In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the City of Bethlehem deployed generators to key intersections to aid in the flow of traffic after the sweeping power outages. We wanted to provide the public service of enabling people to move safely through the most heavily traveled areas and to keep the roadways open to get to St. Luke’s Hospital.
When we placed our generators at these intersections, we knew that we would be leaving a hot commodity exposed, so the generators were chained to the light poles. We didn’t expect what happened next.
We began to receive calls from concerns citizens that people were hanging around the generators looking as if they were going to steal them. Upon investigation, we learned that no one was looking to steal them, but instead they were charging their cell phones, iPads and other portable devices. The generators usually have four electrical outlets and we are using one to power the traffic signal. The remaining outlets were free and were being used by resourceful(?) people to keep their electronics charged.
This raised a good question. Is that theft? Maybe. But what is the cost? The generators must be run to power the traffic lights and it arguably does not take any more fuel to attach a small cell phone charger to it. The decision was simple, let them charge away. In these times, the cell phone/iPad is one of the only ways to stay in touch with the world when the power fails. We even resort to Twitter and Facebook to try to get as much information out the public as possible. Maybe in the future, we should require everyone to follow us on Twitter to get a charge on their device.