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The Grid and the Village

The Grid and the Village: Losing Electricity, Finding Community, Surviving Disaster

Stephen Doheny-Farina
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Grid and the Village
    Book Description:

    In January 1998 a massive ice storm descended on New York, New England, and eastern Canada. It crushed power grids from the Great Lakes to the North Atlantic, forcing thousands of people into public shelters and leaving millions of others in their homes without electricity. In this riveting book Stephen Doheny-Farina presents an insider's account of these events, describing the destruction of the electric network in his own village and the emergence of the face-to-face interactions that took its place. His stories examine the impact of electronic communications on community, illuminating the relationship between electronic and human connections and between networks and neighborhoods, and exploring why and how media portrayals of disasters can distort authentic experience.Doheny-Farina begins by discussing the disaster and tracing the origins of the storm. He then goes back two hundred years to tell how this particular electric grid was built, showing us the sacrifices people made to create the grids that (usually) connect us to one another. Today's power grid, says Doheny-Farina, has become more vulnerable than we realize, as demand begins to outstrip capacity in urban centers around the nation. His book reminds us what those grids mean-both positively and negatively-to our electronically saturated lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13382-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. preface trading tales
    (pp. vii-xiii)
  4. one from accidents to disaster
    (pp. 1-23)

    Buck was a month old when fire licked at the sheetrock by his empty bassinet. I stood at the kitchen counter, ladle in hand, staring out the window at the snow. It seemed to be glowing a golden orange while red embers glided lazily onto the back deck. Kath sat with Buck in the big chair, holding him up on her knee just as our old deckle-edged black and whites showed my mother holding me. I stepped closer to the window. The house was on fire.

    I heard a pounding on the front door and it burst open. A woman...

  5. two origins of a grid, part 1
    (pp. 25-55)

    Until recently, I hadn’t known much about how electric power got to my house or to anyone else’s. Like most people, I never thought about the power grid until the lights went out (or thought about the cable connections until the set went snowy, or the phone lines until I no longer had a dial tone). And even then I’d usually respond with a “Hey, get my service back.” But a couple of years ago I found myself in a discussion about power generation that finally started to open my eyes to its significance to the work I do. I...

  6. three the grid crumbles
    (pp. 57-85)

    In the darkness, half-asleep, I imagined sudden violence. Trees, ice, wind—something—hurtling down at extreme velocities to rip open an old wound, rending another jagged hole where the fire had burned, tearing open the scar of guilt (“How could we have let the fire happen?”) that had been covered over with plywood and Tyvek and vinyl siding. Or, even more plausibly, some force at any moment would shatter the large window fitted into the wall where the chimney had once been and radiate across our bed shards of glass. And this time we wouldn’t be so lucky. Catastrophe would...

  7. four origins of a grid, part 2
    (pp. 87-113)

    Sleep came easily to the old man. Maybe it was the muffled, sputtering rhythm of the powerboat up ahead, maybe the unexpected warmth of the autumn sun. Whatever it was, on a bright fall afternoon while he was floating across the St. Lawrence River in his rowboat, sleep came again to Tom Vallance. Not that he didn’t have reason to be tired. He had rowed his boat, a sixteen-footer he’d built himself, from his farm on Croil’s Island all the way to Massena to buy groceries. Although he made this trip every week, rowing downriver and back up was rigorous...

  8. five the grid rebuilt
    (pp. 115-155)

    Al Bradley drove out across the frozen Seaway valley to see for himself. When he got to the transmission lines coming from the big hydropower systems, he knew the region was in trouble. He saw three of the big towers that carried power into the Niagara Mohawk system snapped in half. They were well off the road, and it would take a tracked vehicle to get in there to begin working on them. And this was just one little problem, he thought; the transmission grids were in trouble, and the substations were dark everywhere.

    The complex system that feeds the...

  9. six the grid and the village
    (pp. 157-187)

    In the end, as in all major disasters, the ice storm numbers were big. In the United States alone, the storm damaged about 18 million acres of rural and urban forests in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.¹ In New York the power outage lasted twenty-three days; more than 1,000 transmission towers were damaged; power companies replaced over 8,000 poles, 1,800 transformers, and 500 miles of wire.² In Canada the outage lasted thirty-three days; more than 1,300 steel towers were damaged; power companies replaced over 35,000 poles and 5,000 transformers.³ The Canadian response involved the largest peacetime mobilization of...

  10. afterword a disaster timeline
    (pp. 189-195)

    A high-pressure ridge builds along the East Coast. An air current circulating around the ridge brings warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico inland across the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the polar jet stream moves southward and extends deep into the Southeast before turning northward to the East Coast. The warm, moisture-laden air from the gulf is squeezed between the high-pressure system and the colder northern air and a powerful rain-producing storm begins to move up the coast.¹ For a few days the storm stretches from the Gulf coast to the northeast.

    Homes are flooded near New Orleans, Louisiana, as...

  11. notes
    (pp. 197-206)
  12. index
    (pp. 207-210)