Are you prepared to cope with the next disaster that comes along? Even when there is no loss of life, it can be very difficult for anyone to fully recover mentally and physically. Having electronic records and well thought out contingency plans could make a big difference in recovery. They help even in the best of times.
Imagine coming home from work one day and seeing what was left of your home surrounded by fire trucks and rescue workers. Or you smell gas and start through the front door just as the entire place explodes. Or there is a damaging storm, flood, forest fire, or earthquake. Every one of these things is not likely to happen to any single individual. However, over a person’s lifetime, probabilities add up, something serious could happen and we could lose everything. Some people are luckier than others. In addition, many people experience nuisances such as lost or stolen wallets, passports, credit cards or car keys at one time or another. These loses can happen away from home and in a foreign country. Although minor by comparison, until we get caught up in any situation, it can be difficult to understand their impact and realize the trouble and inconvenience they cause. It wastes a lot of time.
A woman in Missouri lamented as she stood in the ruins of her home. It had been rebuilt after being destroyed in an earlier storm only to happen again. She had just moved back in the week before. Someone else had a laptop stolen at a business conference and did not have their files backed up. Between Acts of God, carelessness and deliberate acts, many disruptive things happen. Imagine the bureaucratic nightmares that occur along with the pain and suffering. Being better prepared gets lives back together faster and easier.
Facing reality, if it were necessary to evacuate a home and never return to it again, it is highly unlikely that anyone could take along everything that would be needed. Without records it would be virtually impossible to substantiate insurance claims or establish a person’s identity. What if someone needed to be taken to a hospital and get help from a doctor who was not familiar with their case. How long would it be before they could be assessed and treated if they did not have a health record? Delay costs lives. Wouldn’t it be better if records were electronic and fit in someone’s pocket rather than in boxes of paper that had to be left behind?
People often lose everything they own when homes, neighborhoods and even whole towns are destroyed in fires, storms, earthquakes and floods. The recovery process is often long and painful. The last thing someone needs is bureaucratic red tape when they have already suffered enough. Nevertheless, minor discrepancies in paperwork invite bureaucratic nightmares. Whether information is missing, incomplete, inaccurate or simply does not match, even a typo that was made many years ago can be hard to change. The rules of the game have changed, and we need to be able to substantiate who we are and everything about us. Digital records that we carry with us or are backed up in “the cloud” make data available when and where it is needed.
Even if paper records are not destroyed, they deteriorate over time. Sorting through a shoe box for something and finding that it has become faded and is no longer readable can be pretty frustrating. Conversion to electronic records is a big improvement. Although it takes time, gradual steps make a difference right away and not everything will need to be converted.
We recommend the following.
1. Start by preparing basic contingency plans. When calamities strike, being ready to address them is essential. Plans can always be improved.
2. Collect and save electronic files instead of paper ones, whenever possible. Digital records provide convenience and portability. Electronic records are easy to create when work is done a little at a time. They are easy to search. For example, include a list of phone numbers to call for help, a copy of a driver license or passport, a list of account numbers and instructions to access them on-line, copies of family photos, receipts, certificates, wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, and tax returns.
a. File records chronically by subject. They can always be reorganized.
b. Use file types such as PDF that can be read by anyone’s computer, tablet or smartphone.
3. Create and include a consolidated, organized, digital summary of your health history. It will help you to get in the habit of keeping electronic records, provide peace of mind, and enable professional caregivers to get up to speed quickly so they can help you when it is needed. Use Lifelong Personal Health Record software (http://www.lifelongphr.com/) to store your data and create the summary.
4. Backup Important Files. In addition to having master copies on a personal computer where you can control and protect your data, backup electronic files using an encrypted Internet service and put copies on small portable devices such as smartphones, flash drives, tablets, bracelets and medallions for easy access. Security is important to avoid worry about what someone else is doing with your data.
Not a Do-It-Yourselfer? Contact us for assistance.
