The Witty Professor

My witty high school teacher used to ask questions in class.  How many here want a particular lesson—raise your hands.  How many here will be attending the event Friday afternoon—raise your hands, and so on.  Then came the wit.  “If anyone is not here, please raise your hand.”

Equally nutty is the use of devices which need power to notify people that they have no power.   

But reputable, big cities do it.  Waterloo, Ontario, in the heart of Canada’s technology triangle does it.  Nova Scotia Power has a website (viewable from plugged in computers) which has a map showing exactly where the power is off.  The fact that if you have no power you can’t see this is perhaps lost on NS Power.   

I have made this point via Tweets and Toronto Hydro has responded. They understood my point, but that many of their stakeholders preferred social media alerts. One assumes this is a preference even if those who prefer it can’t get it.  Get it?

I suspect you think I’m being cranky because hand held devices are everywhere and many users prefer to receive all communication and notifications on them.  More than 50% of all Google searches are now via handheld devices.  And you’re probably thinking that batteries will hold up until the power is back on.  Perhaps, but probably not.  Power outages last longer on average, than the life of smart-phone batteries, according to some studies.  Most young people sleep with their hand-helds on so that the alarm will wake them in the morning. That means they start the day with limited battery life.  

They seem to recognize the danger in Baltimore—sort of.  The power company does provide an “Outage Map” which tells citizens in real time what areas have no power.  But that’s on the power company’s website, so it may be of no use.  It also encourages citizens to report outages.  So, for all those without power who cannot use their computers, please report to us on devices which require power.  

But Baltimore also notes that 25% of power outages last more than four hours—perhaps the battery life left after a hand-held has been on all night, or has been used for music or streaming for a bit.  

“They’ll charge up when the power comes back on,” you say?  Perhaps, but probably not.  The power coming back on will cause a stampede to the few available plugs in shopping centres and the subway system.  But if people can charge up, they may be able to see where the power was off when they had no power to determine exactly where the power was off, but now on.    

Calgary appears to be hoping to use radio to communicate with the public, even though a radio station’s transmitter burned down in Fort McMurray recently.

Emergency response should not be a fad.  The current lingo of “I Tweeted it out…it’s on the web…I blogged it…I sent an Instagram…” does not mean that any communication of any sort occurred.  Communication is two-way.  There must be a sender and a receiver.  A receiver is not a person who doesn’t know s/he should look at a transmission, or can’t because there’s no power.  A receiver is someone who gets a message, understands it, and in the context of emergency response, takes some action.

There are best practices in urban emergency communication.  These include lawn signs, LED signs on trucks, loud speakers, door knob hangers, door-to-door visits, auto-dialing, and, for the disabled, setting off strobe lights and turning on radios powered by batteries.

Good, modern emergency response has to be both low tech, and high tech.  But most of all it has to make sense.  

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