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Sandy pushes the limits of tech

The massive hurricane that devastated the East Coast revealed important shortcomings in our tech infrastructure. And unlike past storms, the recovery took longer than expected.

The massive hurricane that devastated the East Coast in early November revealed important shortcomings in our technology infrastructure. And unlike past storms, the especially high degree of damage to power lines and electrical systems meant that recovery took longer than expected for many.

While power outages are common during any major weather event, few were prepared for nearly all of Manhattan below 38th Street to be completely blacked out, thanks to the flooding of underground power facilities. With the lights, so went Internet access and cable TV, cutting off major sources of information for those affected. The push to digital phone service from cable providers meant many were without home phones as well. Data centers and cloud systems were also affected, knocking Web sites and services offline.

Mobile service fared little better, as local equipment was damaged in the storm, and the parts of the network that were up were overloaded by heavy usage. Only a handful of cell phone reception pockets were available in downtown Manhattan in the days after Sandy and were easily identified by the dozens of people who would gather on those corners to make calls or access the Internet.

Despite the failure of some parts of the technology infrastructure, Twitter in particular became a way for individuals, local governments, utility companies, and charities to get information out. Many also learned the importance of maintaining battery backup systems for emergency use, even if it's just something as simple as keeping a laptop battery topped up for use as a mobile phone charging station for a few days.

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