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Guest Column / Sandy highlights new priority among our needs

Published 5:52 pm, Thursday, November 8, 2012
  • In the aftermath of Sandy, public libraries had more people looking for wireless Internet access than they did chairs. Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    In the aftermath of Sandy, public libraries had more people looking for wireless Internet access than they did chairs. Photo: Meg Barone

 

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When Hurricane Sandy swept across the Connecticut coast last week, her aftermath seemed to cement new priorities for the way we communicate.

I live in Westport, where more than 90 percent of the town lost power early on Monday evening, Oct. 29. And the power stayed out for days. In fact, five days after Sandy hit, easily 60 percent of our town was still without electricity.

So what was it like to live without the modern conveniences?

Relatively speaking, Westport was lucky. We were spared the destruction seen just a few miles away at Fairfield Beach. Nevertheless, like tens of thousands in Fairfield, we had to adjust to life without our most basic utility -- electricity.

Without electricity, when the sun goes down, the house is dark. Very dark.

Batteries in flashlights only last so long.

Without electricity, it's hard to heat one's home.

Even if you heat with oil, it takes electricity to circulate the hot water or hot air warned by the burner.

Without electricity, one's computers don't work. Even the batteries on laptop computers last typically no more than five hours. If the computers do work, it's hard to do much without Internet access nowadays.

Without electricity, if you have a well with a pump, you don't have water for bathing or cooking.

In talking to people, the one utility people said they needed overwhelmingly was electricity.

What surprised me, though, was that the second utility people wanted was Internet access. Forget phone service, forget television. With the Internet, people could connect to the world -- and each other.

On my block, we lost our power for six days, yet our cable TV/Internet service was never disrupted. Because of our generator being able to keep our cable modem and home networking running, we were connected to the world -- and even provided WiFi to some of our neighbors.

The Westport Public Library, like Fairfield's, continued its tradition of providing a great resource for people who were looking for a few basic services: Electricity and Internet access. A warm place to stay was also nice, but the week's moderate temperatures meant that keeping warm was not one of the immediate necessities.

While the need for food, shelter and water continue to be high on everyone's list of basic needs, what has surprised me is how high Internet access has become on the public's list of priorities.

Even our first responders are using Internet service to communicate to the community about status updates, emergency services, where to go for needs one has.

The Internet truly has become a utility.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years.