On Monday night the Hudson river conquered Hoboken, and a majority of its 50,000 residents were plunged into darkness. I was one of them. We knew the damage was bad, and power wasn't going to come back quickly, but the decision to stay or go (and when to come back) would depend on how long the town stayed dark. Information would be critical, but where was it going to come from?
Thanks to smartphones and charging stations set up in the few places that still had electricity, those residents that chose to stay were able to reach each other and the outside world. Many of us took to Twitter to try to get information on recovery efforts and especially the restoration of power. The City of Hoboken (@CityOfHoboken) and PSE&G (@PSEGdelivers) did a decent job of communicating the big updates, but what we really needed were ground-level updates. We needed to know where the power was back on (block by block) and we needed to be able to see what kind of progress was being made. Fortunately, by taking advantage of Twitter and Google, we were able to get that information for ourselves.
Dave Haier (@davehaier), a healthcare exec and Hoboken resident, created the Sandy Recovery Map on November 1 using Google Maps. Initially, the map marked locations for supplies, food, water and other emergency resources. It also marked the few blocks in town that still had power. As additional community members reported in with updates the map grew, and ultimately spawned a second map: The Hoboken Power Map.
As PSE&G began to bring small blocks and sections of town back online, residents tweeted the news that power was back on at building X or intersection Y. Dave and his fellow contributors would update the map with green lines where there was power, red where it had been up but gone back down, and yellow where they needed confirmation of rumors. Eventually shapes covering larger blocks of town replaced the individual street lines. Markers were added showing the town's main substations.
I must have checked this map 30 times a day between Thursday and Saturday. Watching the progress as the map turned green bit by bit was incredibly comforting. It was also a beautiful example of a community using technology. Google Maps was the reporting, Twitter was the network, and we were the sensors spread out across the affected area.
Did the Hoboken Power Map help get the lights back on any faster? Probably not. Did it help Hoboken residents feel more in control during a difficult situation? Definitely. Power to the people!