Mass Shootings and the AR-15

Way too often we hear about a mass shooting and right away the media, politicians and anti-gun lobby go off blaming the so called AR-15 assault rifle.  I sat back and asked myself why the AR-15?  What makes it so special that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes choose it and how many times was the AR-15 actually involved?

What is the AR-15?
To begin with what is the AR-15 in the first place?  The ArmaLite Corporation developed the AR-15 in the late 50’s for the military but later sold the design to Colt, a well-known firearms manufacturer in 1959.  Colt then was successful in selling it to the military under the designation of M-16.  The M-16 was able to fire as a semi-automatic firearm, that is one shot per each pull of the trigger and fully automatic which is it will continue to fire as long as the trigger is pulled or until it runs out of ammo.  With the capability of firing both in semi-automatic and fully automatic is known as “selective fire”.

The designator of “AR” stands for the original manufacturer, ArmaLite, not “assault rifle” as many would have you believe.  The name of “assault rifle” stems back as far as WWII when Adolf Hitler used the term “Sturmgerwehr” which translates to assault rifle for propaganda purposes which became known as the “Sturmgerwehr 44”.

Assault rifles are characterized as rifles that have interchangeable magazines, an effective range of at least 330 yards, have more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle and have selective fire capabilities.

It is interesting to note that the AR-15 does not have selective fire and as such does not qualify as an assault rifle but the media and others classify it as an assault rifle.

The firepower of the AR-15 is something in the middle of a pistol and high powered rifle like the .30-06.  For those into numbers, a .223 bullet which is what the AR-15 fires has an average of 509 ft-lb of energy at 300 yards while a .30-06 has an average of 1,106 ft-lb of energy at the same distance.  I am going to stop there for there are way too many dynamics to go into a discussion of ballistics.  Things like barrel length, bullet weight, muzzle velocity, amount of powder in the cartridge, the manufacturer, the wind and more all have an effect on bullet performance.  But it is safe to note that the AR-15 is in the mid-range of fire power.

I did prepare a simple chart comparing the energy of a 9mm and .45 pistol cartridges, the .223, a .308 and .30-06 rifle cartridges at 100 yards using the “Winchester Ammo Ballistics Chart” found on Sportsman Guide (guide.sportsmansguide.com).  You will see that the AR-15 cartridge which is the .223 lies in the middle of power.  It is interesting to note that all 5 of these cartridges were among those used in mass shootings.

chart A

Colt made a semi-automatic version for law enforcement and when the patents ran out, other gun manufacturers started to make their own version of the AR-15 and started selling them to the public.  Sales for the AR-15 took off and it became and still is very profitable.

The AR-15 quickly became the hotrod of firearms due to the ability to customize it with thousands of accessories like scopes, stocks, grips, lights, and much more.  One notable accessory is the infamous bumpstock which was used in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.  For those that are not familiar with a bumpstock, it replaces the normal stock on the AR-15 and is designed to make your trigger finger pull the trigger faster because of the recoil.  So much faster that it simulates the firing speed of a fully automatic firearm yet the AR-15 remains a semi-automatic rifle.

The AR-15 sports a pistol trigger grip making it more ergonomic, has low recoil or kick back for those that never fired a firearm, and like a lot of firearms is very easy to learn how to shoot.  Prices range from $750 to well over $2,000 for one.  Due to the fact that the patents ran out some people have built their own AR-15 using the various parts that are available online for as little as $450.

And again, like what was pointed out earlier, the AR-15 is a semi-automatic firearm like so many semi-auto’s that are around.

The Research
Digging to try and find out what are the statistics for shootings involving the AR-15 brought about quite a few surprises.

To begin with, there are numerous places that have recorded data on mass shootings and they each set their own criteria for recording and reporting the findings.  No two were alike.  It has been generally accepted among all the sites that were visited that a mass shooting involves 4 or more victims, including the perpetrator, if he or she was shot.

For my research I set my own criteria which is the date of the incident, the city and state, number of perpetrators, the name of the perpetrator(s), the age and sex of the perpetrator(s), what happened to the perpetrator, how many people were killed, how many people were injured or wounded.  Most importantly is what types of firearms or weapons that were used in the shootings.