Becoming blindsided creates problems of epic proportions. It doesn’t just cause accidents on highways. The volume of changes that keeps growing, includes subterfuge that is practiced everywhere whether consciously or not. This overloads systems causing surprises and incomplete and incorrect information that is then used in making decisions. Human nature factors in as positives tend to be accentuated and negatives avoided and downplayed. These things impact all of us in one way or another.
Motorists travel in packs and speed unopposed down highways. Companies bury legalistic terms and conditions in fine print and apply hard to distinguish changes to product designs, packaging and warranties. These mask the impacts of cost reductions that lower value propositions and trick consumers to make costly buying errors. Politicians talk about lowering taxes while services decline even faster. Spammers waste our time as they flood email accounts with threats to privacy, identities and livelihoods. We are told what we want to hear, not what we should be told. Even when something is flagged in red, it may still get lost in the noise and not get adequate attention.
These are symptoms of a world that has gotten so complicated and congested that even the most knowledgeable and vigilant among us is unable to avoid distractions and catch everything significant enough to have the potential for serious, negative consequences. Even sophisticated systems designed to detect anomalies and warn of impending disaster are not always enough. For example, weather forecasters were unable to provide actionable intelligence to residents soon enough to prepare for the sudden, severe storms that recently wreaked havoc in the Chicago area with 90-mile per hour winds.
Outcome Improvement is committed to finding ways to help consumers, businesses and governments to anticipate and prepare for contingencies while adding quality and value to life. Your input would be greatly appreciated to identify topics for our investigation and reporting. Please add your comments below.
It is hard to anticipate all the things that can go wrong. One example is consequences of inactivity. Some of them are more serious than others. Some can be reversed, others cannot. Here are a few things that come to mind.
Although some of these may seem to be of minor consequence, collectively they can add up and have a major impact. Not only can some of them be wasteful, they can also cause fires if left unattended for long periods of time. Just like changing batteries in fire and carbon monoxide detectors, it is a good idea to check around on a regular basis.
Surprising things can happen. My thermostat batteries failed prematurely. When it happened a second time, I realized that each time there had been an extended power outage. While the power was out, the thermostat had been futilely trying to turn on the furnace or air-conditioner. This is what drained the battery.
The same thing can happen if a battery is being charged when there is a power outage. Batteries can be ruined if they fully discharge. It is best to pull plugs and turn off circuits when there is a power failure. In any event, when power is restored, there can be excessive loads and power surges if loads are not added a little at a time. Motors require about three times as much current to start than they use to keep running.
Soon the traditional Edison light bulbs that have been staples for years will no longer be available. Incandescent light bulbs of 40 watts and above are being phased out using government incentives and edicts to force energy savings and likely will reduce the number of nuclear plants that will need to be built. The transition to energy-efficeint bulbs has been coming for quite some time. With motivation from sky-high electric bills, I have been trying to find suitable alternatives for about 15 years, but have only had mixed success. Here are things that I have learned that should help you get better prepared.
Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have been my primary alternative until recently. I have a small stock of them that I am gradually using up. I would not get any more. A major reason is that I did not realize that they contained mercury when I purchased them. With all of the controversy over mercury pollution from large tube-type fluorescent lights a number of years ago, it is hard to believe that manufacturers did not learn their lesson. I never thought not to trust them. Another reason is that it takes considerable time for CFLs to turn on and then reach full intensity. This is annoying, and some CFLs do not fit a few of the lighting fixtgures that I have. Others are poor quality and prone to premature failure. One even corroded and came apart during my testing.
That leaves new LED replacement bulbs. They are likely the ultimate answer, and they have been appearing in more and more specialty applications. High cost has been a major factor, but considering lower maintenance costs and reduced accidents attributed to burned out traffic lights and tail lights, it can be well worth the added expense for more reliable, longer-life, more efficient bulbs. I remember the need to replace a bulb in the dashboard of an old car of mine. It cost a couple hundred dollars to disassemble the dashboard to replace a small bulb that cost pennies. Christmas lights are no fun either when it is hard to find bulbs that have burned out.
