Disaster Media

While I work in New York City, on most nights and weekends I live in a small rural town about 90 minutes away. Last week superstorm Sandy affected people on the East Coast — sometimes tragically so — and our area was no exception. We have been without power, running water, TV, Internet and train service since last Monday. While the trains have been running again as of Sunday, the rest of those services are still out.

Out here the storm uprooted trees and snapped telephone poles like twigs. Power lines were brought down by ferocious winds. Travel beyond our home was initially difficult, with most roads blocked by debris. One hundred percent of our town’s residents were without power, and we’ll likely be one of the last communities to have those services restored given our small size and remoteness.

Fortunately, a few days before the storm we learned from that Sandy could be catastrophic, so we ordered the last remaining generator at Home Depot. That decision, plus some last-minute bathtub filling and flashlight buying, made the past week far less miserable than it could have been.

Thanks to our iPhones and iPads, along with an AM radio, we have been able to stay in touch with the rest of the world. Social media sites like have provided us with news, although some of it turned out to be completely wrong. Also, at the height of the storm, retailer American Apparel blasted out an email offering 20% off its merchandise — just enter “SANDYSALE” at checkout, the company declared. It was one of the least sensitive and poorly timed advertisements in recent memory.

As a result of this misinformation and idiocy, over the past week we have relied increasingly on news from trusted sources like The New York Times, Thomson Reuters, and The Weather Channel. This is not to say that social media isn’t important — but when you’re isolated and vulnerable, professionally produced news is essential.

Despite the storm, our kids have remained heavy gamers. “Mega Jump,” “Temple Run” and “Angry Birds” are getting frequent use. Without cable TV, there has been no ESPN or Cartoon Network, although the din of the “Regular Show” can be heard frequently on an iPad. Board games and books get some occasional use, although the big winner has been the great outdoors. Backyard football games are getting a good rating in our household.

More so than television, we’ve been keenly feeling the  lack of WiFi. While AT&T’s 4G service has performed admirably, it has been like going back in time when slow modems provided internet access. Occasional visits to family and friends with WiFi have enabled us to download old episodes of shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia” via iTunes and various Food TV programs for later viewing on our laptops. This storm has highlighted how long it’s been since we bought a DVD, and we’ve been giving well-worn titles like “The Incredibles” and “Groundhog Day” one more play.

We have also purchased a few newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, but mainly because they help conflagrate a fire in our wood stove. Otherwise, it’s hard to read offline media in low light conditions, which is another reason why backlit media on iPhones and iPads is essential. These devices also serve as handy flashlights!

In terms of work, the inconveniences have been surprisingly minor. We have offices in New York City and Brooklyn but basically allow ourselves to work from wherever we want as long as we are productive. Google manages our email, documents and calendars, Amazon hosts the application we’re building, and Basecamp keeps us all on the same page. Conference calls have proceeded normally, though they start with a quick update on how everyone is dealing with the after-effects of the storm.

We’ll all be happy when the power returns, but it’s good to know that life, work and access to media can continue despite a major disaster.

Matt Straz is the publisher of The Makegood, an entrepreneur and former media agency guy. He is the CEO of Namely, the talent planning application used by the world’s most dynamic companies.