Technology Focus: Implications Of Superstorm Sandy

on November 11 2012 10:02 AM
Sandy makes Landfall
Handout shows Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy as it makes landfall about five miles southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey REUTERS

Living in Nassau County, N.Y., for the past two weeks has been a nightmare. Put simply: There's no power. The Long Island Power Authority has illustrated its utter incompetence in getting electricity back to more than 200,000 customers, or about 20 percent of them.

 

While I certainly can't complain about imminent danger, my private life has been inconvenienced. Without power, the gas-powered boiler to heat the house in this unusual cold November doesn't work. I'm not the only person living with friends with a generator, who've graciously allowed me to stay for “the duration.”

 

Street lights are out. Traffic lights don't work. My car's gas tank is empty because I was in line 130 minutes on Thursday night before odd/even days were instituted and was No. 3 in line when a BP station closed.

 

The Lower Manhattan tower that houses International Business Times is on Water Street. Its power system and elevators were flooded in Sandy's huge storm surge.

 

So, here are some suggestions for technology as a result of two weeks of living differently.

 

First, we must completely rethink the utility of the 21st century. It's time for a system that uses underground methods, not light poles, to conduct electricity, perhaps piggybacking with the fiber-optic and cable TV systems that connect our homes, businesses and public institutions.

 

How about superconducting technology in mini-stations rather than old-fashioned gas-powered turbines in mega-stations?

 

At home, how about some really robust storage batteries that could keep a house running for at least 36 hours? Usually --  in areas not served by LIPA -- that's enough time to fix damages from a storm.

 

Similarly, how about smaller but similarly robust batteries for the control boxes we have that bring in telephone, cable and Internet service to the home and office? On Long Island, most of us have service from either Verizon Communications Corp.'s (NYSE: VZ) FiOS or Cablevision Corp.'s (NYSE: CBL) Optimum. Both have eight-hour batteries.

 

Technology leaders like Michael Dell, the founder of Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), have characterized battery life in laptops as “the holy grail,” but too many current machines, even iPads from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) or laptops with Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) Ultrabook chip, don't last all that long.

 

Why not a battery for such a portable device that would last a week? Haven't there been some breakthroughs in nanotechnology or miniaturization that can make this possible?

 

How about a national Wi-Fi network that could be supported by drawing on power from outside a region if power within it failed? That would have kept millions of us on Long Island connected.

 

Two more, perhaps mundane, items: How about returning mechanical gas pumps? When the power fails, they'd still dispense gas if not display snazzy computer graphics. That would have helped right after Sandy because LIPA didn't bother to restore elecrticity in all gas stations.

 

Finally, when the lights go out, people without generators turn flashlights on. The longer the batteries last, the better. Once again, scientists at Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), who make Duracells and their counterparts, ought to be hard at work developing the eternal flashlight.

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