As far as finding replacements for standard higher watt bulbs, there are a number of challenges besides the cost. Although costs are starting to come down fairly rapidly, the cost to replace a single 100-watt light bulb is still about $25. However, there is no single replacement that is good for every application. Many LED bulbs are quite directional, cannot be dimmed and provide light that is much whiter than incandescent bulbs. This makes it difficult to mix bulbs, and each application can require a different configuration. Three-way LED replacement Bulbs, such as 50-100-150-watt equivalents, are not available as yet.
Things are gradually improving. A 100-watt equivalent bulb that I bought in late 2009 is very directional. It requires 13-watts of power and retailed for over $50. New ones only require 12-watts, are about $25 and much less directional. I am testing one in a floor lamp in my family room. It is much better than the earlier design. Drawbacks are that their “warm white” light still lacks the slightly yellow hue of an incandescent, and some lamp housings lack the clearance to accommodate the bigger bases of LED bulbs.
LED bulbs have a lot of overhead compared to old-style incandescent bulbs that only contain a filament. They typically have arrays of individual LEDs with heat sinks, rectifiers and cooling fans. I found that a Ground Fault Interrupter (circuit breaker) in the 30-plus-year-old main incoming electrical panel in my garage did not allow me to put an LED bulb in the ceiling above my bathroom sink. The LED bulb kept tripping the breaker. I either needed to use old bulbs or re-wire the bathroom. Because of situations like that and the need for 3-way lamps, I now have a few Edison bulbs that should suffice until LED alternatives become available to satisfy these needs.
Since stocks of old bulbs are disappearing and becoming more expensive, now is the time to learn about options, set expectations and get prepared. When I gradually got rid of CRT computer monitors and tube-type televisions, I did not necessarily see my electric bills drop. Sometimes they stayed the same or continued to rise even as usage dropped. In any event, I would have been much worse off had I not continued to adopt new technology to improve efficeiency. Expect benefits like these to continue for many years to come.
For more about Outcome Improvement, please visit: http://www.outcomeimprovement.com/.
Tom Rockwood was formerly Corporate Engineering Manager for Energy and Material Resources at AT&T.
It is impossible to predict when something unforeseen will cause death or serious injury. Often someone’s carelessness is at the very least a contributing factor. The disaster of the Italian liner Costa Concorfdia on January 14, 2012, was the responsibility of one man, the captain. It resulted in a few dozen lives being lost and thousands more, inconvenienced. Pilot error was attributed to the crash of Air France Flight 447 after it stalled at 38,000 feet en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris killing 227 people. Carelessness, impairment, distraction, and falling asleep at the wheel result in many lives lost and crippling injuries on our highways, too. It seems an inequity that those responsible often walk away with little or no injuries while others die or are maimed and live miserable lives.
Countless people also die in fires, especially in cold weather. Carelessness can be a factor, but so can poor maintenance. Smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors reduce the loss of life when they work effectively. However, they need to be installed and maintained properly. Just like many other things, they gradually wear out and need to be replaced. I am ashamed to say that it took five members of a Connecticut family to lose their lives before I replaced old detectors with better ones that check for both smoke and carbon monoxide. I am especially happy to have carbon monoxide detection since CO once made me quite sick. This was even when I had what should have been adequate ventilation. My new ones also use AA batteries which I prefer to 9 volt ones in the old detectors.
Other things can make our lives better and more secure. For example, the rubber hoses that supply water to washing machines are prone to failure at the most inopportune times. Substitute hoses that are reinforced with a stainless steel mesh cover reduces the likelihood of a failure. Turning the water off when the washer is not in use is also a good idea.
A few years ago, I bought a black box that connects to my telephone. If the temperature in my house deviates from a specified range, it calls my cell phone. If I do not answer, the device calls a few other people until someone answers. I never thought that I would need it. However, once when I was away during a very cold winter, my furnace stopped working. When the temperature inside dropped below 55F, I got called. It took a few seconds for me to realize what was calling me. The device prevented a big mess from frozen water pipes in my house. Now with smartphones and the Internet, it is possible to use wireless cameras and a variety of other devices to monitor things around our momes.
