Don’t Let a Power Loss Leave Your COMPUTER IN THE DARK

Don’t Let a Power Loss Leave Your COMPUTER IN THE DARK

Anyone who is familiar with computers knows the importance of backing up computer data. A power surge or blackout can wipe out all the programs on the system. The possibility of an emergency service organization or fire department losing all of its information merits serious attention.

Consider this scenario: A thunderstorm causes a power outage in your first-due area. Soon after, lightning causes a fire at a nearby chemical plant. All of your preplans and material safety data sheets are on computer for instant retrieval. However, the computer system is out of service because you don’t have a backup power system.


You must preplan for your own emergency. Most stations are equipped with an emergency generator for the few times each year that they lose electrical power. Think about the last time the lights went out in your area. Did you notice the changeover to your station’s emergency generator? If you did, the computer system was in serious jeopardy.

A power quality study conducted by IBM estimates that a computer system averages 128.9 power disturbances a month. This includes surges, spikes, blackouts, dips, flickers, and noise. Another study found that lightning causes sags and outages as well as spikes. Any one of these power problems can damage computer circuits, make data unreadable, cause shortterm or permanent memory loss, or result in other problems that translate into downtime, lost money, and frustration.


To combat these problems there is an assortment of power conditioning equipment available. Spike arrestors, voltage regulators, and isolation transformers, to name a few, eliminate certain power problems. Of course you cannot have seven or eight devices protecting one computer system, especially when some departments have terminals in more than one station. This limits the selection to a standby power system (SPS) or an uninterrupted power system (UPS). Emergency service organizations, by nature of their business, cannot afford interruptions. Thus the best choice is an uninterrupted power system.

Double-conversion, single-track, dual-track, nonisolated, and isolated UPS’s are options currently on the market. Because of variable conditions, cost factors, and amount of equipment to be protected, it is impossible to select one UPS for all emergency service organizations. Choosing the best UPS for a particular station or department requires a little more fact gathering: Compile a list of equipment to be protected, including the computer system, communications, and telephone, and add their respective voltage and ampere requirements for the total volt-amps requirement.

UPS ratings are usually expressed in either volt-amps (VA) or kilovoltamps (KVA) depending on the size UPS needed. Use the following steps to determine the approximate rating needed: First, find the metal plate located on the back of most computer equipment that contains information about the component —the voltage (110 or 120V), the frequency (60 Hz), and the amperage (usually between 0.4 and 1.0 amps). Enter this information for each component (computer, monitor, and printer) into the proper square on a grid similar to that shown in the chart below. Then multiply the VAC input by the run amps and enter each calculation in the last column of its row. Add up this column to get a Total VA.

The box above shows that the unit needed must be rated for at least 264 VA. Remember, you will always be adding something to your system—a modem, the telephone system, another printer. Preplan for this expansion now by purchasing a UPS rated well above the anticipated need. For this example you would look for a 350 VA model as a minimum; a 500 VA-rated unit is even more preferable.

If using an auxiliary generator, make note of voltage output and pay attention to recommendations made by various UPS manufacturers. Some emergency generators are too small to provide a constant power supply and may require additional hardware in order for the UPS to operate effectively.

Fire departments spend considerable time and effort initiating computer operations. Thus it is important to protect that investment. Providing a consistent backup schedule for software and data and providing power protection for the entire computer system will ensure that your department is not left “in the dark” during a power outage *

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