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July 13, 2002
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1977 (New York City Blackout)
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?
I was 10 years old, living in New Rochelle, New York, in Westchester County, which is 20 miles north of Manhattan. I distinctly remember listening on a pocket radio to the New York Mets playing the Chicago Cubs in a night gamr at Shea Stadium. I can remember taking the radio into the bathroom, as I began to brush my teeth. The radio play-by play announcer said suddenly that the lights in the Stadium had gone out. The lights in our house were all on still. Apparantly there was some emergency lighting in the corridors of the stadium which allowed the fans to exit safely. It was only a matter of several more minutes until our house too went dark. I remember it being a very hot night, and with the air conditioner off, we had to open all the windows in the house. I proceeded to go to bed (it was about 9:30 or 10 PM), and took to bed my transistor radio which was now tuned to the all news stations (both WINS and WCBS) which had begun operating their transmitters on emergency back-up power. It was interesting listening during the night, as stories of people trapped on trains, elevators, etc. started to trickle in. By the time I awoke in the morning I believe we had our power back. I remember watching the local news on TV that evening, and there was a beautiful scene filmed by a helicopter flying above the NY skyline, including of course, the World Trade Center - just at sunrise, with every light extinguished in all the skyscrapers.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I believe it was due to very poor contingency planning on the part of Con Edison.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Blackouts usually have a root cause in one catastrophic failure i.e. a transformer blows up or fails, a power line is cut, or an entire grid is affected by lightening or electrical storms. The challenge for an electrical distribution company, is to isolate this failure before a "domino effect" occurs.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
I only lived through the 1977 blackout.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I think I explained this in the earlier secion.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I realized that this could cause people in poor, urban areas to become rowdy and mischevious, mostly out of despair and boredom.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
This was much more widespread and for a longer period of time. The blackouts I have since experienced in my life, were never more than 30 minutes to an hour.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
It lowered my opinion of their competency.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
Only experienced the 1977.
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:
I can't compare to what occurred in 1965 - I was not yet born.
Story #172, The Blackout History Project, 13 July 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/172/>.
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