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are many little things that can be done to lessen the impact of what can turn into major calamities. Look around and think of things that can go wrong with you. Create evacuation plans in case of an emergency. You will find that peace of mind is a wonderful thing.
If you like movies and would like to see how freak events affect outcomes, you are encouraged to see Unstoppable. You may think twice before you ride the rails.
This warning was in a list of 10 predictions that a friend sent to me recently. The implication was that if a cloud provider’s business failed, users would lose digital images and other data. I did not believe that this was likely at first, but now I am not so sure. I have seen other concerns about bubbles bursting and started to connect some dots. Here are things to think about.
1. Benefits of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing involves shared services. Instead of everyone needing to have and maintain their own data and Internet services, a provider does it for them and it is much cheaper. The provider’s computer servers are divided up to provide small virtual servers for users on a shared machine. Smaller businesses find this especially attractive since they avoid the hassles of ownership and receive better service and support than they could afford for themselves. However, the downside is that this requires reliance on others.
2. Growth in Cloud Computing
A short article in a technical journal caught my eye. The writer reported that a major cloud computing provider had a standing order for truckloads of brand new computer servers delivered weekly to expand their data center. I was interested to learn that the servers were made in the United States by a little known company that made one of my own computers that I especially like. It takes lots of money to buy this many servers and to pay for all the infrastructure, installation and on-going service and support. Growth must be phenomenal to support this. I wonder how long demand for storage will continue at this rate. Is it really necessary to save all this data?
3. Underlying Business Models
I rely on a number of Internet Service Providers and e-Commerce vendors. Some of them provide free services including large amounts of on-line storage for photos and messaging. Although the cost of storage media has dropped considerably, someone still must pay for it and the related costs. Businesses certainly expect to eventually recover expenses and profit through fee-based services, but I wonder how long they can operate in the red without becoming profitable.
4. Level of Inactive Accounts
With all the competing products and services, no one has time to use them all. However, when a new one comes along, they probably want to try it out to see if it is better than what they already have, especially if there is no cost to sign up. I have several free accounts that I do not use regularly.
5. Growth of Built-in Waste
Although many aspects of the Internet are automated, the infrastructure must be maintained. The more e-mail and instant messages that are sent, the more server capacity that is required for logging, tracking and storage. Multiple copies add to waste as do trivial messages and spam.
6. Failed Business Models
What is troubling is how cloud computing and social networking compare to business models used by telephone companies in their heyday. Back then, high costs discouraged usage of services. Capacity was only added when revenue growth supported it. Now low costs attract users in the hope that they will buy value added services. If customers don’t rise to the bait, profitability goes out the window. If value is not there when something is free, no one will be able to start charging. At some point, too many players chasing too few paying customers will no longer be sustainable. What will happen then? The recourse will likely be to pull the plug.
Maybe some of us really will lose our data if we don’t back it up.
After Hurricane Irene two months earlier, we thought that a nor’easter would be a piece of cake. Little did I realize in my wildest dreams that this storm’s impact would be much more severe. In fact, there were reports that damage in my area of northern New Jersey was the worst since 1938. After ten days some places still did not have power and just north of us Connecticut was hit especially hard. In any event, when the storm started early Saturday, October 29, 2011, it looked like business as usual. We expected possible freeqing rain and light snow north and west of us, but mostly rain where we live.
As things progressed, precipitation quickly changed to light snow, but not all that much. As we ate lunch in our kitchen, we looked out the sliding glass door to our deck. There was a little snow on it that seemed to be coming down harder, but nothing to really be concerned about. A short while later, however, the lights started flickering. My wife had been making lasagne. I must have had a premonition as I told her to quickly finish up anything requiring electricity. She just finished cooking the noodles when the power went off not to return again for six days.
