I am sitting at the Muse Hotel in Midtown Manhattan with twenty colleagues from Edelman New York (image above). We are down in a basement conference room working away on client assignments, next door to refugees from UBS. We are the dispossessed of Lower Manhattan, as electricity was cut off on Monday evening during the storm, without a date certain for return to our office.
The stories being told today are of doing without heat, water and light for the past four days, of taking in friends from downtown (with pets of course), of walking as far as four miles to work, of finding power sources in bizarre locations such as Grand Central Station (opened last night for first time in three days). One of our NYC executives, Evelyn, said that she has spent as much as four hours waiting for her chance to charge her cell phone at an outlet at New York University downtown because the school has a generator (she persuaded a kitchen worker to let her in). Cell service has been quite spotty downtown – texts are delayed or not even delivered. Jeff Piccarillo took a cold shower at 3 A.M. in his Hicksville home, drove to the train at 4:30 A.M., left at 5:30 A.M. and hiked from Penn Station up to the Muse Hotel at 46th street as Long Island has no power. Our CFO, Vic Malanga, has a home on the Jersey Shore that had three feet of water – he took a portable pump and got rid of the fluid – counting himself lucky.
It has been a bit of the Perils of Pauline for our excellent IT staff. The email servers for London, NYC, Russia and Turkey went down yesterday in the early morning as the generator failed at our outsourced supplier, Internap. We were out for about two hours, using work-arounds such as posting notices for our Halo launch in the UK on Twitter and Facebook. Our webmail system has otherwise been bullet-proof. Our IT lead at the hotel, Josh, thought ahead to bring surge protectors as our little conference room lacks the necessary outlets.
The Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, has done an excellent job of communicating. He has regular press briefings early in the day and again at 6 P.M. for prime time TV news. His content is straight talk – don’t drive, stay out of the parks, evacuate areas in risk. His mainstream media presence is ably mirrored in social media, with frequent tweets and Facebook postings. The emergency alert system on mobile phones was also employed early and often. Bloomberg has been paired with the CEO of the key utility, Con Ed, who has been somewhat less than definitive about restoration of power, and with the head of the mass transit, MTA, who again is unable to give any specific answer to the key question on rehabilitation of the over hundred year old system.
The bizarre dividing line at 39th Street cannot be overstated at night (left), with life by flash light and candle. Cops encourage you to get home, to stay off the streets in vibrant areas such as Chelsea and Soho. Will lives at West 10th Street and Greenwich; it is pitch black from 6:30 P.M., interrupted last night only by a family spat. Dueitt lives on 7th Street on Avenue A and saw the generating station at 14th Street and the East River explode at 7 P.M. on Monday. She said, “It felt like a war zone with two large booms. It was the freakiest thing I have ever experienced.”
I have tried my best to keep on with my normal schedule, using my feet instead of the subway to move around. Yesterday (Wednesday) was absolute gridlock in the city, as the only way was cars, supplemented by bus. NYC felt more like Mumbai, with no traffic lights in the southern end, refuse from the storm along the West Side Highway and intermittent access to the web. I am filled with admiration for the work ethic of the people of Edelman, who are determined to serve clients no matter what the obstacles. As I hiked to a breakfast meeting along with thousands of other New Yorkers crowding Broadway and other main thoroughfares, looking up to see the remains of a crane suspended 50 floors above the ground (right), hanging by wires, you are reminded of the frailty of the human in the face of nature.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the email server supplier as Rackspace.