Plugging In When the City is Dark

Half of Manhattan was plunged into darkness during Hurricane Sandy, but residents still had their cell phones, tablets and laptops to stay in touch with loved ones…at least until their batteries ran down. What happened next just proves that crises can bring out the best in people.

According to Atlantic CitiesPhoto credit Reuters 300x203 Plugging In When the City is Dark, hundreds of shops, restaurants and even private homes opened their outlets to the public for free. Power strips and extension cords snaked across tables and booths, and out windows onto front stoops. Little signs appeared (“I am grateful I still have power…recharge your phone here.”). People huddled around the outlets “like cavemen around fire,” noted one New Yorker.

The ad hoc nature of the response has led some to call for a more organized availability of power in public places. The article quotes Malcolm McCullough, professor of architecture and information design at the University of Michigan: “Common sense says that at one point electricity was expensive and unreliable, and you wouldn’t just let anybody walk up and use yours, but these small electronic devices use such a small load. Recharging is becoming a basic infrastructural need in cities, like subways or lights.”

I didn’t lose power during Hurricane Sandy, but I know that feeling of desperately looking for a place to recharge a phone or laptop. Airports seem to be the only places that readily make outlets available in obvious places (usually waiting areas); I remember the days when you felt like you had to sneak your plug into the outlet when no one was looking. Perhaps hotels are getting better; the last time I checked into one, there was a prominent set of outlets on the nightstand. It was nice not having to crawl under a desk or reach behind furniture to plug in my electronics. Has anyone else noticed more publicly available or accessible outlets? Where do you recharge when the warning light flashes?

Photo credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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About Katherine Hutt

Katherine R. Hutt, Director of Communications and Media Relations with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is an award-winning communicator who has been helping nonprofit organizations tell their stories for the past 25 years. She was a CBBB consultant on numerous projects for more than a decade before joining the staff in 2011.