Super Storm, Hurricane Sandy, set a lot of records and was a lot of “firsts” for people in the Northeast.

It was the first time the water had ever risen to those levels in Lower Manhattan and the surrounding buroughs. It was the first time since 1888 that Wall Street had been closed for two consecutive days due to weather. It was the first time my supposedly “waterproof” boots proved not to be so waterproof.

But it was also the first time we saw a few major technology trends play a huge role in how people dealt with a natural disaster. Living in Hoboken, New Jersey, I was able to experience this first-hand dealing with flooding and power outages.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, the importance of technologies like mobile, social media and cloud computing took on magnified roles in helping people to cope and recover. The ways in which these technologies were used during the storm could ultimately provide a preview into how we as a society will deal with natural disasters moving forward in this ever changing technological world.


During both the storm and its immediate aftermath, many people measured their overall health and well-being not just by how they were doing physically, but by a new standard: their percent battery on their phone. Walking around the affected areas you would ask people how they were doing and almost immediately people would say “I’m doing alright, but I’ve only got 12% battery left on my phone.”

In a day and age where we are so tied to our mobile devices, having no place to power these devices becomes a disaster in itself. Along with relief stations that served water and food around town, I was amazed to see “charging stations” open up. One of the churches down the street from us put a generator outside so that people could plug in their chargers. The CNN truck that was reporting on the disaster, let people charge their devices on the generator they had in the back of their truck.

This is something that ten years ago would have been unprecedented. But as mobile device capabilities have vastly expanded in the past ten years, as has their importance to our well-being. Businesses continue to talk about how important mobile devices are becoming and perhaps there is no greater example than this. When life is stripped down to bare necessities of food and water, mobile devices seemed to have taken their place right up there.

Social Media

Another area of technology that businesses are investing heavily in is social media. Companies are discovering the unique capabilities of social media to share their message directly with the customer. As an avid social media user, I have used the likes of Twitter and Facebook for many things, but disaster recovery information was not one of them.

But as I sat in my apartment with no power and wondering what was going on in the town around me, Twitter provided me more information than anywhere else. That’s the funny thing about the news during natural disasters; the people who need to see it most are the only ones who don’t. The extent of my information was through a few phone calls to people who told me what they were seeing at a national level.

But then I checked Twitter and could see what the Mayor of Hoboken was tweeting about or some of the major Hoboken twitter handles. I was able to stay updated knowing when the town was giving press conferences, where you could go to volunteer, and what areas were the most affected in town.

People started retweeting their photos of different sections of the town that were really badly flooded and others tweeted about different food stores that had opened up. In a time when you couldn’t get a great sense of what was going on, social media provided all of the important details.

Companies started getting into the act as well, using the social medium to reach their stranded and distressed customers. In one occurrence customers tweeted at Bank of America that they needed an ATM so they could have cash, and Bank of America replied back that they were working on having one delivered to Hoboken the next day. In a time when it was easy to feel isolated and on your own, social media did what it is perhaps best at and facilitated the collaboration of people to help others out.

Cloud Computing

The last example is possibly the hottest of all technology trends right now: cloud computing. One of the major draws of cloud computing is the disaster recovery advantages of not having your data on premise. Companies with weak infrastructures or locations that are possibly susceptible to natural disasters can see a huge benefit in being able to offload this.

Ten or fifteen years ago this storm would have had a much greater effect on the businesses in lower Manhattan because their infrastructures were so centralized. But now in the wake of events like September 11th companies have put a focus on diversifying their data centralization, and cloud computing seems to be at the forefront of this.

But what happens if where your cloud data is stored is also effected by Hurricane Sandy? Hosting companies like Peer1 faced this exact problem as noted here:

While you can see that ultimately this was a happy ending of people coming together for a common cause, it does lend as a warning to other companies considering cloud computing. The lesson here perhaps is to make sure you cloud computing company is investing in geographically dispersed and redundant systems.

As a society, we tend to over hype the “latest and greatest” innovation, either hailing it’s arrival before it has truly arrived or overstating its importance once it is here. But during times of crisis all of that seems to go by the wayside, providing us with a very clear sense of what brings true value. It seems then that what we can learn from Hurricane Sandy is that technology trends like mobile, social media and cloud computing are possibly even more important than where we had previously valued them.