Recent Winter Storms Highlight Need to Plan for All Contingencies in an Emergency
While Kings III regularly responds to emergency situations, recent winter storms (including record low temps, power outages, and water issues) in Texas have highlighted the impact of poor planning. An immediate consequence we see with power outages is elevator entrapments. As a matter of fact, here at Kings III, during the “once in a 100-year” storm, we experienced a one-day 46% increase in the number of entrapment calls we received. Been living under a rock and don’t quite get all the fuss? Let me paint you a picture.
While it doesn’t happen very often, snow isn’t an anomaly in this region of the country either. In this case, the problem wasn’t the snow but rather the week-long record-breaking low temps. The week of the storm, temperatures stayed below freezing and dropped as low as -2°. We know, our friends in the Northern half of the country are asking, “What’s the big deal?” Well, in Texas, February temperatures usually only range from about 40°- 60°. It’s not that the people couldn’t withstand the colder weather, it’s that our infrastructure was not equipped to handle it. So, the company that manages the Texas power grid started “rolling blackouts” in order to manage energy use. I won’t get into all the ugly aftermath, but we now know that we were less than five minutes away from a complete blackout that could have taken months to restore.
So what happens when almost the entire state of Texas loses power? And how does an emergency communications company located in that state (and who serves customers nationwide) continue to operate under these conditions? Well, it takes a lot of forethought, planning, and care.
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Preparedness – How did we ensure we were up and running?
It starts with our IT department. They plan, prepare, and test redundancies on all the perfect weather days (and some not so perfect) to help ensure we can make it through times like this. They are dedicated to ensuring our essential work can continue regardless of Mother Nature’s current mood. And boy was she in a mood that week! We too experienced the same power issues as everyone else, but we were able to carry on as usual when it came to emergency response for our customers. The difference? The groundwork and forethought to determine we should have not just one but two backup generators, and we needed both of them. When the power goes out we have seamlessly available uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) that support operations until the primary generator is up and running. It is an automatic process and usually takes about 10 seconds to transition. These systems are tested every week (under load) to ensure we are ready. Even when the first generator experienced a failure during the storm, the transition to the second generator was trivial and automatic.
Redundancies continue into our server and network infrastructure (servers, network switches, data circuits, and phone lines) where faults and failures can be resolved without a loss of service. Even without a storm, power outages are a very real and common occurrence and can be caused by a number of issues, including equipment malfunction and damage or interference from wildlife. That is why in addition to two generators we have an auxiliary Emergency Dispatch Center (EDC) facility.
Our backup call center is an offsite location fully equipped with all the necessary phone and computer systems. Not far from our main facility but on a separate power grid and phone line system helping to ensure that if one location goes down, the other will remain active. Fortunately, it did not come to that, this time. But it’s there if and when we need it.
People – How do we ensure we’re staffed in times like these?
But everyone at Kings III knows the real MVPs work in our Emergency Dispatch Center (EDC). It goes without saying that our operators hold critical positions in the company and their dedication shows, especially in times like these. Since emergencies happen at all hours on any given day, planning for contingencies is what we do, and that week called for utilizing all our contingency plans.
Despite experiencing power outages and burst pipes in their own homes, our operators were there to answer your calls 24/7. To that end, and to help alleviate additional burdens, our EDC management team made sure individual needs were met. This included mapping out where everyone lived and personally driving team members to and from the office if someone did not feel comfortable driving on their own as well as booking hotel rooms near the office for those who lived too far to safely drive back and forth. It sounds simple– but remember, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and hotels were experiencing the same issues as everyone else, making vacancies scarce. Efforts also included preplanning meals and grocery shopping to make sure operators did not have to leave the dispatch center once they arrived for their shift. Not as easy a task as one might think when nearly all restaurants were closed and grocery store shelves were empty. There were also a few trips to the neighborhood Whataburger (a well-known Texas staple) who not only managed to stay open but stocked.
They braved the lousy conditions and did it because they knew you needed them. Remember, on that Monday alone, we saw a 46% increase in entrapments as many of our customers were losing power while they had tenants traveling in their elevators. And given the unreliable nature of the outages, we continued to experience a 12-15% increase in entrapment calls over the rest of the week while managing to beat our 10-second speed-to-answer goal. That’s impressive, especially when you consider that even though total call volume was down, each individual call took longer to handle.
That week, especially as maintenance, police, and fire departments were on overload and elevator contractors were oftentimes unreachable, each call took more time and extra care to find someone who was able to help. Establishing a call list is one of the first things we do with a new customer. A call list is simply that, who do they want us to call when someone is entrapped in an elevator on their property. But what do you do when none of their contacts answer the phone? This isn’t just limited to a widespread outage, so there is a protocol for that too.
You’ve heard it said, “it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” or maybe that “plans are nothing, planning is everything”. That week in February, because of all the planning and forethought we were there, taking your call when you needed us most. Interested in learning more about our emergency phone solutions? Contact us here.
Elevator Communications and Data Connection Requirements: Properly Evaluating Security Risk, Reliability and Encumbrances
There’s a lot to consider when thinking about the new elevator emergency communication code requirements. Deciding to use your own network creates a long checklist and more work for you. Granting a third party vendor access to your network is an option but has risks. Here are a few things to consider when making your decision.