Using the criteria set I went to numerous websites to search for the data that fit the criteria.  One such site visited starting with the FBI Crime Data Explorer (CDE) was beyond useless.  All of the data was encoded with no easy way to decode it.  The database did not drill down to the exact specifics that were needed.

Moving on I went to the “Gun Violence Archive” (gunviolence.org) which has a wealth of information but regrettably they go back only as far as 2014 and they do not have all the data that fit the criteria.  As of December  18, 2018  they show that there have been 1,680 mass shootings since 2014.

They consist of links to various articles about mass shootings produced by the media on web like the following other sites do.  Unfortunately a lot of those articles are incomplete for that do not have the data that is needed for the research.  Things like shooter’s name, or age, or types of weapons, etc.  If a particular article was missing data that fit the criteria, then it was considered as incomplete and not included in the research.

Another site, “Mass Shooting Tracker” (massshootingtracker.org) goes back as far as 2013 and has 2,342 mass shootings recorded as of December 18, 2018.  Like with the previous website if data that was needed to fit the criteria was incomplete, then that case was not included.  It is also interesting to note that in the same time period of 2014 to 2018 the Gun Violence Archive shows 1,680 mass shootings while the Mass Shooting Tracker has 2,003 for the same time period.

I am certain that the cases the previous two websites recorded could change the results if they had the data that fit the criteria.  I would have loved to have included that into my research.  Regrettably they didn’t so I couldn’t include use them.

Next is “Wikipedia” (en.wikipedia.org) where I was able to come up with the needed data.  They had 148 cases of mass shootings from 1949 to 2018 that fit the criteria with the ability to go back to detailed information about each particular incident.

An article by “The Washington Post” (washingtonpost.com) had a lot of information going back to 1966.  They have recorded 158 cases of mass shootings with links to the original media articles.

Finally “Mother Jones” (motherjones.com) had some additional information none of the other sites had and had 107 cases posted.

As you can see there are discrepancies between all of the websites as far as the number of mass shootings are concerned.

The research did bring out four outliers three of which could have been included but since there was certain data missing, were not included in the final results.  But they do deserve mentioning.

One was the Orangeburg massacre on February 8, 1968 where 8 members of the South Carolina Highway Patrol fired upon unarmed protestors killing 3 people and injuring 27 others.  One person who was shot and killed was just sitting on some steps waiting for his mother.  Many of the victims were shot in the back.  The South Carolina Highway Patrol used shotguns, carbines which fall into the high power rifle category and pistols.

Another outlier is the famous Kent State Shootings on May 4, 1970 where 77 members of the Ohio National Guard fired upon unarmed protestors killing 4 and injuring 9.  They used M1 Garand rifles which is considered a high powered rifle, a .45 caliber pistol and a 12 gauge shotgun.

Also in 1970 were the Jackson State College shootings in Jackson Mississippi on May 15th of that year.  75 members of the Jackson Police Department and the Mississippi Highway patrol fired upon students at the Jackson State College killing 2 and injuring 12.  It is unknown as to what weapons were used.

The forth outlier which has been included in the final results and that was the Las Vegas shooting of October 1, 2017 where Steven Paddock brought an arsenal of (22) AR-15 rifles along with a non-semiautomatic rifle and revolver into a hotel room.   He fired them onto a concert from the windows of the room killing 59 and injuring 422.  This is going down as possibly the worst mass shooting in US history.  The only reason this is considered as an outlier was the fact that Paddock brought in so many firearms into his hotel room to commit the atrocity with.

With the exception of the Orangeburg, Kent State and Jackson State mass shootings, there has been no other recorded mass shooting involving so many firearms.

Now where does that leave us?

The Results
From the research as of 12/18/18, there have been 250 cases of mass shootings that fit the criteria claiming 3,465 victims with 1,735 of them being killed.  There has been a steady increase in mass shootings since 1973 with a large jump in 2015.

chart 01Now the big question, how many cases involved the AR-15?  Looking at the numbers we find that out of the 250 cases there have been 218 cases where the AR-15 was not involved at all.  Of the 32 cases or 12% where the AR-15 was involved there were only 11 of them where the AR-15 was the sole firearm.  It generally was used in conjunction with other firearms.  Of the 32 cases (54) AR-15’s were used including the outlier of Paddock who had an arsenal of 22.

chart 02

Now a problem with the statistics especially with those involving multiple weapons, there is no data segregating what weapon inflicted what wound in each person.  You may have a perpetrator using a semi-automatic pistol like a Glock and an AR-15 but the damage was done with the pistol only.  The raw statistics do not break that down at all or at least there is nothing readily available.

