For the past three days, I have been dealing with power outages at my home and at the homes of my three children. While there is much being written about smart grid and hurricanes, let me offer some personal experiences that make me think more about what technology can, and should, do in times of natural disaster.

A close friend of ours had a home in Mystic Island, New Jersey, on the waterfront about fifteen miles from Atlantic City. Needless to say, her home is totally devastated from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

We were able to access the remnants on midday Tuesday, only to find gas appliances (range and dryer) ripped from walls, with strong odor of gas. Luckily, I was able to find the gas meter and shut-off valve and quickly stopped what could have been an even greater disaster. Fortunately, there was not power in the area at the time, so electrical sparks inside the home were not an issue, but others in the neighborhood were running gas-powered generators and other potential sources that could have easily ignited.

Late last night, as we were salvaging some personal belongings, electrical power was restored to this area. Had we not made this trip to the site on Tuesday and turned off the gas and the circuit breaker, the wet wiring and exposed wiring would have been spelled even greater damage for my friend and others in the neighborhood.

As we struggled with all of the emotions of the past few days, I also reflected on safety, health, and environment during this disaster. As I write this blog post, I wonder about all of the other fires that happened in impacted areas, and think about the fact that if two-way wireless communications to electric meters and gas meters both had remote shut-offs, it might have saved others the agony of total loss of property and life.


Ron Chebra is Vice President, Management & Operations Consulting, DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability.