How Smartphones And Tablets Got Me Through Sandy With My Sanity Intact


It’s only been just over two weeks since Hurricane Sandy wreaked her havoc on the East Coast of the United States, and the whole experience is already starting to feel like a distant memory. While people less fortunate than I continue to struggle to get their lives back together, only now seeing power restored, or are still dealing with the sheer destruction Sandy caused, I’ve been back on my feet for over a week now. Even though I know I’m lucky to only have been affected by the storm as mildly as I was, it was still an absolutely awful experience. Things would have been much worse, though, if it weren’t for a few of my smartphone and tablet friends.

Storm preparation is tricky business. You can take things way too far, preparing like the apocalypse is coming, or seriously neglect your situation, putting you in an unfortunate spot once trouble finally strikes. I took the middle ground, making sure I had plenty of canned goods on hand, and digging up the 500-some tiny tealight candles I picked up at IKEA following the multi-day power outage I experienced with Hurricane Irene last year.

After Irene, I knew what was going to get me the worst: I can deal with the dark, and I can deal with the cold, but I get bored fast, and I hate not being connected. As a just-in-case measure, I loaded up a tablet with a season of Venture Bros. episodes, ripped from my DVD collection.

I lost power that Monday afternoon. The power company, perhaps still optimistic about the impact Sandy would have, advised that I could hope to have power back by 8:11 that night; not 8:00, not 8:30, but 8:11 on the dot. Of course, if that actually happened I wouldn’t be writing this tale, and so I prepared to hunker down for my first night without power. Between my frantic trips outside, braving the storm in an attempt to keep my motorcycle shed from outright blowing away, I started working my way through the TV I had loaded onto the tablet. With brightness turned nearly all the way down, I got through that first night with almost 60% battery life remaining.

The second night without power was much less nerve-wracking, now that the storm had largely passed, but I quickly tore through all the TV I had stocked up. I switched to my phone for a bit, and caught up with the last few Angry Birds updates I had neglected, but largely stayed offline, desperate to conserve battery life.

By Wednesday, I was in a tight spot. Battery charges were down low, and more importantly, I was running out of content to keep me entertained. With the roads now clear, I hopped in my car, gadgets in tow, and drove to the Pocketnow office, where I could recharge, refresh, and get ready for another night in the dark.

And then it happened: miracle of miracles, after two-and-a-half-days of living in the stone age, power returned to my humble abode. Normally, that would be the end of the story, if not for one minor glitch. You see, while Sandy didn’t knock any of my utility lines down, it did topple a tree across the street from me, which rested precariously on the wires. The storm left them all intact, but with that added weight they now hung just slightly lower out over the street. Despite the warning signs I put up, a careless truck driver manged to plow right into my fiber optic cable sometime Tuesday afternoon, cutting me off from the internet. Even with my power restored, I found myself disconnected from the world.

At least with power back up, I could get online with a smartphone without fear of running out of juice. Reception wasn’t great in the days following the storm, but I did manage to find one corner of my house that still caught a decent Verizon LTE signal, and tethered that connection to my desktop PC. This was a big step towards getting my life back to normal, as I could finally get back to work, but it was still a trial. I had to keep a very close eye on my online activities, resisting the urge to check out the latest YouTube clips, and monitoring just how much data I was burning through. Still, my situation had vastly improved over the previous day.

I was ready to put this all behind me by the weekend, and had scheduled to get my fiber line restrung bright and early Saturday morning. Power had been back for two solid days, and I was itching to stop tethering and get online for real. As fate would have it, about an hour before Verizon came to work on the fiber, another idiot who shouldn’t be driving a truck decided to decorate his roof with my power lines, tearing them from both the house and the pole across the street.

This was no fun.

Thankfully, Verizon was able to restore my fiber line even with the power out (and despite an operator insisting just a few days earlier that such a task was flat-out impossible), and after charging everything up, I had more than enough battery power to get me through a few more days of outages. Luck really came through for me when I awoke Sunday morning, just twenty-four hours after my power line was torn down, to find the power company putting a new one up. It took six days, but I was finally back on my feet with internet, power, and everything a growing boy needs.

Three days later, Wednesday night’s nor’easter knocked my power out again. This time I was only down for about ninety minutes, and after the previous week’s ordeal, it barely even registered on my radar.

I don’t know what I would have done to keep myself from going stir-crazy without smartphones and tablets at my back. They came through in a major way, and taught me a few lessons about how to better prepare for the next disaster:

I’m going to pick up some 12V car chargers for all my gear. I had a portable car jumpstarter, with its own 12V battery, that I had charged-up in anticipation of the storm. Problem was, the only car charger I had to plug into it was for my dumbphone, and that lacked a standard USB connector. I’m also going to load up a couple microSD cards with TV and movies, ready to go and keep me entertained when the need arises. Having to rely on my desktop to rip discs and transfer files just won’t cut it when there’s no power; I need to plan in advance.

For the rest of you who had to put up with Sandy, how did you find yourselves relying on smartphones and tablets to get you through it?

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!