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FYI Journal

Surge 'n' Power--Protecting Your Equipment and Data
(updated 11/27/09)

You're on a deadline; it's late. You've been working for HOURS on your computer finishing up your report! Uh-oh...did the lights just dim? Then, silence--dead silence and darkness. The lights have gone out, the refrigerator isn't buzzing away, the heater blower isn't blowing, the ceiling fan slows down and stops. That's about when the cussing begins...

You just had a power failure and all your work is gone; evaporated into electrons and just a glowing scramble of letters retained on the retina. You start praying that there is a remnant of your work from your last "save" lurking in the TEMP folder.

Seconds tick by--maybe minutes--you can't tell since the clocks all stopped too and it's too dark to see your wristwatch. As you sit in the stillness you contemplate what to do and try to remember key points of your report so you can recreate the parts that were lost.

Just then the lights flicker on and the fan begins to turn, all the normal house noises resume and you smile while you wait for your computer to reboot...and wait and wait... You hit the power switch--nothing. Or, a critical failure, icons are missing, or you tried RESTORE and nothing works. Cussing resumes as you realize that not only is your report gone, but it looks like your computer just "ate it" too.

Sound familiar? TOO close to "real?" Just a nightmare--someone else's nightmare?

Similarly, a power surge or spike (when the lights get REALLY bright for a few seconds) can also close you down.

We are an electric dependent society. The power we use puts us at the mercy of the powers-that-be and fate. We'd be wise to remember Murphy's Law ("if anything can go wrong, it will and at the worst possible time," and O'Toole's Observation ("Murphy was an optimist") and be prepared like the Boyscouts.

Whether we are endeared or dependent of our televisions, microwaves, computers, heating/cooling, etc.--or even in some circumstances life support systems--we can take precautions to protect and preserve our valuable equipment, our sanity, and even our lives.

  • If you know a severe storm is approaching you can scramble to unplug your equipment. Make sure that the end of the power cord is as far away from the outlet as possible--lightning looks for easy paths--which may be jumping from your outlet to the cord laying on the floor!
  • Many computers get "fried" via the communications hardware.  Old style modems or DSL connected to the phone jack are a clear path to zap your computer.  Cable modems and satellite are vulnerable too since they have a electrical connection.

However, unplugging everything isn't practical in most circumstances. We can't unplug our furnaces in the winter, our air conditioners in the summer, our refrigerators, especially if we are at the store when an outtage or storm occurs.

For years our family has purchased power strips with circuit breakers or surge protecting plug-in adapters. This is MINIMAL! (Trust me on this!) They're better than nothing, except for the false security they offer.

Several years ago--AFTER we "fried" a very expensive television--we were fortunate and wise to purchase and install a whole house surge protector. It was not a costly investment--especially compared to the value of all our electronic devices!

Protection doesn't stop there...

More Options?

In addition to installing minimal devices you should also look into the more elaborate power or surge protectors available.

Yes, they are more expensive, but weighed against what is at stake, they are very practical!  Today, the protection of the hardware is almost secondary to the time to Re-Install all software and backed up data files. (You have been backing up files, right?  External harddrive, burnable CDs?) When you calculate in the time it takes to re-install and reconfigure software, you've lost a block of hours--or even days.  It's worth the extra money for a quality surge protector AND POWER BACK-UP (called UPS--Uninterrupted Power Supply.)

UPS come in various specifications and price ranges. Especially important for computer users is a combination power back-up and surge protector including a phone protector if your computer/printer does double duty as a FAX. The surge protector does just what the name implies--they have various ratings for speed of response (nanoseconds), energy ratings (how many joules it can handle--50 being low end, going up to beyond 200 joules), some include thermal fuses, and some come with substantial warranties.

The power back-up is the savior of computer users. If you want to and can afford to go "all-out" you can get a power supply that'll keep you up and running for hours. The more realistic and cost effective, is a power back-up that will give you enough time (say, 15 minutes) to gently save your work and gentle power-down the computer. (Remember, when using these power back-ups that you need to have both your CPU AND your monitor plugged in. I knew a colleague that plugged in their computer but forgot the power cord of their monitor. The computer stayed on, but they couldn't see the screen to negotiate the save and the shut down!)

Read the Specs on the packaging, it will give you an idea of the amount of time you have to shut down depending on monitor typoe and size, operating system, etc.

During the ICE STORM of JANUARY 09, I had my computer shut down in a jiffy.  AND there was enough battery back-up charge stored to charge my cell phone and run a 40W light bulb for a few minutes so we could re-group for the emergency.

Our "defensive plan" includes the whole house protector, plus a few additional plug-in style protectors.

For spikes and blackout/brownouts your unit should reset--hopefully it comes with a "test" button. However, if your home takes a hit from a "feeler" the unit should perform it's task and save your equipment. In so doing, it will be damaged (instead of your equipment) and you'll need to replace the protection device.

If your home takes a direct "strike" -- well, you probably won't have a thing to worry about--literally! (If you catch my drift.)

DON'T rely on these things to protect you from electrocution. Remember, you can replace equipment, you can't replace life and limb. The safest policy is to not use equipment during a storm.

Here are just a few places on the Internet you can explore power/surge protection devices:

More Lightning Info

 WEB HOSTING!

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This site was created by Joyce K. Meyer, on October 26, 1997.
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