Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where Were You When the Wireless Went Out ?

Hurricane Irene created many problems, damaged a lot of property and even took several lives. For some, the worst thing that happened was the inconvenience of not being able to make a cell phone call. While this pales in comparison to the more significant losses, it happened to me and started me thinking about how much we have come to depend on wireless communication.

According to a report issued today over 6,500 cell towers were knocked out of commission up and down the East coast. Cellular capacity was diminished and severely overtaxed. This in turn made it difficult for some to complete a call.  Fortunately, all 911 service centers were still operating and emergency personnel communication systems continued to function keeping police, fire and rescue workers in touch. But if you needed help and were depending on your cell phone you may have been out of luck.

Everyone knows the drill by now. When hear the news of a major storm on its way we rush to the grocery store and stock up on bread, milk and eggs. (Someone joked about this saying they didn't know why people make french toast in a crisis.) We also make sure we have enough water, batteries and candles. We know the power may go out and roads could be impassable for a while so we prepare for the worst. In fact, some homeowners have gone to the extreme of installing their own generator so they will always have power.

In business we must go to great lengths to ensure our computing systems can survive and our data are protected under any circumstances. Companies spend millions moving critical data around to different locations, installing uninterrupable power supplies (UPS) with batteries and generators, and a host of other preventive measures, all to be certain they can continue to operate their core business after almost any disaster.

For a lot of people, the smart phone has become a key element of every day life. Escaping the limitations of a wire, we simply expect to be able to make a phone call to anyone, anywhere and at any time. We know there are areas of poor coverage and dead zones, and we grouse when the call is dropped and we have to dial again. But what will we do when we cannot get a signal at all?

Beyond the simple phone call, many have come to depend on smart phone applications and these require a data connection which, without cell service, is not there. This may come as a shock to younger people but when there is no cell service there will be no Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google Pus or any other social network available. It may mean we have to use our Starbucks card to pay for that latte or show an actual loyalty program card for credit at the pharmacy or supermarket. We might even have to use a paper boarding pass at the airport again.

In business, old stubborn Ralph who refused to give up his day planner and use that newfangled phone app to make sales calls will be laughing all the way to his next customer while the rest of the modern sales force is disconnected and confused. As business applications become increasingly mobile, business continuity plans better to take this into account and provide alternate means for employees to reach their well protected and still functioning systems when the communication lines go down.

And we who practically live our lives through our little hand held friends better think beyond making french toast in the dark to what we will do when we can't get a connection.

By the way your land line, broadband and wifi won't work well in the dark either.

Captain Joe

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