NEW YORK, NY — Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers navigated a still powerless reality on Wednesday, the second day after Superstorm Sandy flooded and crippled much of the city.
The powerlessness was felt especially in Manhattan below 39th street, where electricity had been partially shut off preemptively on Monday by local utility ConEdison to avoid more extensive flooding damage from the storm surge. (The location where TPM’s own New York offices are located, also without power at the time of this article’s publication).
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Manhattanites descended upon the city like an army of zombies, not in search of brains but rather power for their dead devices: cell phones, tablets, laptops, mp3 players and the rest of the gadgets that run on rechargeable — not easily replaceable — lithium ion batteries.
“If you plan on coming into Manhattan, bring cash, a phone charger, and cigarettes,” tweeted one resident. “You will automatically be Mayor. #NYC #Sandy”
“It’s like there’s two cities, everybody above 39th street is going along like nothing’s happened while everybody below is staggering around without power,” said David Walke, CEO of goCharge, a New York City-based startup that provides mobile device charging kiosks in bars and restaurants, and bills itself as the “world leader in mobile device charging,” in a phone interview with TPM.
Since early 2011, goCharge has 50 free to use electronics charging stations throughout bars in Manhattan, but only 17 of those were active as of Wednesday, all of them above 39th street, Walke told TPM.
“Backup diesel generators are designed to provide emergency response for critical functions, such as access lighting around doors and stairways, and power for escalators and elevators so passengers aren’t trapped,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, which advocates for and educates about diesel fuel use, in an interview with TPM, “So the fact that folks can’t find outlets that are adequately charged even in buildings that may have lights, that explains why.”
However, Schaeffer said that as smartphones and tablets become more integral to the functioning of critical services like health care and safety going forward, operators of backup generator systems should consider expanding their capacity to power personal devices.
“When you see images of a swarm of people around one power strip, cords everywhere like a bunch of spaghetti lying there, those are important images to think about going forward,” Schaeffer told TPM.
The desperate search for places to recharge in New York came despite earlier articles warning residents to keep their devices powered up and use them scarcely to conserve energy during an outage.
Of course, even once mobile devices owners recharged, there were still other gadget-related problems with which to contend: Dropped calls were a recurring issue into Wednesday, as up to 25 percent of all transmission sites in the Northeast were still offline, as The New York Times reported. Again, Lower Manhattan seemed to be the epicenter of that outage, as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.