But at the end of the day, the statistics show that 272 handguns both semi-automatic and revolvers were involved in mass shootings compared to 54 for the AR-15.  Most handguns are easy to conceal and are easy to shoot with on-line retail prices ranging from $120 to $2,300 and up.

chart 03

Sadly thou the number of mass shootings where the AR-15 has been involved in has been increasing.

chart 04

Victimology
Since the first case of mass shootings was recorded in 1949 there have been 3,465 victims, including the perpetrator (if they were shot or killed).  Of these 1,735 were killed and 1,730 injured.  Almost a 50-50 split.

chart 05

Of the 3,465 victims there were 1,088 victims where the AR-15 was involved.  But again looking back at the 32 cases where the AR-15 was involved, most of the cases where in conjunction of additional weapons being used.  So we really do not know how many of those victims were shot by an AR-15 with the exception of the noted 11 cases where the AR-15 was the sole firearm.

chart 06

Of the 1,088 victims where the AR-15 was involved, 358 were killed and 730 were injured.  Taking into consideration that there were 11 cases where the AR-15 was the only weapon used, there were 98 killed and 70 injured in those cases.

It should be pointed out that any shooting regardless if it is a mass shooting or not is a horrific tragedy and should not be down played regardless of what weapon was used.

Questions still remain
The big question remains, why the AR-15?  Is it because of the low recoil making it easier to fire off additional shots?  A .22 caliber has little to no recoil and can be very lethal and was the second most used caliber.  The 9mm was the first most used caliber.  Could it be the intimidating look of it?  It cannot be because of the size and weight for many other firearms run about the same weight and are the close to the same overall size within an inch or two.  It certainly cannot be due to the cost for there are firearms with more power for the same money.  Ease of shooting cannot be the answer for the AR-15 is as easy to fire as say the Ruger Mini-14 which uses the same bullet as the AR-15.

I think those are questions that will not be fully answered along with even a bigger question and that is why are we seeing an increase in mass shootings?

So the next question is, why is the media, politicians and anti-gun lobby so against the AR-15 when the bulk of mass shootings were done with handguns?

References

“A Brief history Of The AR-15”, National Public Radio,  https://www.npr.org/2018/02/28/588861820/a-brief-history-of-the-ar-15, retrieved 12/10/18

Firearms: The Life Story of a Technology. by Roger Pauly. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2004. page 145 & 146

Jane’s Guns Recognition Guide, Ian Hogg & Terry Gander, HarperCollins Publisher, 2005, p.287 Sturmgewehr 44 “This is the father of all assault rifles, developed in Germany in 1941–42 an using a new short cartridge. Originally known as the MP 43 (Machine Pistol) for Nazi political reasons, it was renamed the “Sturmgewehr 44″ after its successful introduction into battle on the Eastern Front. It introduced the concept of using a short cartridge with limited range in order to permit controllable automatic fire and a compact weapon, and because experience showed that most rifle fire was conducted at ranges under 400 meters. After the war it was examined and dissected by almost every major gunmaking nation and led, in one way and another, to the present-day 5.56mm assault rifles.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/a-brief-history-of-the-assault-rifle/489428/ The Atlantic. A Brief History of the Assault Rifle. The gun’s name may have been coined by Adolf Hitler. by MICHAEL SHURKIN. JUN 30, 2016

“Machine Carbine Promoted: MP43 Is Now Assault Rifle StG44, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 57, April 1945”. Lone Sentry. 2007-05-10.

