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Keeping your network online during a storm: How to protect your uptime when bad whether hits

Storms are indiscriminant and unpredictable. Lightning strikes happen, and somehow they know just where to hit to cause the most damage. Power surges, downed lines, and even the occasional water intrusion into a remote location can make even a minor storm a bad event for technicians and equipment operators charged with keeping the network up and running.

Reliable service is no accident
The obvious problem for Telcos, utilities and other service providers dependent on maintaining operational systems is knowing there is a problem in the network and being proactive on solving it - before the myriad of customer complaints come flooding in. Of course, storms and bad weather can create plenty of opportunities for weather-related outages.

But, customers demand reliable service, and in today's competitive marketplace, it doesn't take much inconvenience before customers begin to look elsewhere. Cable companies now provide Telco services, Telco companies now stream IP video, and competing cell towers seem to be on every corner. In short, the blending of traditional market silos is creating both opportunities and competition in data and information delivery. This competition, while growing the marketplace overall, shrinks the profit margins of the companies competing for the clients and dollars they represent. The motto of the day seems to be "Get more done with less resources." This gives heartburn to the average operator that needs to manage budget, people, and time effectively to make sure - storm or no storm - levels of service continue to meet consumer expectations.

"When a storm throws a tree branch at the power line to your remote comm hut and knocks the power out, you'll know it's down, and you can react accordingly."

Monitoring your network is not optional - it's mission critical
Fortunately, maintaining visibility of your network has never been easier or more reliable. SCADA/alarm monitoring systems give operators visibility over networks to manage problems and potential problems even over extensive deployments. Technicians can be notified via text messages, email, and even voice calls when a system alarm is set. This increases system awareness, reduces response time, and minimizes service downtime. What you need is an RTU that delivers reliable information and can provide a variety of alarm reporting options to you. Flexibility in reporting frees technicians to focus on the tasks at hand knowing if there is additional alarms, they are not going to miss them.

An example of this is the DPS Telecom CellVoice 16, which can report alarms via voice, SMS, and email, giving you complete flexibility over alarm notifications. Specific and customized voice alarm messages can be recorded wirelessly by calling into the unit from your telephone. This allows the tech receiving the alarm notification to know exactly what the problem is. It is customized to your system, your needs, and your particular application. And, using GSM/CDMA technology, this system connects remote locations that have no physical (landline, LAN, serial connections, etc.) connectivity and potentially no other way of reporting alarms. All this adds up to more reliable networks, and a better user experience. When a storm throws a tree branch at the power line to your remote comm hut and knocks the power out, you'll know it's down, and you can react accordingly.

What do I monitor?
Common monitoring targets across industries include temperature and humidity, commercial power status, generator run times, various revenue generating switches and equipment, and fuel levels for backup power generation. Intrusion alarming, video surveillance, and tower lighting applications are also high on the list of priorities.

For example, if the storm just knocked power out at your tower location, and the generator kicked on (keeping the tower lights powered for FAA regulations), you need to know about it so you can plan accordingly. If you run out of fuel at that location before the line power is restored, you have a potential FAA/FCC fine on your hands, in addition to any lost revenue you may have due to the service outage. When a storm threatens to stop service, reliable monitoring is not just a luxury - it becomes your eyes and ears to problems that affect your bottom line.

How extensive is my application?
Monitoring needs vary, and a one-size-fits-all system rarely produces a good SCADA/alarm monitoring solution. The proper system will be dependent on what type of business you are in, and what features are most important to ensure system uptime. For instance, a communications network with small, remote locations may want to monitor power uptime, generator runs, network connectivity, temperature, and humidity. Door alarming can also help prevent problems such as a technician finishing service at a location and inadvertently leaving the door unsecured. An alarm notification that the door is open can flag a call to the tech before the long trip home and a wasted repeat trip. It won't take long for rain to damage an expensive rack of equipment when the cabinet door is open. Considering this is all that's needed to justify a good alarm monitor at a site like this.

A small RTU like the NetGuardian LT G2 might be just the thing for a simple location with few monitoring needs. Connected to a door sensor, the LT G2 could alert the CO to an open door or intrusion, and action can be taken. And, with D-Wire sensors, the LT can report back up to 16 alarms in addition to the 4 standard discrete connections, making this small unit a very versatile option for limited needs.

"-what it costs per hour for a truck roll, you are looking at quite an expense. Figuring the insurance for the worker, the wear on the truck, the fuel, the total expense that goes into the man hours for an after-hours call, it's expensive."

Operational costs can be reduced with better visibility - and that makes the accountants happy
A wise saying related to the ocean could apply to network monitoring as well: "When the seas are the roughest, the navigation should be the surest." Knowing potential problems at a distant site in advance of a truck roll ensures the tech is prepared to handle the problem upon arrival, saving time and money. It's like having a good navigational map in a storm. When there is a problem, more information related to the solution can really make a difference in service levels. It's not uncommon for remote locations to be far away from a CO or service technician and there is a greater cost associated with maintaining these sites.

Trips to a location like this are costly in terms of operational expense. For example, breaking it down into what it costs per hour for a truck roll, you are looking at quite an expense. Figuring the insurance for the worker, the wear on the truck, the fuel, the total expense that goes into the man-hours for an after-hours call, it's expensive. Generic alarms that simply indicate there is a problem at the location can mean tools, parts, or vital resources might not make the trip. A return to the location is costly and, in a storm, even worse.

Monitoring decisions made easy, even in a storm
Monitoring systems can be complicated. Often there are multiple considerations for any one location, and selecting the correct equipment for your application often requires working closely with your vendor. That's where experience in the industry and longevity can play a big role in establishing the right fit for your needs.

DPS Telecom has a large range of monitoring equipment for most any application. Even better, DPS specializes in adapting solutions to your particular application. What this means to you is a solution that is specific to your needs, not just an RTU off-the-shelf with one or two of the many features you need.

Before the next storm sends a lightning strike to your bottom line, call DPS Telecom and talk to one of our System Engineers: 1-800-693-0351 or email sales@dpstele.com.