An ounce of prevention
As I sit in my comfortable office chair to write this column, I reflect back on a most uncomfortable 2003 trip to Cleveland. I arrived on a sweltering August afternoon to find the city’s power grid down. The city seemed smartly prepared for a power outage from a traffic standpoint, so I had little trouble navigating to the hotel — kudos to Cleveland’s traffic division. But once at my destination, I found my hotel had no backup power.
As the evening turned to night, the building grew hot, muggy and dark. Some guests were panicky, and I could feel the city’s anxiety level grow. The streets turned spooky. The sounds of sirens going off in the blackness rekindled memories of the 2001 terrorist attacks that brought our country to a halt and left me stranded more than 2000 miles from home. Was this another attack?
No. It was the blackout of 2003 that shut down most of the northeastern United States.
I used my laptop until the battery ran out of juice. My cell phone kept working. But without power to charge the battery (already running low on power), I had to use it sparingly. In retrospect, it could have been worse. In New Orleans, many cell phones failed because the infrastructure was taken out by Hurricane Katrina.
Huge multi-state blackouts are historic events that serve as large-scale wake-up calls. But smaller blackouts that don’t make the front-page headlines happen more often and can create just as much havoc on a micro basis.
Emergency backup preparedness is not something to limit to mission-critical agencies. All sorts of everyday businesses, from hotels to theaters to malls to factories, or any place where large numbers of people could be unexpectedly thrown in the dark, should be prepared as a business — and civic — duty. A blackout is something many companies fear but fail to adequately plan for — especially when it comes to communications. The hotel in Cleveland was no exception.
A two-way communications system independent of the power grid should be an important part of any private, public or government emergency plan. Whether out in the field or within a single building or campus, the reliability and cost savings of owning and maintaining a private, two-way communication system makes good emergency-planning sense. Plus, because there are no monthly fees with a private system, it often makes good budgetary sense.
There is great opportunity and need for radio sellers and service providers to think of the complete communications solution when dealing with a client’s needs. Instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all solution that may require expensive equipment and recurring fees — and which may be subject to busy signals — a custom solution should be within reach. Modular radio systems that before may have been too great a challenge for many dealers to tackle are now possible, given new turnkey services available to them.
A communications system is only as good as its power supply. During the 2003 blackout, it was reported that in New York City alone, more than half of the hospital generators failed. Radio dealers and service providers need to make sure clients test their backup generators on a regular basis, as well as the communications equipment itself.
Here in the Seattle area where I live, we just experienced an exceptionally severe winter. In December, an Arctic cold front brought dangerously cold temperatures and a strong windstorm that knocked over trees and power lines with equal abandon. Many areas were still without power after nearly a week.
Will you be ready?
Chris Lougee is vice president at Icom America and leads its land mobile radio division.