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Contributed by: James Pomper
Contributed on: July 12, 2002

Which blackout(s) did you experience?

In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
During the 1st blackout, I was 12 years old and taking a piano lesson. AS I recall, It wasn't yet dark and I was able to walk home without dificulty. My parents were setting up candles and flashlights and the portable radio was set to WCBS 880 for constant updates. Except for the lack of television (and an out-of service elevator) the evening passed quietly.

In '77, I was working Nurse at a City hospital. I was speaking to someone on the phone when there was a power surge and the lights got brighter . . . briefly. It was a hot summer night in NY and the windows were open. When the lights went out there was a second or two of complete silence followed by a sudden cheer from the street below; mostly from kids I guess. I recall, there wasn't much time to think about it, we had a patient on a ventilator and without electricity we had to manually ventilate until we could get the machine hooked up to the emergency generator.
Fortunately, we were practiced in such eventualities and none of our patients were injured. Naturally, with all the power out, the next shift was going to find it next to impossible to get to work, so most of us volunteered to stay another 8 hours in order to cover the patients safely.
Going home the following morning, the lights were still out and that meant being extra careful driving. I remember, pedestrians helping out by directing traffic where there was a need. When I got home I was forced to walk up 12 flights and collapsed into my bed (sans shower - no water). I remember the following day, stories of NY'ers helping each other abounded. Despite the circumstances, or perhaps BECAUSE of them, it felt good to be from NYC.

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I believe the blackouts happened because of a lack of foresight. I think the growth of the use of electric devices exceeded expections and the infrastructure was unable to cope with the demand, especially during peak times like the summer. Also, there were insufficient redundencies built into the system.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Probably, the lack of catastrophic planning; planning for a worst case scenerio plus 20%.

Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Both were significant

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
At the time, '65, I reckoned that any thing that could shut down the whole city was definetly significant, although my life was relatively unaffected. It wasn't until a while later that I came to realize what was meant by the phrase "eastern seaboard" and just how widespread the problem was.

In '77, the immediate significance to me was expressed as a function of my professional responsibilites. Later as the the discussions (read finger-pointing) took place, it became clear that we had failed to learn from 12 years earlier.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
In '65, the blackout cut short my piano lesson, for which I was immensely grateful, but aside from small inconveniences (excluding no TV - I was really bummed over that)my life was fairly unaffected.

In '77, I put in a long 16 hours, at the end of which I couldn't even find comfort in a hot shower; there was no power for A/C or music and it took a couple of days before I no longer had to walk up 12 flights to my apartment. Again, inconveniences (and an odorous refrigerator)but no lasting effects.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
In '65 I was amazed at the scope of it. In '77, well I had lived through '65 and anything less was unimpressive.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
The only "normal" power failures I have ever experienced were fuse related, so the blackouts of '65 and '77 were a significant step above the norm.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
In '65, I was not "aware" enough to have any opinions of my own regarding Con Ed. Following '77, up to and including, multiple major brown-outs throughout the years, my opinion of Con Ed, while not necessarily negative isn't excessively positive either.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
The '65 blackout was the experience of a 12 year old, who was basically concerned with creature comforts, without awareness of the larger issues. The '77 blackout was experience by a young adult who, after seeing to immediate professional concerns, was able to appreciate the difference in the city and the people under extraordinary circumstances.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
No effect / same reliance

This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
It's possible. The populace was 12 years more sophisticated in blackout behavior; how many had lived through the previous one? I know I neither witnessed nor experienced that kind of behavior.

Cite as: James Pomper, Story #171, The Blackout History Project, 12 July 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/171/>.
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