Walking Home in a Blackout: 5 Lessons from New York City’s Blackout of 2019

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A Post in Honor of Jennifer Lopez’s 50th Birthday:

The second week in July I was in New York City for a concert. Not just any concert, mind you. It was JLo’s ‘It’s My Party’ concert celebrating her 50th birthday! It was a Saturday night in NYC, and I was at Madison Square Garden. My friend and colleague Erin Love, our Client Engagement Specialist, decided to get us tickets on a whim a few months back. It was a great weekend: there were beautiful, sunny New York City summer days, a good friend, and a fun time on tap for Saturday night: JLo’s concert!

The concert started off with signature JLo energy and action. World of Dance winners from a variety of seasons took the stage, with a DJ spinning tunes as the dancers lit up the stage for an incredible opening set of dancing.

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Then came JLo. She brings it when she performs, and dazzled with her opening act right up until….

the lights went out,

the speakers went silent,

and the theater went dark.

After a few moments in darkness the house lights came up, and the Building Engineer’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “Remain seated.” Then, JLo came onstage, spoke, and waved to her fans, but without a mic, no one could hear her.

There was a power outage across midtown Manhattan, and when the Engineer’s voice came across the loudspeakers for a second time, we were told to evacuate the building.

That is when 19,000 fans began to make their way from the arena and into a darkened mid-town Manhattan teeming with pedestrians, gridlock, honking cars, emergency vehicles with light and sirens, and a bit of tension.

Thousands of people were making their way back home through a blackout.

These boots were made for walking (2.5 miles in NYC’s blackout).

These boots were made for walking (2.5 miles in NYC’s blackout).

In our case that meant our hotel in Times Square, so we joined the throng heading in that direction.  

I noticed some things that night, as I hiked the two and a half miles back to my hotel (in black stiletto boots no less), pausing periodically to stop and direct traffic so that emergency vehicles could pass through the clogged roadways.

Here are my 5 Lessons from NYC’s Blackout 2019:

1.      Remain Calm.

This one was key all night long. People did not panic. To stay safe and help others in an emergency it is important to remain calm so you can think clearly, but more importantly so you don’t panic others. Fear spreads quickly. Remain calm.

 

2.      Watch for people moving “upstream.”

People follow the people in front of them, unless they don’t. Pretty much universally people were calm evacuating the building. But getting down the escalators was a bit of a challenge.  People quickly clogged the exits and no one was moving anywhere… except a few people who were coming back through the crowd and into the arena. I asked why as they passed by. (We had stayed back from the initial wave of people leaving so we didn’t get caught up in any panic.) “Because the crowd isn’t moving,” was the reply.

 

Those individuals who came back into the arena were looking for a different option. They asked staff about other exits. The people moving upstream didn’t let themselves get stuck.

 

3.      Find another way out.

Options are important. Just because you get sent in 1 directions does not mean that is the only direction. I have not been to Madison Square Garden before, so I was not familiar with the entrances and exits, but it was clear we were being directed out the way we initially came in. That is, until a few wise Garden staffers recognized the problem: with no power to the escalators people were not exiting the building quickly enough. They understood that this was an emergency evacuation, and began opening the emergency exit doors for us to use to walk down to the street.

 

4.      Help Out.

Traffic was, of course, a mess. At one point there were emergency vehicles trying to pass through an intersection, and a tour bus was the obstacle in the way. I am not someone to sit on the sidelines, so into the traffic I plunged. With the help of another passerby we directed traffic, navigating the cars to come as close together as they could so that the tour bus could move aside. Neither of us were trained professionals, but we did know how to help in the situation.

 

What you do to help out in a situation doesn’t need to be a big deal, but finding a way to positively contribute matters. Better still, now my NYC story isn’t just about the Blackout of 2019, it is: “The Day I Directed Traffic in NYC!”

 

5.      Make new friends. Meet people. Have some fun together!

Citizen M Hotel, Lobby Bar

Citizen M Hotel, Lobby Bar

Finally we were back at our hotel! But the adventure wasn’t over. While the power downstairs was on, they were still testing the elevators and bringing the AC back online. So Citizen M hotel staff ushered all their guests into the lobby bar and threw a giant party for us while we waited. I got to spend a few hours making new friends, learning where everyone was from, what their initial Saturday night in NYC plans had been, and what the next day, week, and in 1 case stage of life, looked like. It was a great time.

 

When you share an experience with others, reaching out to connect builds an instant sense of community. We had the whole patio talking before long.

So thanks, NYC, JLo, NYFD and NYPD, and especially the Citizen M staff for the great memories! It was a fantastic weekend, with great hospitality and resilient New Yorkers being themselves.

Happy Birthday, JLo!

A great weekend full of lessons learned with a phenomenal friend and coworker.

A great weekend full of lessons learned with a phenomenal friend and coworker.