Do you rely on electricity? Roads & bridges? The Internet?

This weekend I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how fragile and dependent we all are on infrastructure and distribution. All of these thoughts have also had me remember being a kid during the 1970’s energy crisis (with lines at gas stations) and times when pending blizzards caused people to make a run on grocery stores stripping the shelves of certain foods, water and other staples.

We’re far too dependent on so much infrastructure and distribution systems that most of us either take for granted or simply expect will always be there.

The Interstate 35W bridge collapse two weeks ago was the first stunning blow about the frailty of infrastructure and a wake-up call for all of us. I’ve been reading a tremendous amount about needed bridge and roadway repairs in the US and it seems as though every state (as well as the Federal government) is suddenly taking action.

Yesterday morning’s storm here in Minnesota knocked out our power at 3am Saturday and it’s expected to fixed by close-of-business on Tuesday!  It’s only affecting 45,000 people here now, so this is a local story. But what a pain in the butt it is to be without power and, thank goodness, my neighbors behind us have power so I’ve run a contractor grade extension cord so I can plug in my refrigerator and sump pump.

When there have been huge electrical outages there have been outcries (and I wrote about it here and you can read more about our crumbling power grid here). But since these outages have yet to be in the same horrific category as a catastrophic bridge collapse tragedy, not much is being done. I also remember Reddy Killowatt, the electric industry spokescartoon who encouraged us to use electricity. He’s retired now having outlived his usefulness in a time of energy conservation.

I’m sitting here in a restaurant this morning with free Wifi since my Internet access at home is out (no electricity…no working cable modem). Thankfully I have an office a short drive away with power so it’s not too horrible and I can still get work done, but my 12 year old son keeps asking me how he can get on the ‘net from home. There are some silver linings to having all the electrical stuff off, but I’m not too interested in living off the grid just yet.

Yesterday afternoon I almost purchased a portable generator. Instead, I’ll be buying a standby generator (which runs on natural gas) that I can plug into my home circuit system and prioritize my heat and air conditioning; sump pump (critical since my basement flooded last year when the power went out!); refrigerator; and a few other items so I’m not at the mercy of Xcel Energy or a kind neighbor. The cost will be roughly $5k installed and a whole house generator (instead of a limited number of items) is about $13k. What’s enlightening to me has been the exercise of adding up all the watts I pull in my house and realizing how tough (and expensive) it is to be self sufficient with energy!

The small outage of Internet hosting I referenced in my post is so laughingly small that it went almost unnoticed by the general public. But as more and more of us map our businesses, our social networks and our communications on the ‘net, the potential for horrific and catastrophic outages — though unlikely to take lives — may finally get people to wake up to our dependency on bridges, our distribution system, electricity, the Internet, and all the other systems and processes we now take for granted.

1 Comment

  1. Styles Beagley on August 13, 2007 at 5:35 pm

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