Musgave, Daniel D., and Thomas B. Nelson, The World’s Assault Rifles, vol. II, The Goetz Company, Washington, D.C. (1967)

Myatt, Major Frederic, Modern Small Arms, Crescent Books, New York (1978): 169

Hogg, Ivan, and John Weeks, Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, third ed., Hippocrene Books, New York (1977): 159

Chris Bishop, The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002, p. 218

Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, 7th Edition, Ian V. Hogg, page 243

The Terrible Numbers That Grow With Each Mass Shooting, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/mass-shootings-in-america/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f5a48de9debe, Retrieved December 12, 2018

List of mass shootings in the United States, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States, Retrieved December 8, 2018

Mass Shootings, Gun Violence Archive, https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/mass-shooting, Retrieved December 12, 2018

U.S. Mass Shootings, all years, Mass Shooting Tracker, https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data/all, Retrieved December 12, 2018

US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data/,  Mother Jones, Retrieved December 23, 2018

Ballistics Charts, Sportsman’s Guide, http://guide.sportsmansguide.com/ballisticscharts/, Retrieved January 18, 2019

Outsourcing Tech Support – Good For Them, Bad For You

There has been some controversy regarding the outsourcing of IT technical support services.  It is an argument that has been around for years and will remain so as long as computers exist.

For those who are not familiar with the outsourcing of IT support I can sum it up very quickly in one sentence.  Instead of having an IT person on staff you hire an outside company to handle your IT requirements for you.  On the surface it would appear that outsourcing makes perfect sense.  The cold hard reality of it there are many reasons not to outsource IT services.

On a spreadsheet the initial numbers are very misleading in the respect that the company does not have to hire someone for IT support and as such will not have to pay benefits.  Even if an in-house tech costs $150,000 a year in salary it appears to be a savings if that does not have to be paid.  As such a lot of companies are shutting down their IT departments and are moving to outsourcing or not having an IT department at all.

But what is not put into the figures is the true cost for an outside tech to support the company.  Let’s say you have an issue with an employee’s desktop PC, you call the outsource tech support company or managed service provider (“MSP”) and place your complaint.  Now you have to wait for someone to call you back.  That can be right away or might be several hours later.

With the later, the employee’s system is sitting idle and you are paying the employee for not working.  The tech now returns your call and is able to resolve the problem say in five minutes.  Most MSP’s bill by the quarter hour.  So for 5 minutes of work you get charged 15 minutes.  I have seen some instances where a MSP will charge the full hour just for 5 minutes of work.

Let’s put some numbers to that.  The average rate for tech support by me is $250 an hour billed by the 15 minutes.  The employee in question gets paid $22 an hour.  A rule of thumb for benefits is half of the salary rate is what the benefits cost so that is an extra $11 and hour to the employee.  That employee’s PC is down for 3 hours before a tech calls.  It takes the tech only 5 minutes to rectify the problem.  Let’s do the math:

Let’s say that an employee has a real bad paper jam in a copier.  Generally that falls under the realm of the IT department, but if the IT functions are outsourced the employee calls the MSP about the problem.  They in turn tell the employee to call the copier company unless they do that.  And like before they charge for telling you to call or to make the call for you.

Now what if the problem requires that they send someone on site?  You usually get charged travel time as well.  When you do get charged for travel time is it for the tech to come from around the block or the other side of the county?  Experience has shown it is always from across the county, several hours away even though they are just down the street.  And let’s say that the tech they send is not familiar with the particular issue and needs to research the issue.  You can and do get charged for that as well.  Let’s put some numbers on that based on a real event.

A company of 80 end users was hit with a nasty virus that wiped out the user login database known as Active Directory in the primary server or domain controller.  The problem was escalated with the affect hitting other domain controllers in the network through replication.  This had the effect of locking out all of the end users from their computers so no one could work.  They had to call in the MSP.

The average salary for the staff we will say is $60 an hour which includes the senior execs.  Again 50% of the salary rate goes to benefits.  The server went down at 10AM and the outside tech was called.  He did not respond until 5PM.  The tech spent 9 hours researching the problem and making a diagnosis before repairs could made.  An additional 3 hours to do the actual repair.  The rate was $250/hr. and they tacked on 2 hours traveling time at $250/hr.  Quitting time for the company is 5PM, which means the staff was idle for 7hrs.  And the tech that responded was not familiar with the company’s network environment.

Let’s look at it:

figure 2

What if it took the tech say a day or more to arrive?  How much money was lost by paying people to stand around?

