EDITORIAL

Prepared for the worst but not the unexpected

Posted 11/4/21

Surely you've heard the motto that Scouts are prepared. I thought the Beacon was prepared for last week's storm that in terms of winds ranked it close to a hurricane. No sweat - a few downed branches, lots of puddles, and within a couple of hours it

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EDITORIAL

Prepared for the worst but not the unexpected

Posted

Surely you’ve heard the motto that Scouts are prepared.

I thought the Beacon was prepared for last week’s storm that in terms of winds ranked it close to a hurricane. No sweat – a few downed branches, lots of puddles, and within a couple of hours it would be on the way out with bright blue skies and scurrying dark clouds. It would be inconvenient, but not devastating.

Short of the roof blowing off or a tsunami rolling down Warwick Avenue, we were prepared to weather a storm, albeit on the day the paper goes to press. The deadline to have completed pages to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, where the Beacon and Herald are printed, is 6 p.m.

A power outage wasn’t on the list of concerns. After all, we had prepared for that years ago when we installed a natural gas powered generator. It is big, designed to power the HVAC so that we might remain at our computers cool in the oppressive heat of summer or toasty as a blizzard raged outside while gathering the news.

In fact, our concerns reached beyond our walls. What if the press lost power – and it has – or if highways were closed so we couldn’t get the paper to our carriers? In the case of downed presses, we are thankful to the fraternity of printers. The Providence Journal has stepped in to print the Beacon.

So, we were prepared for a blustery Wednesday.

The generator was ready. It had been serviced. It self-exercises weekly as it is supposed to.

When the power went out shortly after 6 a.m., however, the lights, not to mention computers and the HVAC, didn’t come back to life even after a brief hiccup as it is supposed to.

Richard Fleischer was on it. He opened the generator panel. Perhaps the battery designed to start the machine was dead, maybe there was some other apparent explanation. He found green lights, a good sign.

We were prepared, but the preparation wasn’t working.

Rich called Tony the electrician. Tony was bombarded with calls. He’d be over but not for a while. He suggested we manually start the generator, a simple flip of a switch.

Rich gave it a go. Presto, office lights were ablaze. The hum of computers was music. We could get out a Beacon. Preparation had paid off, or so we thought.

Then the lights dimmed before burning bright again. OK, this was going to work. Then came popping from around the office. Computer screens went dark. The smell of burning wiring wafted throughout the office. This wasn’t in the plan. We went around the office unplugging computers.

We shut down the generator and waited for Tony. The high pitch of the fire alarm, which is triggered whenever power is lost, wined inconstantly.

Tony went about diagnosing the problem by shutting off all the circuit breakers before restarting the generator. He then selective turned them on, leaving off the HVAC. Lights returned and then, as they had done earlier dimmed and brightened. Tony tested the system. Voltage was swinging between 60 and 260 watts – no wonder we were cooking surge protectors and, as it turned out, computer power packs.

We needed a dependable source of electricity. I drove to North Kingstown and picked up my son’s portable generator, which he handed over even though he was out of power, too. But a 5,000-watt generator wasn’t enough to run our servers. Everything was down – the phones, the internet and any means of access to content already generated for that Thursday’s Beacon. Our prayers rested with National Grid.

Meanwhile our IT guy, David Faucher, who lives outside Gardner, Massachusetts, would be down to assess the damage that evening. The folks in Attleboro vowed to hang in as long as it took.

Dave arrived soon after 6:30, 12 hours after the power died. No sooner than he walked in, the lights came back on. It looked like we could do it if the computers worked and we got the printed papers to the post office by 8 a.m. Thursday. Twenty minutes later, the power shut down. The time wasn’t wasted. Using my son’s generator, we identified a half-dozen working computers and then using cell phone and flashlights took apart those computers that were down to replace power packs or trade them from machines that worked. Fortunately, we hadn’t fried the servers. And when the power came back to life around 9, we had the semblance of a production system.

We set 1 p.m. Thursday as a target deadline to get everything to the press. We did it. Drivers were delivering the paper to stores and carriers by 3 p.m.

We discovered a weak link in our system, but we also learned that we have some very strong links from reporters, editors and production personnel to office staff, the press, drivers, carriers and the Post Office. We were prepared for a faulty generator even though we didn’t know it.

Beacon, power outage, generator

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  • MarkThompson

    Only10char

    Sunday, November 7, 2021 Report this