Later in the afternoon the storm worsened. I went outside to shovel 4 or 5 inches of very heavy snow off the driveway. All of a sudden, I heard explosions and loud cracking sounds. I knew right away that the snow was breaking tree limbs that had not yet lost their leaves. Those leaves played a major role in the major damage that was destined for my area including my own yard. Unfortunately, even though Hurricane Irene damaged and destroyed many trees, there remained countless others that had been spared the first time. Mother Nature was determined to finish filling the void and neglect of the power company, Jersey Central Power & Light, by cleaning house for them.
In over 30 years that I’ve lived on my street, we have had constant problems of downed wires in storms. Our neighborhood has buried services, but is at the mercy of above ground feeders. Had those been buried, we likely would have avoided many outages over the years. The added cost would probably have paid for itself many times over. In this case we probably would’ve lost power, but for a much shorter period of time. The upsetting part is that we are paying premium prices for third world service.
With Hurricane Irene, the outage was much more localized and a day shorter. We were able to find relief by visiting our children and their families who each live about 2 miles away. They never lost power from Irene and only for a couple of days this time. However, travel between us was difficult both times, mostly from flooding with Irene and this time from more extensive downed trees, branches and wires.
The small portable generator that I used for Hurricane Irene continues to be a godsend. This time, I also used it in my yard to power an electric chainsaw, and spent three full days cutting up and clearing debris. For anyone considering the investment in a chainsaw, I recommend getting a carbide tipped chain for it. About ten years ago I got tired of replacing the regular carbon steel chains!
After the power went out, the Verizon wired phones worked for a couple of days before going out of service. They came back on before the power did. The Comcast cable did not come back until a day after power was restored. My cellular services, including the data card for my laptop, degraded more severely this time (compared to Irene) until people started to get their power back. There were also reports of over 200 cell towers being out of commission from the storm this time that may have contributed to weaker signals before being repaired.
From a contingency planning and disaster recovery standpoint, I believe that these storms provided good lessons. The large medical center that I use near my daughter’s home, had no power for a few days and was completely shutdown. Normally, they have an urgent care center. Also, even though I am an advocate of cloud computing, I also believe that standalone local solutions should not be abandoned to assure more failsafe service. It is important to have a backup plan in case all else fails. In particular, one of my weak links is a limited supply of gasoline to run my generator. Many nearby gasoline stations had no way to pump gas without electricity. I am considering a solar panel to charge my batteries, just-in-case, but many businesses are also talking about getting generators.
As for Trick or Treaters, they had their Halloween either Friday, November 4 or Sunday, November 6. Most schools used up all their snow days by being closed for a full week because of lack of power. So everyone seems to be wondering what will happen the next time.
Saturday, August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene started its rampage north past our home in the hills of New Jersey. My wife and I watched its progress with the Weather Channel on our smartphones. A map showed that the eye of the nearly 500 mile diameter storm was barely in North Carolina when we started to feel its fury. We could see the rain bands as they headed in our direction. Fortunately, the eye would pass to the east of us lessening its impact, but damage in our area would still prove to be severe. We are thankful to have escaped serious damage.
Before heading to bed that night, we still had electricity. A couple of hours later (after midnight) we were awakened to the sound of alarms from our computers’ battery backup units complaining that they had lost power. By morning we had occasional sun before the main storm arrived later in the afternoon. I started a small generator to power the refrigerator, phones, a laptop and a couple of lights in the evenings. I only ran it when I was awake as it needed to be fed with gasoline every 1-1/4 hours. Power was finally restored five days later. After two days, I was able to get to a gas station that still had gasoline to fill up my cans. I needed to go back a second time before power was restored. Total cost of gasoline was about $50, certainly not an inexpensive and efficient way to generate electricity.
During the power outage, we had no cable service (television, Internet or Internet phone). One of our favorite links to the outside world was a 50-year old AM transistor radio. For some reason, there was no wired telephone service for two days during the middle of the power outage. Were it not for the generator and our cellular service, we would not have had any way to make emergency calls had we needed them. We were also lucky to have a Data Card for the laptop so we had much better Internet and email capabilities than with the smartphones. They were reserved for texting and occasional calls. A neighbor used Wi-Fi at a local Starbucks that required a circuituous route to reach due to many downed trees.
