A disaster of sorts struck Harford County, Md., April 22 when several major communications systems went out at once, as noted in a report from the Baltimore Sun. Government buildings and other facilities lost access to computer systems, landline phones, email service and even Internet access that morning.
Service—according to an announcement on the countywide emergency radio network—was restored to all operations by 5:09 p.m., which means most of Friday was lost to the outages. The emergency radio network remained unaffected by the shutdown, which may have been the only point of good news about the whole affair.
The outage came about after a power outage in downtown Bel Air that took the county's servers with it, a power outage that hit sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. Standby generators were on hand but failed to activate, causing a complete server shutdown. This didn't hurt emergency communications systems, nor the 911 Center located in a separate annex north of Bel Air in nearby Hickory, but it took out a large portion of operations all the same.
Despite this, only a few operations were lost. Permit operations and treasury cashiers were active, though only taking payment by cash or personal check—a point which demonstrates why cash will likely never completely die despite advances in mobile payments—with payments to be officially logged in later when the computers were re-established.
It wasn't immediately clear why the standby generators failed to activate, though this isn't the first time that we've heard a similar story. Washington D.C.'s 911 call center lost power following a recent storm, and backup generators failed to engage, a matter that proves the importance of checking a generator before a disaster strikes. It proves the importance of backup systems in general, like those offered by Minuteman power systems. With such backups, users get the ability to save work and shut down a computer properly instead of just losing everything mid-keystroke. If the outage is sufficiently short—as happens every so often—users can just carry on as though nothing happened. It may not be enough power to keep a county's servers running, but having backup power in generators—and in battery backups—may be a smart idea given the increasing fragility of the nation's power grid.
Protecting a system with power backups is smart no matter what it does, and power outage news demonstrates how likely it is that a system will experience that power loss at some point. It just happened for Harford, and it's already happened for Washington D.C and a set of others as well. It's really a matter of when, not if, power will go out, and when that happens, will your business be ready?