Now this was an extreme but realistic example. If you add that $54K to the rest of the calls to the MSP for the year and you could be shocked.

Now in this example the client had to wait seven hours before someone showed up.  What level of priority was given to this client?  Obviously it was not high up on the MSP’s list of priorities.  The client can be told that they have top priority but in reality the MSP could have the client on the bottom of the pile.

How much can this add up to?  With my previous company I reduced outsourcing of tech calls which meant that while I was there I handled about 19.2K hours of service calls.  Multiply that by the MSP rate of $250 an hour you will find that was a savings of $4.8 million.  Who’s laughing now?

Most companies do not have a tech savvy person on staff and the MSP‘s know this all too well.  What is to say that they bill for services that were not done or that were not necessary?  It happens and they can get away with it.

Here is an example, an MSP had a sales meeting with a client.  As part of the meeting they brought along one of the field techs to the meeting which was not requested by the client.  The MSP billed the client not only for the tech to be there at their hourly rate, but three hours travel time for the tech as well as lunch for him.

Labor is not the only costs that the MSP firm can embellish or control.  A lot of times they state that they can and will supply all the hardware at the best pricing available.  A savvy company would know that they can get better pricing for the same items by going elsewhere like PC Mall, Tiger Direct, New Egg and factory direct like with HP or Dell.

As an example an MSP wanted to sell Dell computers to a client.  The client already had an account with Dell but was open to price comparison to see if they could get a better price.  When the MSP provided their quote, the client went to Dell and built out the same computer for 40% less and is able to get the computer faster since it was shipped directly to them.  Obviously the MSP did not get the sale.

Many times the MSP will try and is often successful in selling hardware, software and services that are not needed.  They upsell whenever they can.  After all it is in their best interest not the clients.

As an example there is a publicly traded company not far from me.  Their network environment was simple and did not require virtualization.  A MSP made it to one of the senior executives and sold them on the idea of going with virtualization.  Not only that they convinced the executive to eliminate the in-house tech staff so they could run the show.  In under a year the MSP cost the company over $1 million and the network has more bugs in it than you can imagine which of course equates to more billable service calls.

Another example a MSP wanted to sell a client all new desktop computers.  The ones that they had were one to two years old but the MSP tried to convince them that their machines were outdated and were failing.  They were looking at trying to sell 120 new systems at once which would have given them a $200,000 sale.

In once aspect it did make sense to replace all of the computers at once to keep them all the same.  This way you can create what is known as one image of a computer with all the software on it and simply clone that to many others.  This makes deploying and replacing computers easy.  At the same time it would be prudent to have a few others of the same types on hand should you get a new employee or a system should fail.  The image would be very useful here.  But it is not a cost effective method by a long shot.

A lot of times the MSP will insist and put it into their service agreement that they get an exclusive to service your systems.  In an event like what I went into earlier where it took the tech 7 hours to respond if the company had access to another MSP then they might not have been down that length of time.  Unfortunately that company was in an exclusive agreement with the original MSP.

Some MSP’s feel that they own the clients network and the systems attached.  The client has no idea what is going on and as such the MSP runs the show.  They can and sometimes do withhold from the client a lot of vital information that the client has a right to.

As an example with the administration passwords.  These are the master top level passwords to the systems that the client has.  Being a tech myself I can say that it can be a bad thing to give these to the client.  A lot of times it has been seen that an executive who has these passwords logs into a system, like a server just to snoop around.  They feel that because they are an executive like a CFO, magically gives them the knowledge to access the server and generally will click on the wrong thing and cause all kinds of havoc.  In some cases the executive or someone else with no tech skills reads an article in a magazine how to do things and invariably tries what they read and messes things up as well.  I have seen this on several occasions.

But the client owns the systems and has a right to the passwords.  The MSP can come up with some excuse in not giving them to the client.  If the client has them they can lock out the MSP from accessing the network.  This is a good practice and should be set in place to prevent unauthorized access.  This way if the tech firm needs access then the client can grant it on an as needed basis.  Plus the client will have the freedom to have someone else look at the systems if they desire.

Granted most of the time the client has no clue as to what is going on.  This is where the MSP needs to but does not educate the client to the nitty-gritty details.  But they often do not do so just to keep the client in the dark.