The Saturday after we got power back, we went out for dinner with neighbors across the street. On the way, we passed a long row of utility poles and downed wires. There were two trucks from the cable company surveying the damage. After what we saw, we assumed it would be a long time before we had cable again. However, much to our amazement, service had been restored when we got home from dinner. The next morning it was out again until the following day.
Until services were restored, there were short times when cellular communications appeared overloaded. Text messages were always reliable, but had we needed emergency services, there were enough downed trees to make it unlikely that they would have always been timely and dependable.
Thank you to crews from Toledo and Ohio Edison who came to our aid. Had vegetation around power lines in our area been maintained better we would likely have gotten power back a couple of days earlier. In any event, when a storm such as Irene is on the horizon, is not the time to be doing contingency planning. It is the time for final preparations. Now is the time to take what we have learned and consider where we might not have been so lucky. We can start taking these things into account now and do even better the next time.
Finally, it was a comfort to know that we had family members nearby who could have reached us in an emergency. Too bad the highway department has never raised the level of roads and bridges so we would not always need to take long detours around areas that flood regularly.
A few years ago, I printed a few thousand pages per month on my laser printer. I wore out several of them and used dozens of cartridges and countless cartons of paper. Today, I hardly ever turn my printers on. In many respects I have gone paperless and have readily searchable files in electronic filing cabinets. However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Along with the benefits, there is a downside.
I can remember seeing people on television who had lost all of their personal records. One woman tearfully told a reporter how all of her children’s baby pictures were in the house that they were watching float down a river to certain destruction. A survivor of Hurricane Katrina had also lost all his medical records when his hospital and doctor’s office were distroyed. It was difficult for him to tell doctors what they needed to know to treat him. Having electronic records in their pockets would have helped both of them.
Businesses also save millions of dollars of postage and other costs when they can send out bills via email, and it is easier and cheaper for customers to pay online. There are security concerns, but think of all the forests that can be saved. Yet, email reminders may get lost and there are healthy penalties for failing to pay on time, and people who need receipts must now print their own. Also, if you store your records online, in a cloud somewhere, there is no guarantee that the business will not be discontinued as is happening with Google Health and their online personal health records. Fortunately, for Google Health’s users, Google is giving their customers plenty of time to find alternatives and make an orderly transition.
For the do-it-yourself electronic recordkeepers, there is another set of challenges. People who remember 35mm slides, 5-1/4 inch and 3-1/2 inch diskettes, 8-track tape, VHS and music cassettes, and other obsolete media have probably agonized when they found that they no longer had a means of using their old media. When they could find a working machine to read it, they often found that the media had degraded and could no longer be read. Electronic files become corrupted and, at best, it can take a costly commercial or government process to attempt to reconstruct electronic information. It is certainly not possible for the masses.
I have scanners that enable me to convert documents and pictures into digital files. I could not be without them. However, once something is digital, dangers of corrupted files and outdated media need to be addressed. The first time I lost a few pictures on a camera memory card reminded me that everything has a failure mode. Same thing with hard drives that have a lot of moving parts and wear and tear. Then there are CD-ROMs and DVDs. Even if they stay in their jackets and avoid scratches, they will ultimately deteriorate. Molecules constantly jump around and fields from magnetic particles damage adjacent areas on tapes.
Backing up information is extremely important no matter where it resides. Consider the smartphone with the MicroSD card. The phone can be lost or stolen. It can fall into water. However, even electronic solid-state memories have life expectancies like my camera memory card. Some fail prematurely. Same with ubiquitous flash drives. Some memories are consumer grade, designed to last several years; others are commercial grade and cost a large premium, but should be good for ten years or so.
Even experts get surprised. Redundancy is the best way to minimize risk and exposure. Part of a good backup policy says to separate the copies as far as possible. We are reminded of the small company in San Francisco that kept backups on a different floor in the same building. They were lucky, but what if an earthquake had damaged or destroyed the building.