Any Web Port in a Storm? Considering Computers in the Wake of Hurricane Charley

Thanks be to God that I am still here to write another article. Hurricane Charley passed within approximately 30 miles of our rented house here in South Venice, Florida with winds well over 100 mile and hour. For some time it wasn’t clear where the Hurricane would hit land, and Venice was a possible target.

While waiting for a possible hurricane, and after praying for the safety of everyone in the hurricane’s path, I began preparing for the worst here at our house. Being in charge of all the computers here, I couldn’t help thinking about when the last time I did a backup of all our computer data. Now you are thinking that someone like me does periodic backups like I should. However, backing up the computers usually ends up a low priority on my work list. And that means it can be several months between times I do it. With the hurricane coming, I thought perhaps I should do it. But once again, it became a low priority and I thought even if the computers were trashed the hard drive could always be moved to another computer – wishful thinking.

The computers were soon out of my mind. More serious things had to be considered. Our neighbor across the street had put plywood across all his windows. It was already too late for us to do that. However, I made sure all windows were closed, at least.

I next looked for information on what to do to prepare for the hurricane. The local television news station was my first choice. Here I found out where the hurricane was going but little information on how to prepare for it. They did, however, give out information on emergency outlets: an emergency telephone number, a radio station, the Sarasota county website and shelter locations. I naturally turned to the Internet. Here at least I found a hurricane preparation check list. All loose objects outside the house needed to be tied down or stored away – they could become dangerous projectiles in the strong winds. That was one thing I hadn’t considered. Next, an emergency room, bathroom, shower, closet, etc. would have to be chosen to wait out the hurricane, without windows if possible. The hallway seemed like the best choice for us. In the hallway I put chairs, flashlights, a cell phone and a battery operated radio.

Why a battery operated radio? It was almost a given that if the hurricane struck close enough electrical power would be lost. (Some people have backup generators – we didn’t.) The radio might be the only way to know what was going on with the hurricane and when it was all clear. I thought of other technology in the house that might become useless with the loss of power. For one, the television would be useless as a source of safety information. Two of our telephones would not work, one is a telephone/fax and the other is cordless, because they also use electricity. The third older push button telephone would work – that is – if the telephone lines stayed up. The cell phone would work if the cell towers remained standing. At first, I thought our laptop computer with its battery might be able to still allow Internet access. But then I remembered the high speed cable modem needed electricity – so the Internet would be out for me. Last was the water preparation. Being on a well/pump system, we needed to store water for drinking, cooking, washing, etc. before the power went out.

As it turned out, we didn’t lose our power nor did Venice sustain much damage. My parents, who live in Lehigh Acres, next to Fort Myers where Hurricane Charlie first made landfall weren’t so lucky. They received high winds from the stronger southern side of the hurricane. My sister who was staying with my parents called me on her cell phone to find out what was happening – their house lost power and they had no battery operated radio. They had no idea whether or not the hurricane was coming right at them or not. Fortunately, I was able to allay their fears.

Hurricane Charley finally turned Northeast and went through Charlotte Harbor. The winds did extensive damage to the surrounding area. All communications went down. Had I been there, the radio, telephone and cell phone would have been useless. Perhaps even our house would be gone.

All this made me realize how much I rely on technology, much of which relies on other technology – electricity, broadcast towers, etc., to work. In a devastating disaster like Hurricane Charley, no technology is going to help you. Had our power gone out, at least I still had a working telephone and battery operated radio around for emergency information and assistance. You might want to rethink what you keep around your house and at least plan on technology that may help you should the power go out. Otherwise, you might be left in the dark!

For this month’s picks I chose sites containing information and ways to help Hurricane Charley victims. Retirees who lived in trailer parks had their homes totally destroyed with no insurance to help replace it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency fema.gov does assist disaster victims who can reach them at 800-621-FEMA. However, calling only begins the aid process and "Federal disaster aid does not guarantee total recovery from all disaster losses." Eligible victims will receive temporary housing assistance, disaster loans and assistance grants. This site contains some useful information about preparing for emergencies, also.

FEMA recommends that those wishing to assist hurricane victims give cash donations and resist going to affected areas. They recommend various charities including the following:

Catholic Charities USA at catholiccharitiesusa.org says on their website, "Help Catholic Charities Respond to Hurricane Charley." The Diocese of Venice Catholic Charities at catholiccharitiesdov.org has a disaster response program that you can donate to online as well.

The Salvation Army at salvationarmyusa.org is involved in Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief and you can donate online to help them in their efforts.

The American Red Cross at redcross.org is involved in helping victims and has a Disaster Relief Fund online donation form for those who wish to help.

If you are in the area Volunteer Florida at disasterhelp.net/vflorida has an online registration to volunteer to help with Hurricane Charley.

The Diocese of Venice at dioceseofvenice.org has parishes in some of the hardest hit areas by the hurricane, especially Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Arcadia. You might want to look up these parishes on the diocesan website and e-mail them your prayer support.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org