Hurricane Ian Emphasizes the Importance of Digital Access

Hurricane Ian Emphasizes the Importance of Digital Access

Posted on November 10, 2022 by Cheri Coryea, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
Just 30 miles south of Sarasota, Hurricane Ian decided to turn a perfectly beautiful part of the Gulf Coast of Florida into a path of destruction that leaves us doubting Mother Nature's real meaning. Sanibel and Captiva islands and north Fort Myers Beach were rendered unrecognizable, and connectivity was lost in more ways than one.

Days after Hurricane winds died down, the wrath and surge of water devastated communities in our region like North Port, Port Charlotte, Myakka City, and Arcadia. Prior to the Ian, residents used everyday technology like cell phones, computers, tablets, and big-screen televisions to stay connected and follow the storm projections. Having the ability to use their technological tools meant having internet/broadband connectivity. Connectivity helps you to prepare for the upcoming weather emergency, follow the storm's path through newscasts, and communicate with your family, friends, and coworkers. All it takes is one big gust of wind, rain, or the combination of the two to knock out your power and leave you defenseless for days on end, wondering what will happen next.

Thinking about those who don't have connectivity on a regular day brings me back to the importance of stable, reliable connectivity. Our DA4A team shared their experiences around access and connectivity during Hurricane Ian and how they managed to regain their connectivity. Here's what they had to say when asked about the impact their access or lack of access to the internet, devices, and skills support had pre, during, and post-hurricane Ian.

Lauren Turner, One of the Cs and a HurriCane
Of the Patterson Foundation's Five Cs: Caring, Connecting, Collaborating, Contributing, Creating, caring was one through Hurricane Ian that I needed the most. Here in Sarasota, we fared much better than our neighbors down south; however, there were still immense challenges. As the lead for the telehealth and teletherapy research project, I felt the lack of digital connectivity to my care and assistance in the caring of my aging grandmother with dementia to be detrimental at times. I am blessed to have an incredible mental health counselor who, via phone, checked in on me to discuss my fear and anxiety through the storm. However, once we lost digital connectivity -- internet, phone service, power -- I no longer had her as a lifeline. There were long nights during the storm when I didn't know what to do or how to help. The storm at that point had robbed us of internet connectivity altogether, and I felt helpless with no resources as I am clearly not an RN or specialist when it comes to caring for people with dementia. I couldn't use the internet to show her the storm's path to help her fears; I couldn't tell her anything about the weather or the power outage because there was no way to contact anyone or use the internet to look anything up. Three days of lack of connectivity felt like a lifetime. Imagine those who have to live each day without digital connectivity….especially those who need telehealth and teletherapy services. I felt that need during Ian too, and it's vital to continue finding ways to make digital access to healthcare accessible and equitable.

Rachel's Hettinger, My First Hurricane
I have only lived in Florida for five months. Prior to that, I lived in Indiana and never had to worry about a hurricane before. There were ample resources on how to prepare, however, what scared me was a few colleagues who are long-time Floridians who usually said they aren't scared, but this one scared them. Even so, my husband and I sheltered in place as we weren't in an evacuation zone. In the morning, the day Ian was supposed to hit, we lost power, and it hadn't even gotten bad outside yet. This made me worry until we got power back about five hours later. However, we had no internet. No internet meant no working, no watching tv, and no loading the news on our phones. I couldn't even watch my instructional video on how to crochet. Surprisingly we kept power throughout the entire storm that evening and the next day. At this moment, I was grateful that my husband and I were such board game and video game fanatics, but this was also a reality check. If I can't work without the internet or do a hobby or even have cell service to load the news, what do people who typically don't have digital connectivity do? If anything good can come out of a natural disaster, it's igniting more awareness about the importance of something as crucial as a digital connection.

Kellie Alexander, Connecting Through Technology
The Patterson Foundation shared a Google sheet with the contact information of all TPFers, which was presented to me when I first began as a TPF Fellow before we were even aware of Ian or other possible hazards. Thanks to this form, and TPF's prepared and caring nature, I received text messages throughout the storm from Fellows and a phone call the morning after Ian passed from TPF President and CEO Debra Jacobs to ensure my family and I were safe. Having access to the internet, skills to use google sheets, and a device to enter my status as "SAFE" ensured I was connected even with a high category 4 hurricane.

Kiarra Louis, Playing Catch Up
Hurricane Ian emphasized just how necessary each of the three essential elements of digital access is. Thankfully, my family and I evacuated our flood zone before the hurricane hit. During and after the storm, it was challenging to stay connected to learn what was happening, the extent of Ian's damage, or even communicate with concerned relatives up north. And even when I was cleared to come home, which I was grateful to have one to come back to, I found myself in a current state of catch-up, trying to figure out what I had missed. Although it was only a couple of days, it had felt like months. In the aftermath of Ian, many individuals and communities are stepping up to offer various forms of support. However, I can't help but notice that accessing many of these resources depends on our ability to connect to the internet, our possession of some device, and our knowledge of how to use it to access resources like disaster assistance. Digital technology affords people an opportunity to connect, but also to access vital resources!

Cheri Coryea, Riding It Out From the Midwest
Preparations for the Hurricane started early at my house, but as usual, the old saying "A watched pot never boils" seemed more appropriate. I had committed to present the "More Than Money, Digital Access for All Beyond the Check" session at the Indiana Philanthropic Alliance Conference on September 26th in Indianapolis, Indiana, so off I went leaving my family behind to deal with the elements. By Wednesday, they had lost power, and telephone service was spotty. Since I was out of state, I had no trouble using my iPad to tune into Spectrum Bay News 9, and I watched in horror as it looked like Ian would make landfall right on top of my home and TPF family. I communicated with Michael Zimmerman, a DA4A team member, who had evacuated Sarasota to a safer location. We worked throughout the week to plan the first workshop of the National Philanthropy Scan as if there was nothing wrong at all. I watched the weather updates continually and could relay important information to my family via text message (all they had to communicate with). Once the airport flight restrictions were lifted, I could get back to Tampa and then home, where the power magically came on when I walked into the door. Had it not been for the fact that I was in a location where my digital access was in complete operation, our first National Philanthropy Scan Workshop would have been canceled. We rely so heavily upon our internet access, cell phones, and emails. If going through a natural disaster and losing access to all emergency communications doesn't force you to have a battery-operated weather radio on hand, then I don't know what will.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.