I was reading a fascinating article on Ars Technica the other day – mostly to be honest, I read these things because I am intrigued to see what the comments will be like – if I am honest. Anyway, the article concerned the hacking of an emergency notification system in Dallas Fort Worth. Here’s a link to it.
As it happens, the comments were the usual mix of rank ignorant and rank knowledgeable and a scale of non-rankness in between. One of the key questions from the “we recognise we are ignorant” is why the area still used this kind of alert system – basically sirens given that the technology existed for things like cell phone warnings and this is where it got interesting.
Dallas Fort Worth is in Tornado Alley and so the alert system actually gets used, and often at short notice. And the reason it continues to be used is that a) it works and b) it is reliable. There is already a lot of experience to demonstrate that in emergency situations, cell networks are not reliable (although landlines are tending to stand up to disaster a bit better). Well, this system is reliable as long as no one tries to hack it but that’s a wider moral discussion. The point is, cellphones are often switched off, on silent, in the room downstairs, or whatever other excuse you are having yourself. In the context of the onset of a tornado that’s never going to be enough.
A couple of things struck me about the conversation – one was the usual tendency of people who live somewhere with gigabit fibre to assume that everyone has gigabit fibre, and similarly, the tendency of people to assume modern might always be better than old tech. Sometimes and often times it isn’t. Anyway, another point which popped up almost in passing in the comments was identifying other sources of information in the event of an emergency. A siren is one thing to tell you hunker down, avoid, escape to high or low ground, or whichever is appropriate for your situation (CF earthquake drills in Japan as another example). Someone mentioned that they would always have a battery operated radio in the house just in case power was taken out.
This caused me to pause and think. I have a torch in the house at all times, and it has a place where it lives. I’ve always felt that you should always have a functional torch in the house and that’s why there were 4 in the last house. But if I lost electricity, I have maybe mobile phone for up to 24 hours if it was fully charged when I lost electricity and provided I switch off cellular data. I live in a temperate area and normally, you’d expect that I might be out of electricity for a relatively short time.
It’s just lots of people have found out the hard way that this might not be a completely safe assumption.
So I added a battery operated radio to the shopping list and found a small Sony for 25E in a local electrical shop. I need to get some batteries for it because of course it’s a different size to the set of batteries I have here already.
You can wander around Youtube and find all sorts of survival kits, squeezed into tiny Altoids boxes if you want to be really creative. But in the context of living in a city with no desire to go off-grid, as it were, possibly your shopping list should include a torch, a radio, spare batteries for both and a few litres of water at the very least. And at that, I’d like to think we’d be able to see the biggest problems coming from a long way off.