november 9 marks the anniversary of 1965's Great Northeast Blackout that darkened New York City overnight. I was there. I graduated high school the year before and was working in the city at a graphics studio while attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn three nights a week. What a different life I would have had if there had not been a war in Vietnam and a draft.
The power went out just about quitting time. The offices I worked in were on the 13th floor but they called it 14th. You know how that goes. I commuted 40 minutes into the city every day on what was then, the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad. The trains ran on electricity so I had no plans to try to get home. A few co-workers lived uptown and decided to walk down the stairs and try to find a taxi home. That was the same thought that thousands of other office workers had so an hour or two later the men were back. Thankfully they brought sandwiches.
We had no lanterns or candles so being resourceful, we decided to try lighting the end of a grease pencil china marker. A few of those provided some light and as we later learned noxious fumes as well. I had only been doing photography for two years or so and the fact that I was able to get printable negatives of what was essentially, pure darkness, surprises me even today. The camera used was my first “good” camera; a Miranda F with 50mm f1.8 lens.
There was and has been much discussion after the event about “what we learned” and what could be done to prevent such a thing happening again. I am sure that systems and procedures were revised immediately after the failure that left 30 million people in the dark. In this computer age we have far more sophisticated systems in place to prevent such catastrophes. Yet there are more people and we all are more dependent on the services that electricity provides. With the capabilities of computers also come the vulnerabilities. The wars of the future will likely be fought on computer networks, not battlefields.
Hopefully today will be a better day at work than yesterday. Our DSL line was on and off all day.
posted by Greg Allikas, November 16, 2011