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How Microsoft's Surface tablet got my family through a Hurricane Sandy outage

A thank you is owed to Microsoft for the Surface tablet's capable battery and USB ports, which helped my family maintain their sanity while waiting for the power to come back on after Hurricane Sandy.

We’re a cynical bunch up here in the greater New York City area, so when meteorologists started reporting that a major hurricane was headed our way for the last week of October, many of us were initially a bit skeptical. But the news started to get more and more dire as the storm, which became Hurricane Sandy, got closer after having already devastated parts of the Caribbean. It was Friday afternoon, while I was attending the Windows 8/Surface launch event in Manhattan, that Sandy was off the shore of Florida and horrible news started coming out of Cuba and the Bahamas. At that point, the computer models had also started projecting a more defined path for the storm that would lead it directly to our area. The initial skepticism turned to concern.

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That Sunday, my local Red Alert system phoned our home with a message that warned that Hurricane Sandy was bound to do major damage to our area. My family was not in a mandatory evacuation zone, but the Red Alert system warned that we would likely be hit by record flooding and of course high winds, which would wreak havoc on trees and power lines. In preparation for the storm, my wife and I stocked up on non-perishable foods and water. We also gassed up the cars, bought a stack of batteries for our flashlights, got our candles ready, charged up all of our mobile devices (including some recently retired smartphones), and put battery backups on a couple of important things in the house, like our basement sump pump and our daughter’s fish tank—when you’ve got 2- and 3-year-old girls, fish are important parts of the family. I also shored up our gutters, tied down the leaders, and removed any items from around our home that could easily get blown away by the strong winds. You can never be too prepared for an impending storm like Hurricane Sandy, but we did the best we could.

Thanks for sticking that full-sized USB port on the Surface tablet Microsoft. It was a real lifesaver.

On Monday, the outer portions of Hurricane Sandy hit. At first, the winds weren’t too crazy in my neighborhood and there wasn’t much rain either. As the day progressed, though, the winds got stronger and stronger and the rain picked up considerably. By mid-afternoon, things started to get a little scary, and then it happened: tree branches started to come down and we lost power. We immediately alerted our provider to the outage (I had their number stored in my phone already), but knew there was no chance anything would be done, for obvious reasons, until the wind and rain died down. That night, we put the girls to bed early, checked on our immediate family and friends, and hit the sack hoping the next day would bring some good news.

It didn’t. A number of deaths were reported and there was widespread damage and flooding. We were very lucky in our neighborhood, where most of the damage done was from downed trees, branches, and power lines. Areas further south got hammered, though, and some places that we loved growing up got nearly destroyed. A local amusement park where I worked as a teenager saw large portions of its boardwalk torn away; the theme park and adjacent ice casino were also flooded. Power was out for millions all over the area, and we’ve all seen the pictures from south Jersey. Needless to say, the effects of Hurricane Sandy will be felt for years to come.

In my little part of the world, our focus was on our home and little girls. Without power, we had no heat or hot water, and no refrigeration, oven or stove. We did have a gas grill, however, so warm meals were still a possibility. We focused on keeping the girls occupied and warm, and thankfully, the weather was cooperating somewhat. Temperatures did drop into the forties at night, but it was a few degrees warmer in the house; a couple of layers of clothes and some warm blankets helped. Since we had already charged all of our mobile devices, we were also able to check the news and go online when necessary, and we could stream some entertainment for the girls when the need arose. All in all, the first couple of days without power weren’t bad at all, especially in light of what others were going through.

By the night of the second day without power, the batteries in all of our devices had died or were nearly dead. Between my wife and me, we had four smartphones on hand: her personal HTC One X, my Galaxy S III, a retired Galaxy S II, and a Galaxy Note II I had to review. I had left the Microsoft event that previous Friday with a Surface tablet as well, but wasn’t using it much during the storm.

I decided to fire up the Surface, however, to see if I could charge up one of the phones while I left the tablet sitting idle. Of course, that worked, so I also plugged in my wife’s phone afterward, and then the spare phone, as necessary. All in all, we got a couple of full charges and a few partial charges out of the Surface and were able to stay connected and keep our kids entertained until the late the fourth day, when our power returned. It was a really small thing in the grand scheme of the storm, but afterward I appreciated that Microsoft decided to put a large battery and standard USB port on the Surface. I’m sure charging competing mobile device’s wasn’t high on Microsoft’s priority list when they decided to include USB on the Surface tablet, but I’m glad they did. It made getting through the storm and its after effects much easier for my little family at least.

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