Monday, February 21, 2011

Single Point of Failure. When the lights go out.

Vicki here on a cold Monday.

When I was in the computer biz we talked a lot about a single point of failure. And how to ensure we didn’t have one.

A single point of failure is where one entire system can be shut down by one fault or mistake. Say a tree falls over and knocks down the wire bringing power to your house. Your stove and TV and computer won’t work. Doesn’t matter that the stove and TV and computer are perfectly fine. They’ve failed at the single point of failure. It would be better, of course, if you had multiple wires bearing electricity into your house, perhaps a generator also. The failure of one cable wouldn’t bring everything grinding to a halt.

I am thinking of this today because my furnace isn’t working. It’s two (TWO) years old and I came home late Saturday after being away for two days to find a very, very chilly house. Now, I’m saved because the heating system in my house doesn’t have a single point of failure. I have a propane fireplace AND a wood burning stove. I mainly rely on the furnace when I’m away or if the night is very cold.

I then began thinking about what single points of failure I have in the house. Electricity is of course the big one.

If the electricity failed, I’d have no water, because I have a well, and the water comes up from the well by means of a pump. An electrically operated pump. In the winter I have snow that I could melt on the wood stove. In the summer I have a swimming pool – wouldn’t want to drink that water though. I can walk to a lake if need be and carry home a bucket or two. I have several big bottles of drinking water stored in the garage. That should last me a week or so. I don’t think I’d be too concerned about bathing.

Food: I have a hand operated can opener. Telephone: I have an old-fashioned one that doesn’t run on electricity just for that purpose.

The contents of the freezer would begin to thaw after a few days, but I’d have plenty to eat until then! Unless it’s mid-summer in which case the freezer is pretty empty. But I live in farm country and could always crawl thought a farmer’s field in search of a tomato or something. Don’t know about chasing after a chicken with a hatchet though.

I have a laptop and a netbook, which combined have about 8 hours of power. So I’d have eight hours of writing I could do. (Of course the internet access would go out with the electricity.) Then I’d be hunting for pens and pads of paper. Lots of paper here, so I’d be okay.

Reading? Incredibly important – remember you have no TV or radio or DVD player working. I have a house stacked with books. Many of which I’ve never read, but always intend to one day. So the loss of power to my e-reader would be irrelevant.

E-readers can store about two weeks of power. Should be enough for any emergency. But, that’s if your reader is fully charged when the power fails. Suppose it has, say ten minutes of power left? And you don’t have a house stacked with paperbacks? Horror!

This exercise in evaluating my home is not a moot point. We’re incredibly vulnerable these days, so dependent on outside forces, such as the power company, to keep our lives going.

My daughter lives on the 26th floor of a high-rise and they lost power for two days. Now she’s young and fit and can manage 26 floors. (She walked up after work) But what about the elderly? Or if you’ve got a broken foot? And after about 12 hours the backup power in her building went out. No lights in the stairways or hallways. She was then trapped because she wasn’t going to try to manipulate 26 floors in the pitch dark. She didn’t even own a flashlight. And her cell phone power was faaddddiinnng…… (For her birthday I bought her a camping lantern).

Are you prepared, even for a temporary emergency? I’d like to know any tips or hints you have.


Rick Blechta said...

We have become so dependent on electricity that it's really quite frightening. If anyone wanted to bring down a city or any area in North America, they'd just have to bring down the transmission lines. End of story.

The Achilles Heel of Rome was their marvelous system of aqueducts. When the "barbarians" invaded, they knocked down a link in all the aqueducts and that was the end for the Romans.

"Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

We have made ourselves completely vulnerable.

As for Vicki's question, we have several flashlights, lots of candles (and I mean LOTS), a dynamo/solar powered radio (AM & FM) and food we preserve every year as well as a very well-stocked freezer.

Cindy Cotter said...

There are some really cool flashlights built with prongs so you can leave them plugged into your electric outlets. They go on automatically when the current goes off, so they're easy to find.

A first aid kit is a good idea, and large trash bags can be used for trash, human waste, and even body bags.

Camping equipment may be helpful, too, if for nothing else than cooking all that food that's thawing in your freezer. After the last earthquake in the San Fernando Valley, the whole place smelled like a big cookout with people camping in parks and front yards.

Vicki Delany said...

Thanks for your tips, Cindy. I have one of those flashlights. And Rick's suggestion of a non-electricy dependent radio is a good one. You need to know what's going on.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Everyone should have a hand crank powered radio. No worrying about the state of the batteries. A good one will get AM/FM and emergency weather channels. Most have a built in flashlight or lantern. AND many have a port where you can plug in your cell phone (might need to buy a cable) and re-charge it off the crank generated power.

By the way, if you think you don't have to worry about downed phone lines because you have your cell; remember, a major disaster will take out all the cell towers, too.

Donis Casey said...

I think about water a lot out here in the desert. I live in the middle of a huge urban area, which is scary enough, but now water? We keep a supply of 2.5 gallon water jugs, and we are not too far from some park lakes. Fortunately, there is a system of canals through the Phoenix area - originally dug by the Anazasi, those smart people. I've thought about writing a story based on the idea of a worldwide electricity failure. I'd like to say it would be science fiction, but I fear it might not be that fictional.

Hannah Dennison said...

Great post, Vicki. I've been thinking about how foolish I must be storing my entire life on my laptop computer. But that aside, living in earthquake country I always have an emergency pack in my car - water, ghastly protein bars, blankets, running shoes and extra socks. A solar powered radio is crucial.