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Defending Your Data, Part 2

Part 2: Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

(Last issue: How surge suppression can help protect your transportation management data. This issue: How an Uninterruptible Power Supply can keep your operation alive during a disaster. Next issue: Why data backups are essential to assuring the continuity of your transportation management operation.)

On November 9, 1965 an unanticipated power surge pulsed through the new regional power grid in the northeastern U.S., resulting in what came to be known as the “Great Northeast Blackout.” Over 30 million people were left without power, some for days. As people lit candles and flicked on flashlights, utilities struggled to identify the cause of the outage and reinstate the grid.

Over a generation ago, few businesses and even fewer individuals possessed the generators and backup battery-based systems that we take for granted today. Commerce and all but the most essential government services ground to a halt.

This seminal event spawned the emergency power industry even as it became evident that our electricity-dependent society could not bear even a few hours without power. Today, our reliance on computerized devices and the Internet leave us even more susceptible to massive outages like the Great Northeast Blackout.

In various parts of the world, such as some areas in Latin America, power outages and brownouts are almost routine, if not predictable.

Mobility management professionals look to design operations that can survive routine “brownouts”, “rolling outages”, and locally catastrophic blackouts. While functionality in outages is important, perhaps the most critical objective of such plans is to protect the most precious resource in every transportation operation: data.

Greg Lawrence, CAPP, was the Parking Manager at San Antonio International Airport (SAT) when this happened. “We lost power … from an electrical short in our main feed to our Parking Administration Building that also took down our Exit Plaza. However, prior to this diagnosis, lines [of customers] rapidly built up as I was working on the 30 minute UPS Backups System timeline. The ‘hasn’t been tested in two years’ 30 minute system gave me a whopping 12 minutes before taking the PARCS System down. We got power restored in 35 minutes but it took another 25 minutes to get the PARCS System back up owing to the abrupt nature of the termination.”

Your Second Line of Defense Against Data Loss: UPS

While Surge Suppression is your first line of defense in a power outage, another essential weapon in your data protection arsenal is an Uninterruptible Power Supply. A UPS is a battery-based system that provides substitute power for a limited period of time, typically to low demand devices. UPS systems with surge suppression capabilities are relatively inexpensive and can meet both needs.

UPS systems trade minutes and power for dollars: the more you are willing to spend, the more devices you can operate and/or the longer the potential run time for those devices. PC’s, lighting, even parking gates, can be operated with a UPS of sufficient size. Look for the “amps” and projected “run time” a UPS device offers.

For most users, the time bought is the opportunity to properly shut down devices to avoid data loss. “When we do have a full failure, our UPS devices give us plenty of time to turn all the office PCs off without having corrupted files, etc.  We don’t try to run our office with the UPSs,” says Bob Chambers, recently retired Director of Parking & Transportation at Georgia Southern University (GSU).
However, many mobility operations are mandated to have at least some limited capacity to continue functioning after a blackout, at least on a limited scale. Transactions may still need to be processed and gates may still need to function. But as SAT’s Lawrence discovered, time and power bought doesn’t always equal the amount of time and power delivered. Batteries degrade over time and may become unreliable. Devices can consume more power than expected.
The UPS you select must be powerful enough to deliver the amps your devices need both to start and operate. For example, computer display screens can devour more energy than some computers, and motor-powered devices, such as parking gates require a start up kick that can be several times greater than the power it consumes once in motion. Such requirements can result in unanticipated challenges: At one point, Lawrence of SAT warns, “we were unbolting gate arms to get people out!”

Defending Your Data: Lessons Learned

Most every transportation operation has some form of UPS and data backup capabilities. However, the UPS and the line protection is rarely capable of supplying power for an extended period of time. The line protection is often of such low quality that it is not sufficient to protect devices and data from a direct hit on the power or communications lines coming into the building.

SAT’s Lawrence recommends“…UPS units on EACH device or booth and regular testing of the existing UPS systems”. He suggests testing of UPS devices be performed quarterly.

Will you be ready for the next brownout or blackout?

(This post was adapted from an article previously published in magazine or website format. The author retains all second serial and electronic rights. This work has been updated, edited and is distributed by the H2H2H Foundation with the express permission of the author. Some of the quotations in this article were obtained from the C-PARK list serve of Penn Sate University, which can be accessed at: http://lists.cac.psu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=CPARK-L&A=1)

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