Information and the weather

Those of you coming to the GLMA Summer Institute next week will find a dramatically altered Macon State College campus. The tornado of Mother’s Day 2008 traveled completely across Bibb County, and the Macon State area was one of the hardest hit. The college has worked incredibly hard to put the campus back together in the weeks since the storm, but those of us who remember what it was like before will find it rather naked-looking now. Some say that 80% of the campus’ trees were destroyed, and that Macon altogether may have lost 25-40% of its tree canopy.

I live in the Macon area, and the tornado and its aftermath taught me three lessons about information.

First, we have marvelous media to help us know that a storm is on its way. The storm came fast in the pre-dawn hours, but between the sirens, the excellent television stations, and a weather radio, everyone seemed to get the warning. No one was hurt throughout this county, although the same storm killed two people in the Dublin area.

Second, however, I learned that those information networks disappear once the power goes dark. And for many of us, the power (and cable, and phone) was off for days. Without these services, it was extremely difficult to get critical information. Remember when not so long ago you could get all the weather and local information you needed from broadcast radio? No longer. I had plenty of batteries, but there was only one local radio station that broadcast news and public service information, unfortunately interspersed between hours and hours of irritating, commercially-sponsored political diatribe. If it were not for my cell phone, and my family and friends calling me with critical news, I would not have known many things I needed to know.

It seems to me that we are abandoning old, dependable information networks in favor of new digital ones. What about people in our society (and our students) who have no cable access? No Internet access? This temporary information deprivation helped me to see just how much they may be missing. What if a larger disaster were to come along? We are simply not equipped; I would say we are less equipped in some ways than we used to be. As wonderful as digital communication is, it is not the most dependable of communication vehicles!

The third lesson I learned from the storm and my five days without cable is that I can’t get any work done without the Internet. As a professor who works 80% from home, I had to take an involuntary vacation. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I had much storm damage to deal with. However, occasionally I wonder what would happen to our work-a-day world if we had a widespread network blackout.

Finally, I’d like to compliment our power companies, along with the cable and phone people – it took armies of these heroes working around the clock for days to get our grids put back together. Those four days without power seemed long, but they were really short when you think about how widespread and profound the damage was.

I hope you all enjoy your summer – keep your batteries charged and dry!

Mary Ann Fitzgerald

University of Georgia

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Posted on June 5, 2008, in Communications. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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