Recently, for FairPoint Communications users in New Hampshire and Vermont, the unthinkable happened: high-speed Internet service went out. The circumstances behind that outage were perhaps even more unexpected and disastrous than the outage itself, and through it all, one core lesson returns to users everywhere; backup power supplies are an option that should be closely considered.
While performing routine maintenance, the reports suggest, a hardware problem emerged that took out FairPoint service throughout large portions of Vermont and New Hampshire, adding up to thousands of customers reportedly without service. Most took the outages in stride, with three customers reportedly calling the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission to complain, and by the end of the second day, reports suggest that number had swelled to 103 callers. Another 114 callers, meanwhile, simply complained about the service though not necessarily an outage.
It wasn't just individual users impacted by the outage, however, as the Vermont city of Manchester found itself without a major portion of its Internet service thanks to the FairPoint outage. The outage was detected around midnight, and access to the city's website itself was affected until about 11 that morning. Police and fire vehicles were likewise impacted, with the necessary connections to allow for license-plate checks shut down. Radio communication and email, meanwhile, were still operational, and the city of Manchester was able to put some of its tasks, like vehicle registration, on to other functioning Internet access systems.
The outage itself, meanwhile, seemed to have come about while a management employee was doing maintenance work while FairPoint workers were on strike. The strike itself has been going on since October 17, and reports suggest that FairPoint had offered up its best and final offer back in August, so the chances of the strike breaking seem remote. Other reports suggest that the contracting firm FairPoint brought in has been having troubles as well, which might well have contributed to a management employee doing routine maintenance.
But the best lesson here comes from the response the city of Manchester offered up, on the importance of having backup systems. I personally have been in a similar situation, having lost power once and still needing to get some work done. While I had some temporary power in the form of a backup power system, it was just enough to get the job done, and that made me glad I had it. The city of Manchester, too, had backup options; when the Internet went down, it could switch to some of its backups and carry on with at least an approximation of business as usual. With a mobile workforce becoming increasingly prevalent as an option at work, being able to work around power outages and network losses is becoming equally increasingly vital.
Having backup power supplies, whether in a generator, a battery, or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system, is a way to ensure productivity regardless of conditions on the ground. Of course, it's not a perfect cure; even UPS systems lose stored power eventually, and were never meant to be a substitute for uninterrupted grid power. But the extra time provided by a UPS can mean the difference between a sudden outage shutting down a workday and a soft landing where everyone's notified about what happened and some expectation of return.