Sunday, February 7, 2010

Killer Winter Storm Proves Digital Flaws

The Killer Winter Storm of 2010 has proven the lack of foresight and planning when it comes to using digital technology

by Nick Markowitz Jr.

The winter of 2010 has been a real challenge for Power Company's and there crews With snow amounts of 36+ inches plus temperatures in the single digits and lower. But one thing which has been a real headache is the ability of individuals to communicate.

The problem is the continued increase in the use of digital technology for phone and 2-way radio communication along with remote control. When the power is on, everything works fine, but lose power anywhere along the signal path and all chaos begins. Analog technology gets its power from only one end, such as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service where digital requires power at both ends, such as T1, DSL, Cable, FIOS and other Broadband services.

While some of these services provide an 8-hr battery back-up, which is fine for most minor power outages,a but when it goes over 8 hrs and it heads toward 24 or more, this is when real problems start setting in. The problem with broadband signaling when power is lost, you lose signaling and phone communication altogether.

Okay, you say "no problem, we have installed bigger back-up batteries at our location to make sure the phones stay on," but not so fast my friend. Digital broadband services require several repeaters along the route before it gets to your location. This means that broadband providers must provide back-up power (batteries) in boxes on telephone poles or in underground vaults along the way. This is done to insure the signal stays on. Lose one of these repeaters anywhere along the path and everyone beyond this point also loses service.

Well, "no big deal," you say. "Our employees have cell phones they can use." That's fine and dandy if the cell towers are working and not overloaded and they have power, but while some towers have back-up batteries and generators, some do not. This does not mean they'll come on and operate properly either.

T3 circuits also run between towers so they can get signals to land lines. If they're out of power, guess what, you can call cell phone to cell phone but not to a land-based line. Now what are you going to do when you need 911?

Keep in mind also, cell phones need charged, so do your employees have their charger with them, do you have power to charge them, and if there is no power, do they have a car charger they can use. And what happens to those employees who used public transit in order to get to work?

"No problem, I'll just send everyone home," you say. But what if you're a nursing home, hospital or some other type of facility--how are you going to move patients now that you have no power, no alarms, and no communication?

"No problem, 911 will get a bus or other transit here so we can evacuate to a warming center," you say. Really?

Remember, with all that snow out there, emergency responders will be lucky if they can get to you at all. In fact, the emergency responders are having their own problems since those same T1 and other broadband services allow remote 911 dispatchers to get radio transmissions out to fire and police. So in some cases they cannot use their 2-way radio systems properly and those departments using trunked digital, 2-way radios are surely having their own problems, and let's not forget the fact that the duplex repeaters may be out as well. Thus communication may be equally bad for them as well since many digital radios do not have simplex channels which allow radio-to-radio communication. Thus they must got through the repeater tower which is not working.

So now you find yourself sitting in the dark: no phone, no power, no heat, no help is coming and you have 20 patients to deal with. What are you going to do? Think digital is worth getting rid of all the POTS lines. Is it really worth all the money you're going to save? Better think it over again.

Analog is a sure technology--it works. Analog was the technology behind those little red public boxes many towns once had that worked no matter what. But all of them are gone now. Now you're going to let phone companies do the same to your sure-working POTS. Yes, analog technology may appear to be a dinosaur in today's modern world, but without proper back-up and planning, today's digital is not a suitable substitute for yesterday's sure-working analog.

No comments:

Post a Comment