Posted by Martin Waxman
on Jan 28th, 2009 in Posts
Just under two weeks ago, there was a power outage in Toronto that left about 250,000 residents without heat or electricity on one of the coldest days of the year (-19C).
I was one of those folks in the dark.
When the incident occurred, just after 10 on a Thursday evening, we found the flashlights, lit a few candles and tried to find out what happened.
First we turned to our community – looked outside to see if anyone else had lights, called a couple friends… We put a battery in a clock radio and tuned to 680 News only to hear (after weather and sports), what we already knew: power was out in a large section of western Toronto. And crews were on the scene.
Thank you very much. That didn’t answer any of my immediate questions like: when is MY power coming back?
I don’t know why I defaulted to old habits (the reluctant adopter in me), but it wasn’t till Friday at work when I thought to check Twitter. I did a few searches and uncovered the hashtag #darkTO, and there, found what I was looking for: an enormous outpouring of comments, thoughts and news – in real time.
There were tweets from people who got their power back; others from folks nearby who hadn’t; offers of office space for those in need of Wifi; updates from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC); requests from MSM media for interviews; and on and on.
It felt like I’d stumbled into the promised on-land. Yes, I had read how quickly Twitter spreads breaking news in real time, but it wasn’t till I experienced it first-hand that I truly grasped its scope.
However, something was missing. There was no local ‘authority’ to offer updates and tell us things were under control. And while Mayor Miller, the City and hydro held a traditional news conference, they seemed oblivious to the conversation taking place around them.
And that was a missed opportunity.
Of course, power was eventually restored (we got ours back nearly 24 hours later).
A little more than a week later, I noticed that Kevin Sacks, City of Toronto Director of Strategic Communications started posting on Twitter, @TorontoComms. Maybe the blackout triggered a lightbulb in City Hall. And that, I believe, is a very positive sign.