Update 7/2/12 – I wrote this blog post about 1.5 years ago and again am in a similar situation. Actually worse as it’s been 3 days since my home (and thus my office) has had power. Some ways that I’ve improved the process of business continuity for the home office since then:

  • I actually now have 2 sources of internet besides FIOS – tethering with AT&T and a Verizon 4G Mi-Fi. This has been very helpful at home, since both have phased in and out.
  • I also have a second “sheet” battery for my laptop. It only adds about a pound, and I keep it fully charged. I can use my USB ports to charge devices and still get about 5 hours of power (7 hours if I wasn’t charging things) with the two batteries combined.
  • Off-site backup working flawlessly so I can pluck the files I need from the cloud to continue working.
  • Drove 30 minutes from home to find a Panera to work in that wouldn’t be flooded by people who didn’t have power. Still a bunch and my powerstrip has come in handy, but not nearly like the ones closer to home, I think. It’s easy enough to sit and work and get coffee in a Panera or Starbucks, but I find that it’s often easier to get a seat with power at Panera.
  • Good quality emergency radio with handcrank functioned flawlessly – and I could listen to WTOP from the cooler basement.
  • Flashlight situation perfect. Fully charged flashlights hanging on walls all around house with the two bright LED lanterns to move from room to room.

Original post from 1/30/11

Between working with FEMA for the past few years and subsequently joining the Montgomery County Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT), disaster preparedness has become very salient to me. I’ve updated our home supplies, have appropriate food and water stocked and have done my best to follow all of the guidelines at Ready.gov. Ready.gov does a good job at inventorying what needs to be on-hand for home use in the event of a disaster. There is also a section on Ready Business that is focused on preparing your business for disaster.

But what if your home and your business are one and the same – how much of a disaster would it take to render a home business ineffective? The answer is that it wouldn’t take much. The combined snow and ice storm and resulting power outage that we had last week shut down my work immediately.

Internet: I have FIOS for internet. I also have a mobile device that can be tethered to get internet to my laptop. I thought that redundant internet was enough. I knew that the power going out would wipe out FIOS. But having a mobile device, I thought I could just jack into that and keep working off of my laptop. I even had redundant power for my phone in the form of a rechargeable cell charger. But the towers went down with the power, so I was totally without FIOS internet (and 10 hours later FIOS phone) and mobile internet and phone.

Lesson Learned: I have one UPS backup battery for my desktop. I’ve purchased two more high-end UPS devices – one for FIOS itself and one for the FIOS modem/router. If each UPS only maintains a single device, I’m calculating that I should get a fair bit of mileage out of each of them. It will have to be tested out, but I believe that this will sustain FIOS internet and telephone for much longer.

Off-site backup: For security, I never store any files on my laptop except for those that I am using immediately. All of my files reside on my desktop, and are auto-backed up to a networked drive, as well as into the cloud with a low-cost service that constantly runs on my desktop. I had assumed that even though my desktop and file server went down, I could always restore the most recent copy to my laptop and keep on working. Of course this is useless without internet.

Lesson Learned: First priority while the desktop still has a charge from the UPS device – grab files that I can work on and save them to a flash drive.

Table of laptops at Panera as described in the text below
Place to Work: I spent the morning shoveling my car out of ice, and then found a Panera with electricity. Now, I could finally get some work done! The only problem was that there were so many people without power, the seats near plugs were in hot demand. Luckily, I had two hours of charge on my laptop and had remembered to bring a power strip (a lesson learned from lots of airports!) I was able to use the power strip as leverage to get at the power, while still keeping everyone else plugged in. Someone even had a 3-in-1 outlet adapter, so my power strip plus the adapter meant we had 9 plugs. The strip was completely full of the laptops of the three of us who sat at that table plus we were charging a number of cell phones.

Lesson Learned: Everything was right here! Not only did I have some interesting conversations and enjoy a feeling of connectedness with those around me who had also lost power, but I actually ended up sitting with a qualitative researcher that did usability research in the past. We ended up making a potential business connection!

Considerations for home office users (in no particular order):

Fematocell: As long as you can sustain wired internet (perhaps with a dedicated backup battery as described above), you can not only use it to work, but could also maintain a femtocell which is essentially your own cell tower in your home routed through the internet.

Let people know: The next time you lose power, particularly when it seems like it could be for a while and if it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to leave your home any time soon, consider using your mobile device to send a mass message to people (co-workers, friends, family) that you expect to talk to in the next 24-48 hours – just in case you lose all communication.

Emergency radio: This is part of the list at Ready.gov, but I was very glad to have a pretty good model – not only is the quiet in fact disquieting, but it is important to know what is going on. And don’t settle for the low end – I’ve tried these in the past – the static will drive you crazy!

Beyond Flashlights: Yes, it’s great to have flashlights and batteries, but consider LED camping lanterns. I bought two after the last big power outage along with an industrial-sized package of D-cell batteries. It’s nice to have a really bright light to light the room.

Redundant file storage: There are plenty of services out there that will back up your files to internet as soon as you save them. Consider one of these services. Not only is this useful if a disaster means that you can’t get back into your home, but they will also save prior versions of files – something that has saved me on several occasions.

Scan in important documents: Any business (or home for that matter) documents that would cause you difficulty if lost should be scanned in. Over the past 5 years, I have scanned in thousands of pages – I only save what I really need to retain in hardcopy (very few things, actually) and no longer even have a file cabinet.

Redundant mobile power: Purchase a backup power source for your mobile device. In our mobile-critical world, this is essential to have anyway.

Always travel with a power strip, whether to the airport or to Panera or Starbucks.

Top Image Courtesy of Kondrachov Vladimir/Shutterstock