“What’s going on?”

“I was just searching the library a bit.”

A dry January in New York City means you go almost entirely without your cell phone. An unfortunate side effect of Superstorm Sandy back in 2012 is the proliferation of underground utility tunnels, which hold phone signals that disappear underground after anything other than sunshine is summoned. The city has much of its electrical system above ground, but none of its vital infrastructure underground.

That so many phones were still in service during Sandy is an anomaly in today’s world. Cellphone service was out for days after the storm, and even on the hardest-hit areas, the network didn’t recover in full. This fact left many residents in a roughly two-mile radius of Wall Street unable to contact their homes and families. Some also had trouble contacting their bank accounts or other financial institutions. As the situation deteriorated, some Verizon customers were given a bill with a huge surge in charges, and some lost power and ran out of food.

This all amounted to a social emergency, an isolation crisis that many other cities worldwide would have experienced. New York City was the only city on Earth experiencing such a crisis at the time. During a time when phone companies were forced to cope with zero signals underground — or at least had to let some businesses run on generators — the largest city in the world was left in a state of governmental emergency.