Cold Weather Emergency IT Planning for Growing Businesses

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Michael Singletary

Cold Weather Emergency Planning for Tech Businesses

As blizzard conditions, power outages from ice and snow-dragged lines, and other cold weather emergencies creep across the region, you need to have a plan for the worst parts of the season.

While some businesses can appreciate the off time and leave everything else to insurance, businesses with time-sensitive deadlines need every second they can spare. Here are a few cold weather emergency planning points for before, during, and after the storm to maximize your uptime.

Stabilize Power During Outages

If your business needs to stay open storms, expected outages, or any situation that could affect local power, you need to have a backup generator.

Backup generators are the first line of defense for emergency operations. Standard generators operate on diesel or gasoline, and can be configured to switch on or "kick over" when the main power fails.

Diesel generators are the dominant option because the fuel is consumed at a slower rate than gasoline. The diesel engine and gasoline engine combustion processes have stark differences that lead to different levels of wear and tear.

Diesel generators have less wear and tear due to factors such as:

  • No ignition process in diesel, which leads to better fuel efficiency.
  • A less volatile/damaging reaction with diesel, compared to the explosive reaction of gasoline.
  • Better lubrication for all areas that handle fuel in diesel systems.

No matter the type of fueled generator, you need to store the fuel on site. Diesel generators pull ahead again by having a longer shelf, meaning fewer wasted barrels of fuel and fewer refill trips.

There are multiple ways to activate a generator when power is lost. Ideally, the previous option of automatically switching to generator power when main power failure is detected would be best.

For many businesses, it's cheaper to use a manual switch to turn on generator power. This requires a bit of training, as everyone in the business should know how and when to turn on emergency power in case standard maintenance staff are incapacitated or otherwise unavailable during an emergency.

Solar power (photovoltaic) is becoming more viable and affordable, especially as a backup power option. Battery banks can be charged and used as reserves. The more batteries you have installed, the more time you have to save emergency information or perform crucial tasks.

Batteries used for building power can get fairly big, so you'll need a safe, dedicated storage area. Although photovoltaic industry batteries are designed to be more durable than your average AA or AAA battery, they are still susceptible to heat and puncture damage.

Solar systems need to be tested for battery failure and panel charging capabilities. Performing a battery bank test every month after normal business hours can keep your solar investment viable.

Do You Have A Data Backup Plan?

Power outages and damaged equipment lead to one of the biggest threats for businesses today: data loss. No matter what happens to corrupt or destroy your data, you need some sort of retrieval process.

Your first line of defense should always be backups. Businesses need a series of backups that cover more than one or two archives whenever a concerned leader or team member thinks about data recovery.

Modern data recovery is automated and can be scheduled in multiple ways. Get familiar with these backup types:

  • Full - This is the most complete and most recognizable backup type. It copies everything on a target system.
  • Incremental - This backup only updates information that has changed since the last backup method. Whether it's a full, incremental, differential, or other manual backup types, this is basically a quicker backup update.
  • Differential - This starts out similar to an incremental, since it picks up after the last backup of any type. After that update, it continues to save all data since the last backup.

Here is an example backup scheduled that uses backup files:

  • Daily: 7 archives. Incremental updates to the weekly backup.
  • Weekly: 3-4 archives per month. Incremental updates to the monthly backup.
  • Monthly: 12 archives per year. Full backup. Incremental is possible against a yearly full backup, but businesses with large (more than hundreds of gigabytes) of data changes run the risk of corrupted backups that need verification.

Each of these backups would be stores on their own storage media or as their own file on a cloud backup system. If one of your most recent backups failed for some reason, you would have gradual steps to find the most recent working backup.

Test your backups by loading the most recent backup onto a test system at least every 3-6 months. Some businesses test monthly depending on the importance of the data and how long it takes to perform a successful data reload.

Do You Have A Fallback Facility?

If your business is completely snowed in, power is gone, backup fuel is gone, or otherwise inoperable, you may need to take work somewhere else.

Satellite offices are often a fallback point of larger businesses, but what if you only have one office? Search for safe spots in not only your local area, but areas that aren't affected by your area's regular weather situations.

There are businesses that offer office space for rent, which can be used by you or your team while you wait out the emergency situation. The standard rental option include single offices, larger business suites with a reception and table area, and conference rooms.

Have you considered rental office space? Some are repurposed warehouses, while others are gutted office spaces in areas abandoned by former industry giants, and there may be office space shells left behind in areas that you could quickly lease or even buy. Entire departments have larger working space than some small businesses, allowing room for standard workstations and a few portable pieces of equipment.

If you have specialty equipment that doesn't fit within most buildings or require protection from public access, searching for old warehouses is a good idea. Look for warehouses and factories that have active rental signs and schedule a walkthrough.

You want to make sure that the abandoned area is still safe. Structural integrity, protection from the weather, and physical security such as fences and locks should be inspected. If you plan on using the warehouse for more than a few weeks, request lock changes and hire a site surveyor for a more in-depth structural check.

These fallback positions are where data backups matter. If your backups were not tested, you run the risk of failing to load backups or discovering that you've backed up the wrong data.

For failed backups, your choices are either abandon the project or spend additional time trying to salvage the corrupted or inaccessible data. It could be as simple as connecting a backup drive to an existing computer and having to dig through files, or as hard as hiring a digital forensics expert to piece everything back together.

Consider all of these emergency weather planning points while your business is still safe. By building contingency plans now, you and your team will have to think about what to do when everything goes wrong.

Good documentation and accurate training makes your business less likely to fail because of lost productivity, and may give you an edge over competitors affected by the same problem. For businesses that produce emergency goods, provide emergency services, or are a beacon of the community, closing doors for too long isn't an option.

Contact an IT solutions professional to discuss emergency planning and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Written by:

Michael Singletary
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I cover consumer technology, computers peripherals and full system reviews, and cybersecurity. Beyond just news and reviews, I write guides and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with different angles and writing tones. The voice can either be professional and tech-centric for tech experts, or more casual and get-to-the-point. It's all preference, and I can write for different preferences.
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