The Value of Emergency Planning, Wherever You Are
Rob McNelly reflects on how an event this summer reminded him to always be prepared.
By Rob McNelly10/13/2020
A transformer blew, leaving 33 houses in my neighborhood without power. Luckily temps were "only" in the mid-90s at the time. At the moment the power went out, my distance-learning high school son and remote worker wife were forced offline. Both use desktop computers without any type of UPS. I was fortunate to have a laptop with a battery. While my docking station and external monitors were useless, I could at least use a cellular hot spot, manage the power settings to conserve power on my laptop, and suspend the machine when necessary.
That outage lasted a few hours. But with hurricanes and fires knocking out power and disrupting lives around the country these days, it's smart to consider your options should you find yourself in this situation. What would you do if your whole city or region loses power for an extended period? Running a desktop may not be possible, but smaller devices like phones, tablets and laptops could still be managed, assuming of course that other pieces of infrastructure like cell towers are still functional.
Obviously work may not be your top priority during an outage, but having the capability to communicate is vital regardless. When the power goes out, you're looking for ways to generate and store electricity, and deliver that electricity to your devices. The easiest way to get juice is to use a simple power inverter that can be plugged into a cigarette lighter outlet in your vehicle. I've been on camping trips where I was able to log in and remotely solve urgent client issues because I brought my laptop and had good cellular coverage. A DC charger that bypasses the loss that comes from the inefficiency of converting to AC power via the inverter could also come in handy. With either solution, be sure to maintain the vehicle battery via the alternator. You don't want to drain your starter.
There are other power options. RV users are familiar with the concept of deep cycle house batteries, be they lead acid, gel, AGM, or lithium ION. These longer-lasting batteries can also be used as a stand-alone power supply. Of course they still require periodic recharging; that can be accomplished with a vehicle alternator, a gas burning generator, or even solar panels.
On that note, portable solar generators are becoming popular. They're essentially battery banks (from the likes of Jackery. Bluetti, or Yeti) that can be recharged from a wall or vehicle outlet, or solar panels.
If you're thinking big picture, there are ways to power your entire home, or at least your larger appliances. Whole house generators are one solution, or you could consider something like Tesla's Powerwall mixed with solar panels. It all comes down to the problems you're trying to address, the risks you face from not having electricity, and of course, your budget.
I generally take my electric utility for granted, but my recent experience reminds me of the value of emergency planning. Knowing that alternative power sources are available, whether I'm working from home or out camping, provides peace of mind.
Rob McNelly is a senior AIX solutions architect doing pre-sales and post-sales support for IBM Premier Business Partner Meridian IT Inc.