Updated 6:55 p.m. EDT, Thursday, November 1
The powerlessness was felt especially in Manhattan below 39th street, where electricity had been partially shut off preemptively on Monday by local utility ConEdison to avoid more extensive flooding damage from the storm surge. (The location where TPM’s own New York offices are located, also without power at the time of this article’s publication).
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Manhattanites descended upon the city like an army of zombies, not in search of brains but rather power for their dead devices: cell phones, tablets, laptops, mp3 players and the rest of the gadgets that run on rechargeable — not easily replaceable — lithium ion batteries.
“If you plan on coming into Manhattan, bring cash, a phone charger, and cigarettes,” tweeted one resident. “You will automatically be Mayor. #NYC #Sandy”
“It’s like there’s two cities, everybody above 39th street is going along like nothing’s happened while everybody below is staggering around without power,” said David Walke, CEO of goCharge, a New York City-based startup that provides mobile device charging kiosks in bars and restaurants, and bills itself as the “world leader in mobile device charging,” in a phone interview with TPM.
Since early 2011, goCharge has 50 free to use electronics charging stations throughout bars in Manhattan, but only 17 of those were active as of Wednesday, all of them above 39th street, Walke told TPM.
Still, Walke and his company urged the island’s power hungry residents to venture uptown and locate one of the 17 goCharge charging kiosks, publishing a news release listing all of them and their locations, copied below:
Irish Exit (978 2nd Ave) McCans (3 W. 46th St) Pronto (135 W. 41st) Carriage House (219E 59th St) O Flanagans (66th and 1st) Phoneix Park (206 E. 67th St) Saloon (84th and York) Bar East (1733 1st Ave) Brady’s Bar (1581 2nd Ave) Genesis (88th St. and 2nd Ave) Jack Russels (1591 2nd Ave) On The Rocks (696 10th Ave) Overlook (225 E. 44th St) Vintage (51st St and 9th Ave) American Trash (76th St and 1st Ave) Bounce (1403 2nd Ave) East End Tavern (1589 1st Ave).
Each goCharge kiosk contains up to 16 different “charging tips,” or plugs, some of which are microUSB (used by Android devices) and others which support older Apple mobile devices. goCharge dispenses power for free by partnering with sponsors — the most recent of them being Patrón — who get to advertise their brands on the kiosks’ LCD screens. goCharge also offers bars and restaurants where the kiosks are located the ability to charge money for electrical charges, but Walke told TPM that the kiosks listed Wednesday were all free.
“The need for our service has spiked,” Walke said. “But there’s always a need whether there’s a power outage or not, because if you’re not at home or in your car, you’ve got to have the right charger with you, and most of us don’t.”
Walke said that he couldn’t sure precisely how much the popularity of his charging stations had increased in Sandy’s aftermath, because the storm itself had interrupted his plan to send technicians to check each of the kiosk’s on-site analytics to determine their usage before and after the storm.
Still, Walke said he was confident that “anecdotal” evidence from bar owners and managers would prove that goCharge was more popular after the storm than ever. Walke also said he’d offered goCharge’s services up to the New York City government but had no news to report on any collaboration between the two at the time of TPM’s interview.
“We get over one thousand users per each of our kiosks per month in normal, non-chaotic times,” Walke told TPM. “There are going to be many more now.”
Another New York-based business opened its doors — including shower doors — to those in need of a recharge and refresh. New York Sports Club, the chain of gyms owned by Town Sports International , on Wednesday announced it was temporarily suspending its membership requirement and inviting all those who wanted to use its facilities to shower or charge their devices, a gesture that was quickly tweeted by New York City Council Speaker (and presumptive Democratic Mayoral favorite) Christine Quinn.
Meanwhile, down below 39th and 26th on the West Side, residents flocked to gas and diesel generators and power-generating trucks to recharge their devices, including one of CNN’s satellite TV trucks in Greenich Village.
“Crowd charging cell phones via our satellite truck. #CNN gaining new viewers one plug at a time,” tweeted anchor Rob Marciano, posting several pictures of the long line of device owners waiting for a top up.
Gawker reporter Adrian Chen, whose own employer’s network of websites had been taken down when a server room flooded in lower Manhattan, also tweeted several photos of Manhattanites powering up their devices at mobile gas generators in the Lower East Side as he surveyed the city by bike.
“Pretty much anything that runs on gas in the LES is being used to charge phones, including this winnibego,” Chen wrote in a tweet.
Chen told TPM he estimated that he’d seen between 60 and 80 people lined up at three different generators on Wednesday.
“Backup diesel generators are designed to provide emergency response for critical functions, such as access lighting around doors and stairways, and power for escalators and elevators so passengers aren’t trapped,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, which advocates for and educates about diesel fuel use, in an interview with TPM, “So the fact that folks can’t find outlets that are adequately charged even in buildings that may have lights, that explains why.”
However, Schaeffer said that as smartphones and tablets become more intergal to the functioning of critical services like health care and safety going forward, operators of backup generator systems should consider expanding their capacity to power personal devices.
“When you see images of a swarm of people around one power strip, cords everywhere like a bunch of spaghetti lying there, those are important images to think about going forward,” Schaeffer told TPM.
The desperate search for places to recharge in New York came despite earlier articles warning residents to keep their devices powered up and use them scarcely to conserve energy during an outage.
Of course, even once mobile devices owners recharged, there were still other gadget-related problems with which to contend: Dropped calls were a recurring issue into Wednesday, as up to 25 percent of all transmission sites in the Northeast were still offline, as The New York Times reported. Again, Lower Manhattan seemed to be the epicenter of that outage, as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Late update: On Thursday November 1, Time Warner Cable, New York City’s dominant cable TV and Internet service provider, announced that it would be “deploying multiple vehicles with mobile charging stations and free WiFi access points,” in blackout areas including Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The company invited users to follow its Twitter account, @TWCable_NYC for updates on the locations of the trucks.
“Time Warner Cable retail store locations in Staten Island and in Queens Center Mall also welcome anyone to enter and recharge their devices,” added the company’s digital communications director Jeff Simmermon in a blog post. The company also said in a press release it was opening all of its WiFi access points in New York City to the public and making all the content on the website of its local news affiliate NY1 free as well, following steps from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which also lifted their paywalls during the storm.
Aside from being helpful to citizens in a time of need, the moves seem destined to help rehabilitate Time Warner Cable’s image among New Yorkers — not generally a positive one due to complaints of shoddy service during non-crisis times.
H/T: Boing Boing
Correction: This article originally incorrectly misspelled goCharge CEO David Walke’s surname as “Wilke,” in several instances. The errors have since been corrected in copy and we regret them.