Hardware

Set a reminder and avoid storm shocks

Driving home during a thunderstorm last night, I was treated to quite a show. Lightning slashed across the sky, and I couldn't help but gasp as I saw several bolts hit skyscrapers along the Chicago skyline. Once my awe passed, though, I was left wondering about my power protection systems.

Driving home during a thunderstorm last night, I was treated to quite a show. Lightning slashed across the sky, and I couldn't help but gasp as I saw several bolts hit skyscrapers along the Chicago skyline. Once my awe passed, though, I was left wondering about my power protection systems.

I'm used to Chicago's storms, but the skyline is usually lost in clouds and fog by the time a front comes through. Last night it was clear enough for the tops of the buildings to be visible as they were pounded by the storm. Like most city residents, I knew intellectually that lots of our buildings are "attractive". Metal skyscrapers like the Sears Tower are basically enormous lightning rods, right? But I'd never actually seen lightning hit a building before, and it's definitely a jarring experience. It's hard to believe that such a thing wouldn't cause catastrophic damage. It just doesn't compute somehow. The primal, lizard-y part of my brain just wanted to run and hide.

This isn't my footage (or even last night's storm), but it will give you a pretty good idea of what I was experiencing.

(Original video uploaded by user VeeKaChu to YouTube)

Once I got over my initial disquiet and awe at the power of nature, my next thought was of my new HDTV. I swear. Namely, I couldn't think whether or not I had plugged it into a decent surge suppressor, or if I was using a cheap drugstore power strip.

Skyscrapers may be designed to withstand lightning strikes, but our consumer electronics and computer devices certainly are not. Hopefully, you're protecting your equipment with high quality surge suppressors and uninterruptible power supplies. But I'll be honest, once they're plugged in, I don't usually spend a lot of time thinking about my devices' power management. This storm hammered home for me how much that habit needs to change.

So, join me and start scheduling a "power systems check" on your calendar. There's no reason that such a test should take very long. Check your surge suppressors to make sure that their "protection" and "ground" lights are lit. Most UPS devices have a "test" button; give that a press, and make sure that there aren't any battery status warnings. Replace anything that doesn't seem to be in complete working order.

Safety experts recommend testing your smoke alarms once a month, and I'm going to try to hold to a similar schedule for testing my power protection. It's a small investment of time that might prevent a future headache.

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