How I helped rescue a company with no power or internet and had them serving clients in less than 24 hours.
Follow my journey to help you plan better and recover stronger when the next disaster strikes.
Let's face it. No matter how hard you plan, it is tough to anticipate everything that can possibly go wrong. Will your employees be so consumed by caring for their families that they will be unable to make it to the office? Will you even be able to get gas? Will other businesses you depend on be available, or will they be stuck just trying to meet their basic daily needs?
For two weeks in 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, we found ourselves without electricity or internet and could only obtain spotty cell service. In addition, streets were flooded, live power lines in the street, and traffic lights were out. As a result, there was no easy way for me to serve my clients properly.
While I was finally able to get a generator to my office to facilitate internet access, it took me multiple days to get the basics in place and my support systems operational. Even then, I struggled to ensure my family was comfortable (and my employees' families). No milk, nor any fresh products of any kind could be found for weeks. Publix had no generators at the time, although now they do. Gas stations did not have generators or generator hookups back then; however, all gas stations near major highways must have them by law now. These issues resulted in quite a mess. It took a while for any normalcy to return.
Back then, I made a conscious decision amid that chaos that I would develop systems and a strategy in preparation for the next large disaster. And, when you talk about disasters in Florida, we all know that it is not an "IF IT HAPPENS" but a "WHEN IT HAPPENS" scenario.
I am in the IT Support business. People often say to me, "Well, you are in the cloud; you can go and work from anywhere." They also say the same about my clients, which is valid to some extent. However, no one considers that while your data may be in the cloud, your business usually is not. With a few exceptions, most companies need to be able to help their clients in their city. You may be able to see a physician via telemedicine, but if your arm is broken, you need "hands-on" service. If you are a lawyer, you may be able to file and handle many things electronically, but highly stressed clients still want to see you. You may need to survey the damage that pictures cannot adequately convey. Your clients may not have the technology to be able even to reach you electronically. They may have limited power or internet.
The moral of the story is that the best business continuity and disaster recovery plan should include the ability to get your business back up and running somewhere in or near your town, as this is how you can be most effective for your clients.
When I began searching for solutions, I asked myself, "What is it, at minimum, that I absolutely must have to operate somewhere near my office?" Whatever solution I came up with needed to be portable and mostly self-sustaining for at least two weeks. That is about when gas and food started rolling in and becoming available without waiting in long lines. I also wanted to be comfortable so that I was less concerned about my daily needs for living and so that I could think better under pressure. Non-perishable food and water are a given. But what do I actually need to be able to work?
Thinking back to my experience in 2005, I had a generator and plenty of gas, but the internet at my home was down. Since it was up at my office, I was able to get another generator there, which powered up all of my equipment. I soon discovered that the Florida sun is cruel and punishing without air conditioning (who knew?). Sure, I had internet and power, but I was dripping with sweat and worried my equipment would overheat. It was livable but definitely a miserable work environment. I knew I had to solve this problem if I wanted an optimal work environment.
Another issue I faced involved how quickly the generator burned through gas. Even though I had planned ahead and had several portable containers of gas, I found myself running low after a week. So, just like everyone, I had to search all over and sit in lines waiting to get my "allocation" of gas for that day, which meant less time was available to help my family and my clients.
Based on this experience, I knew I needed to put together a "kit" with reliable power, internet, and air conditioning. So I came up with the following:
- Power: I wanted a completely portable generator, but powerful enough to run everything in my house except the central air conditioner. After hours of research and talking to several experts, I decided on a Honda EU7000is. It is a 7000-watt generator that runs for 16 hours on 5 gallons of gas. Although it is much more expensive than the units you will find at Home Depot, it is fuel injected, so it "sips" gas, and it has an inverter which is better for electronics. Additionally, you can hold a conversation in a normal tone standing next to the generator because it is super quiet. Since this system is on wheels, I can push it up a ramp into my pickup truck with help. I had no idea where I would end up deploying this kit, so complete portability was a huge requirement. Honda EU7000iS Super Quiet Inverter Generator | Honda Generators
- Internet: Now that I had a good, clean power source, the next step was to select an internet provider that would be available no matter where I decided to deploy my kit. I thought about cellular hot spots, but I remembered that cellular was unreliable since many towers were destroyed or their generators failed. I knew Dish network had an internet service; however, based on past experience, I found it slow and with horrible latency. Finally, I recalled hearing of a new service called "Starlink," but when I checked my area, it was unavailable. Nevertheless, I was able to get this service by asking for the "RV" version. The "RV" version of this service is slower, but it is not restricted to one particular area. I tested it, and to my surprise, it was terrific. In my tests, I ran my entire house, streamed TV, and downloaded huge files. It was shockingly faster than my 200mbps Comcast connection. I finally had the necessary internet connection capable of being used anywhere and at any time. https://www.starlink.com/rv
- Air Conditioning: It may seem petty to complain about sweating if all of your other basic needs have been met, but it truly makes a difference when your goal is to focus and concentrate. I knew even the high power of the Honda generator would not be sufficient to run the central AC at my home, my office, or anywhere else, so I began thinking about what possibilities existed. After reviewing several units, I settled on a 14,000 BTU portable AC unit. It uses a standard 110-volt plug and is adaptable to multiple environments. One significant limitation is that it will only cool 500 sq ft; therefore, you must choose a bedroom or an office that you can close off in order to cool down a work area. I discovered this to be a simple process. The unit is on wheels and has a flexible hose system that can be closed off with duct tape. Amazon.com: Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU (9,500 BTU SACC) Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner, Dehumidifier, Fan with Activated Carbon Filter plus Storage bag for Rooms up to 500 sq ft, Platinum And Black : Home & Kitchen
At this point, all of this was still just a lot of theory. Yes, I tested each component, but it is not the same as relying on these systems during a natural disaster. Then, Hurricane Ian hit like a freight train. It was a powerful Category 4 hurricane and the strongest to hit the Southwest coast of Florida. It caused massive flooding, power outages, and destroyed many homes and businesses. I put a feeler out to several of my IT peer groups before the storm hit to offer help to other companies like PalmTech. Several days later, after some of the dust had settled, one of my colleagues reached out with an SOS. That night I went through my checklists, gathered my disaster kit and supplies, and headed over to see my colleagues at "Tech in a Flash ."
I arrived at a building with its door ripped off the hinges and a resourceful business owner, Matt Rebstock, who was actually in remarkably good spirits. He was already serving clients via his remote workforce but was eager to get his office back up and running. He knew it was vital for him to be operational before most of his clients so that he would be ready when the mountain of service requests started rolling in. We immediately set up the generator and internet. Since it can take up to 12 hours for Starlink to scan the sky and optimize the position of the dish, we were thankful to have partial but slow internet service within an hour of my arrival. Next, we set up the air conditioner, which worked like a champ. So, the theory turned out to be a sound, workable system. Within two hours of my arrival, we had a habitable office from which his team could now work.
Are you interested in building your own kit? Have questions? Send me an email: [email protected] and I'll be glad to help.
Also, please be sure to download our free disaster recovery checklists here: Business Resilience - West Palm Beach (palmtech.net)