gasoline to power their generators. This was a recipe for disaster. It brought out the worst in people as people became desperate.
My experience in both A/V and IT has made me think about redundancy. In A/V we are always ready for a line to drop or a signal to go “down” so we built in contingency plans. In the days of ISDN videoconferencing it was always a smart move to have the data presentation on Web share as opposed to using the VC system. Plus, I always had an analog line open just in case the video call was lost so that the meeting would continue on audio while the bridge operator tried to reconnect the video call. Ironically a standard analog line would have been a good idea at home So much for VoIP at home — that went down with cable and the Internet. “Always have backup” and “Never put all your eggs into one basket” are lessons that I carry with me. Those words echo through my mind as I prepare for the “next” event.
Unfortunately it seems to have become a trend over the last few years that we get hit with these severe storms.
Getting Back to Work
As people began to head back to work companies began to deal with the aftermath of Sandy. Large corporations with multiple locations in New York and New Jersey were faced with unprecedented challenges. Entire buildings and campuses were shut down due power outages or hurricane damage. Employees worked from home if they had power and Internet. Commuters that traveled into Manhattan dealt with subway tunnel closures, carpooling restrictions, gasoline rationing and mandatory curfews in many of the shore communities.
Some of the unsung heroes in the corporate A/V world were the people who typically do not receive credit for their hard work and dedication. Videoconference bridge operators spent days relocating, moving, rescheduling and cancelling scheduled videoconferences. The moves and changes are simple swaps since many of these meetings were being moved to a new site all together. “Where to put them?” becomes the question of the day on the VC bridge.
Onsite support staff ran around assisting displaced employees with their workspace and meeting needs. Both IT and A/V techs set up temporary office space, meeting spaces and collaboration areas in cafeterias, break rooms and in lobbies. I’ll assume this stressed data networks to the point that they ran much slower than usual but there was no other choice and the displaced employees were grateful to be able to get their work complete. Through the first couple days you could see tech running through office areas with VGA cables and portable projectors in hand. If anyone ever questioned why A/V techs constantly requested spare projectors and cables it all became very clear on those days immediately following Sandy. I spoke to a few tech managers who stated that everything was being used, including decommissioned monitors that were just leaned up against a wall as a temporary display.
In the Sandy aftermath I am truly fortunate to have walked away with minor problems. No power, long gas lines and a shortage of supplies are petty compared to the communities that were completely destroyed in both New York and New Jersey. I have house and a community to return to — many do not. I sat for the first time and watch TV at my mother house four days after the storm hit. These were the first images of destruction that I had seen outside of my neighborhood. I have to admit it hurt me deeply to see the devastation. Entire communities obliterated homes in the middle of the water and boardwalks were shattered and torn.
New York and New Jersey have a very large concentration of integrators, manufactures and A/V professionals. To see the industry and community rally to help has been incredible. New Jersey has been my home for more than 30 years. I have great memories from the shore like many others in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area. Like many I spent many summer nights on the Seaside Boardwalk, my first real gig as a DJ was at a local night club in Long Branch, New Jersey and I can’t begin to recount the amount of time I spent in Belmar and Point Pleasant with friends and family. Those memories will stay with me. And I am looking forward.
What I have seen is the resilience of my community. Sandy left us bruised and battered but we are not knocked out. Not by a long shot.