Any fans of the HBO smash hit "Game of Thrones" know that winter is coming. While you may not have to worry about dragons or ice monsters in your facility, you definitely do need to ensure that you have a plan in place for weathering the storms that are an inevitable part of the season.
Preparing your building to function regularly during the winter is one thing, but it only takes one major storm to leave you high and dry (or wet, as the case may be). But winter storm preparation isn't just a maintenance issue, it's a matter of safety as well. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure your facility stays warm and safe this winter, even if a storm should hit.
Know your risks
There's almost never such thing as an effective one-size-fits-all solution, and winter storm preparedness is no different. The risks your building face can differ wildly depending on a few factors such as your facility's age and location. For example, if your facility is located in a rural or suburban area, you may have to worry about access and keeping roads and walkways clear, while administrators of older buildings may need to focus more on preserving infrastructure such as HVAC and plumbing.
It's counterproductive to try and prepare for every possible contingency, not to mention a waste of resources. Instead, determine what your building's specific and most likely risks are, and plan your strategy based around that. A guide from the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggested holding a preparedness discussion or round table to accomplish this goal. This should include the facility manager, building owner and any relevant maintenance staff, all of whom can share insight into where potential problem areas may be.
Cover your bases
Regardless of whether you're facing a blizzard, a hail storm or just extreme cold, in the winter, you know that you're always going to require power. This is a good guidepost to help you determine where to start concentrating efforts. Decide which infrastructure your facility absolutely can't do without, and then start implementing your strategy by ensuring those contingencies are planned for.
Power is likely the biggest concern here, as being stuck in your building with no heat is inconvenient and potentially dangerous. If possible, invest in a backup generator, especially for larger facilities that have higher populations.
It's also important to protect power-using devices. Buildings.com recommended unplugging all computers and other similar devices when the power goes out. This is because when the power is restored, it's not uncommon for a surge of electricity to flow out of the wiring and into any connected devices, which can be damaging. Surge protectors - not just power strips - are a wise investment. If your building is particularly large or houses a significant number of computers, you may need to upgrade to a building-wide surge protector with a battery backup.
Prepare emergency kits
It's unlikely that you'll end up in a situation where a large number of people are stuck in your building due to weather, but it's also not unheard of. Having emergency kits on hand is important to keep occupants safe and comfortable in these instances.
Ready.gov has published a guide to creating your own emergency kits from common household items. These should include the obvious basics, like bottled water, nonperishable food and blankets. In addition, you should also make sure to have a reserve of fuel for your backup generator, if necessary. Sand, rock salt and a shovel are also recommended so you can help improve accessibility and traction.
Protect your data
Cloud computing has positively revolutionized the way companies operate by eliminating the need for costly and resource-hungry on-site servers. But cloud-based servers can fall victim to data losses in the event of extreme weather, in some instances leading to huge expenses in lost data. This makes your data one of your facility's most valuable resources that you should seek to protect.
Protecting your data is a process that actually starts well in advance of the winter weather, with daily backups. You should back up your facility's essential data every day, saving information to either a hard drive or to another server. When it comes to protecting data, redundancy is the way to go. It's also possible to prevent data losses that would otherwise occur in power outages by installing uninterruptible power supplies on your servers. These devices provide a steady stream of power to your computers so they don't lose power, even if the rest of the facility goes down.
In extreme cases, when you may have to evacuate the facility due to weather, you should focus on preserving as much data as possible. Larger companies may even have satellite offices that exist almost solely as secondary data hubs so that IT professionals and maintenance staff have a literal "data Alamo" to fall back to.