Are your computer systems safe?

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Many of the nation’s trends are born in California. The fight over low-sulfur fuel, for example, began in the Golden State. The latest fad is the electrical power crisis, which has undermined the state’s $1.3 trillion economy.

While many Californians have been losing their cool over rolling blackouts, the rest of the country hasn’t paid much attention to energy shortages. But utility and government officials across the nation are warning that the energy crisis won’t be limited to California this summer.

A U.S. Department of Energy study estimates that demand for electricity will grow 2.3 percent nationally this year, with much higher increases in the West and the South. The report notes that the reserve capacity margin that utilities try to build into their systems to handle the hottest days has been falling in some regions to less than the desired 15 percent above peak summer loads.

As a result, continues the Energy Department report, utilities may have to import large volumes of electricity over transmission systems that were not designed to handle them. Also, power officials hope to avoid critical shortfalls in generating capacity in some regions, followed by overwhelming strains on aging, high-voltage transmission lines as power is bought and sold in increasingly competitive electricity markets.

Impact on california truckers
California’s trucking industry has not suffered the severe consequences experienced by many manufacturers, but carriers’ information technology systems are vulnerable when an outage occurs, says Stephanie Williams, vice president of the California Trucking Association. In addition, CTA is lobbying hard to prohibit the use of diesel by utility companies to generate electricity.

To minimize information technology system problems, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency recommends that companies turn off computers, printers and other peripherals at the power strip when they are not being used. The agency also says computers should be put in the energy-saver mode when they are on, so they will “sleep” when not being used for 10-15 minute intervals.

In an informal survey, CCJ found that California-based carriers are taking a variety of precautions against the consequences of projected power outages. Viking Freight’s San Jose headquarters, for example, reduced its power consumption by 20 percent in March by turning off computers, copiers, printers and other office equipment overnight and unnecessary lights during the day, says Kathy Keller, senior manager, corporate communications at FedEx Freight, Viking’s parent company.

Aero Ground, South San Francisco, has protected its computer systems by purchasing battery-backed uninterrupted power supply equipment at a local Home Depot. The UPS backup is expected to provide power for 30-60 minutes, says Lanie Bonanno, an account executive for the carrier. In the event of a longer outage, Aero Ground plans to use a gas-fueled generator.

Meanwhile, some carriers don’t have to take any precautions because their offices are in power grid zones that are exempt from outages. For example, the office of Frank C. Alegre Trucking, Lodi, Calif., is the same zone as a water treatment plant, and Rodgers Trucking in San Leandro, Calif., is located at an intersection which has a railroad crossing with an electronic signal and gate.

Most carriers aren’t so lucky, however. And if the dire predictions come true, far more carriers will need to consider steps to reduce power consumption and protect valuable data and systems from sudden losses of power.