Glow Sticks Shine During New York City Blackout

The Inexpensive Party Favors Demonstrate One Hotel’s Excellent Crisis Preparedness   

7/15/19 – – On Saturday evening, multiple residential and commercial neighborhoods on Manhattan’s west side experienced a blackout for more than five hours. Starting at around 6:45, restaurants, subway stations, hotels, Broadway theaters, office towers and apartment buildings lost power. Street lights and traffic signals weren’t functioning, leaving thousands of pedestrians – residents and visitors – wondering outside in the dark.

Comfortably watching the TV news coverage of this evolving crisis from my unaffected suburban New York home, I noticed something that brought back memories of 4th of July celebrations with my son and daughter: glow sticks. Many of the people interviewed on-air by news teams were holding brightly illuminated glow sticks. Some were also wearing glow necklaces. Based on past family outings, I had considered these inexpensive light sources as nothing more than party favors. But as the media coverage continued, it became clear that glow sticks have a far more serious use.

A July 13 Washington Post article on the blackout showcased one hotel’s deployment of glow sticks: “At the Wellington Hotel (Seventh Avenue at 55th Street) guests filed out in the dark holding glow sticks and gathered on the sidewalk.” Turns out many hotels, as well as large apartment buildings, keep a regular stock of glow sticks on hand to be passed out when the lights go out. Because they require no batteries, generate light without heat (or a spark), have a long shelf life, are waterproof and easy to use (just bend and shake them to bring forth the light), these inexpensive devices are perfect for emergency situations; much safer and more practical than candles or flashlights.

My praise for glow sticks is driven not by a sense of nostalgia or scientific curiosity (I did, however, discover online that the light is produced through a chemical reaction called “chemiluminescence”), but by a desire to learn from this excellent example of pragmatic crisis preparedness.

One of the seven elements measured by the Crisis Preparedness Quotient is “Planning and Practice.” A well-designed and properly executed crisis drill will yield valuable answers to important questions, including: “Were areas of needed process improvement or policy reform identified during the drill, and what corrective actions are we going to take?” The Wellington Hotel’s distribution of glow sticks to guests could have been a remedy identified during a response drill simulating the challenges of a power failure on a hot summer night (it was in the upper eighties and humid on Saturday evening). If during such an enactment someone had asked, “what can we do to make the guests safer if we have to have them leave our building and go out onto the dark streets,” it’s quite possible the availability of glow sticks would emerge as an effective preparedness option.

I hope your company’s crisis drills have been that illuminating. Going to school on New York’s blackout of 2019, make a point to look for your own glow sticks at the end of every crisis-preparedness exercise.

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