Sandy’s Lesson

As I meteorologist, I watched with interest as Sandy came ashore across New York and New Jersey this week.  Certainly, it was not unprecedented and it was not underforecast. We could see this storm coming days in advance. Nevertheless, the event has the potential to transform from a strong storm into humanitarian disaster.

Flooded subways and ruined cars are inconvenient,  but what’s really disastrous is the preventable lack of electrical power.  The “government” is not there to help. In fact, it’s New Yorkers with some level of preparedness or capacity to do so, helping other New Yorkers. Exactly as it should be.

San Francisco, and especially the Richmond neighborhood is unlikely to suffer the same failure mode of flooded sub-basements knocking out electrical building distribution. But don’t think we are immune here.  Earthquake is the most probable natural disaster that would knock out power for an extended period around here.

Without going into a long discussion of vulnerability of the electrical grid and the need to be able to generate your own power, let me just ask if you are prepared to survive for many days without access to grocery stores and restaurants? When our power is lost, we will have to be able to live on the food and water we have on hand.

What do you have on hand?

Is it enough for your family? Is it enough to share with your neighbor? Do you know who your neighbors are? Sandy should be a reminder to all of us to have a store of non-perishable food and water in our homes and apartments.

But what does all of this have to do with radio? You ask.

Without power, most home internet and wifi connections will be down. Cell phone service “might” still be available, but it will be spotty and overloaded. The real problem is that without power, cell phones, iPhones, Blackberry’s will soon run out of juice and be not usable to get information and communicate with the “outside world.”

That’s where old fashioned, “obsolete”, analog radio comes in. Most people have at least one portable, battery powered radio around the house. At least you should have!

That’s great, you have your radio turned on and are listening to one of the big news-talk stations that’s back on the air. What are they reporting on? They’ll be talking about Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco and the issues affecting our region. If they do any local neighborhood reports, who knows how long you’ll need to listen in order to hear the useful report for our neighborhood?

This is my motivation for building Richmond Radio. A low power station can cover the neighborhood. A low power station can run using batteries for a long time. And most importantly, neighbors can use the station to communicate with neighbors to send and get information that is local and helpful in a time of need.

For this station to be of use, it must be built before the disaster hits. It needs to be tested regularly. And, the neighborhood needs to know of its existence and availability in time of need.

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