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February 14, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, on the West Coast, I watched a 2000-mile-wide storm carve a path of destruction through the Midwest and Northeast. I hope everyone in those areas was able to stay warm and safe.
This massive winter storm caused serious problems in multiple industries. Wired and wireless phone networks were inundated with calls, and many tower sites lost commercial electricity. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power. Thousands of airline flights were cancelled for each day the storm progressed.
Seeing the storm's impact reminded me of the precautions many of our clients have taken by deploying monitoring tools. Interbel Telephone in Montana monitors their generator propane tanks to keep sites powered during snowstorms. Startec Global uses a multi-protocol master station in New York to keep their international network online. ATC Microwave got better visibility of equipment that's simply unreachable in the winter.
I publish these articles on the DPS website as a resource for you. In our modern world, lives depend on telecommunications. Networks must stay up, 911 services must be available, commercial power has to stay online, and all types of transit need to keep moving. Storms quickly become lethal if our infrastructure isn't resilient. remote monitoring and control of telecom networks, therefore, can really be a life-saving technology.
Just in the past week, I received some questions regarding just how important a network monitoring system (for example, NetGuardian remotes reporting to a T/Mon master station) is in a storm as powerful as the one that ravaged the Northeast and the Midwest not two weeks ago. I was asked how a network monitoring system could help save lives when the network is destined to fail under the stress of extreme weather?
While it is true that there are certainly some extreme cases (ex. hurricanes) where a telecom network is simply going to fail in some areas, and repair technicians won't be able to visit the site until the weather improves. That doesn't mean that remote monitoring and control becomes useless.
Even before a storm hits, a monitored network will be better prepared to endure stress. Backup generator fuel tanks are less likely to be low if they're remotely monitored (T/Mon can even provide automatic "low fuel" alerts), and routine maintenance of all sorts of equipment will occur more regularly.
During the storm itself, a company can use wind sensors and IP cameras to identify which sites are experiencing enough calm where a technician can be sent safely. Also, they can remotely switch a site over to backup systems as necessary, keeping the network online without endangering a technician at all.
After the storm (this is the most crucial period), repairs can be effectively prioritized with good information from a centralized master like T/Mon. The right technicians can take the right tools to the right sites in the right order. Minimizing the duration of outages that do occur is extremely important. The cost (in dollars and even lives for 911 and first responders) is measured by the length of time that the telecom network is down.
Don't regard outages/problems as all-or-nothing affairs. A network isn't simply up or down. Small issues will arise when the network experiences stress (like harsh weather). These small things add up gradually until they cause a major failure. A company with good remote monitoring and control systems in place can respond to these small issues early, before the customer/public notices any problem at all.
So that everyone can be prepared for future storms, would you please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) the techniques you use to keep your network online during extreme weather? (You can also submit your advice using the form below) How do you detect impending failures? How do you manage backup power generators and battery strings? What do you control remotely to avoid dangerous site visits in heavy snow?
Please share with me so that I can share with others. Send me email (email@example.com) with your tips and advice for high network uptime during major storms. I'll publish what I receive, so your ideas will help other people around the world to protect life-saving telecommunications.
Best regards (and stay safe),
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