- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

The arrival last Thursday of Hurricane Isabel brought massive rains and winds, destruction for hundreds of old trees, flooding in Old Town Alexandria and Annapolis, and more than a few lessons and surprises for computer users.

Information accessed: The greatest positive, without doubt, was the massive amount of information that was available as the storm headed toward land. Unlike any other major storm of its kind in recent years, there was an abundance of warning and pre-storm data to help people prepare for the worst.

This is the Internet — and your tax dollars — at work in a superb way. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is to be commended for making so much data available; Internet providers such as AOL and even Web pundit Matt Drudge deserve kudos for funneling down that data to millions of end users.

And when everything is over and we all have our various access services back in place, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more than a few home-made Web pages documenting the effect of Isabel. In my suburban Maryland neighborhood, there was more than one “ancient” tree felled by the mighty winds, and it would be nice to see some before-and-after Web sites recording that.

Computers OK in storm: Despite the ups and downs of electricity during the first hours of the hurricane, both main systems at “On Computers Central” were fine. As things began to heat up, I did the smart thing and shut the computers down. Thankfully, there were no surprises.

Based on this rather unscientific experiment using machines that aren’t the newest, it seems today’s computers can better handle such vagaries. Still, it’s wise to have a surge protector, and perhaps an uninterruptible power supply.

Dialup still a darling: With electrical power and phone service working soon after the worst of Isabel, a dialup connection was a true lifeline. This is another “standby” that a cable and broadband users should investigate.

Broadband bombs: It’ll sound like small potatoes to those readers still without electricity, or with a new “skylight” courtesy of a neighbor’s tree, but it still rankles. On Sunday evening, four days after the hurricane hit, my broadband Internet service, not to mention my cable TV, were still on the blink.

Getting information from Comcast Cable was an exercise in frustration. Recorded phone messages assured customers of “round the clock” repair efforts, yet by 8:30 a.m. Sunday, the firm had approximately 130,000 Montgomery County customers without service. And when did that choice bit of information become known? In my case, 10 hours later, after calling and speaking with a supervisor, helpfully located in Brockport, N.Y., just north of Syracuse.

It took 12 minutes of back-and-forth on the telephone for the supervisor to concede that, well, not having a way to reach technicians in the field for more current information was far from good “customer service.” Our cable Internet connection returned in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Even more amazing is the amount of Comcast cable plant that is above ground in Montgomery County, where so many homes have been built within the past 13 years. As franchise agreements come up for renewal, it would be a good idea for county officials to insist on buried cables and better storm preparedness.

• Email MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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