With your own IT staff they know the systems inside and out in know how everything works better than an outside company can.  In many cases it is the in-house tech staff that built the network from the ground up.  This gives them the advantage over an outside company for they can respond to emergencies a lot faster.  Plus the in-house staff would have extensive documentation on the network which an outsourced company would not have nor provide.  True an outside company can learn your network but there is a learning curve involved which costs money as pointed out earlier.

Another bit of familiarity comes not from the hardware but from the end-users as well.  With an in-house tech they would know how to interact with the rest of the staff.  Plus a level of trust is built up between everyone something that an MSP could not hope to achieve.  Sometimes an outside tech may have rubbed someone the wrong way and the company can actually prevent the tech from servicing them.  And in with an MSP you may not get the same tech in twice.

A major factor to consider is security. Who are these people?  They have no vested interested in the clients company, just their own.  Who is to say that an outside tech does not walk off with crucial data on a flash drive or external hard drive?  The client will never know.  What is the outside tech doing with that data, sharing it with another client?  What if the tech leaves the hard drive unattended in a car and that gets broken into and the external drive is stolen.  Corporate espionage is a very real threat.  An in-house tech would treat your data with more care and security than an outsider will.  Granted even internal staff can steal data, but the chances are lower than an outsider.

Are you sure your MSP is not divulging your secrets?
Are you sure your MSP is not divulging your secrets?

A very good example is there is a company that had an outsourced tech there.  An argument ensued between him and one of the staff.  The tech blabbed his mouth off about the clients operation to one of his other clients who in turn shared that information with one of their clients.  Where is the level of trust and security there?  How often do things like this happen?

With an MSP you the client have no control over what goes on in your network.  Keeping your network environment in operation at all times should not be left to outsiders for they do what they want, when they want and charge you for everything possible.  Even with a network of 20 users would pay to have someone on staff to maintain your network for you, even if it means they have to do other jobs to justify them being there.

Outsource tech companies can and do have some usefulness.  They see changes in technology faster than you can and are on top of these changes.  They also can pull from a larger resource of knowledge to get a job done because you are not their only client.  Someone else may have had a similar problem and that experience can be beneficial.  So in some aspects it pays to have an MSP or two as standby help.  But not as your primary tech support.

Ultimately the decision is yours.  But the prudent thing is not to outsource your tech support.  Of course the MSP’s would highly disagree with what is presented here, after all like I said earlier they are out for their best interest not yours.

Video For Your Business

Video has long been used by big companies to advertise their products or  services on TV. No wonder they have the budgets for it and you cannot escape it. Think that it is not successful? Look how many ads you have to sit through on a given TV show.

Even smaller companies are getting into TV advertising with simpler TV ads, meaning few to no special effects, one or two camera angles, nothing fancy in the background. But they do work and the companies get TV exposure to help build sales.

TV is not the only venue that is available although it is the most popular.  One of the most popular platforms around for hosting videos is YouTube. Unlike paid TV advertising it is free, but there are some drawbacks which I will address later. I am going to continually use the term “showcasing” and that I will go into why later on.

You may ask, how successful can YouTube be?

As an example, Gary Brolsma lip-synched to the song “Dragostea din te” while goofing around and while videotaping himself using a standard webcam. He then posted it on YouTube and in a matter of days it went viral and he was known as the Numa-Numa Kid. Here he became a superstar of sorts for free.

Another person posted videos of himself cursing and screaming about everything possible on YouTube and eventually a reality TV show picked him up.

YouTube is also filled with people showing off their pets, babies being cute, someone doing face plants and more. Then there are those who are using it showcasing their talents through instructional videos, product demonstrations, real estate sales and various other business aspects. Which is the focus of this discussion.

With some ingenuity and planning any business, and I do mean any, can take full advantage of showcasing on YouTube. As an example a marina can give a tour of their facilities, an accountant can talk about some changes in the tax laws, a volunteer rescue or ambulance company can demonstrate CPR or stocking the ambulance or crash box, a fishing tour guide can show customers having fun, a computer geek like myself can go into virus removal. The possibilities are limitless.

Now here is why I used the term “showcasing.” In the Terms Of Service (“TOS”) of YouTube you cannot post any advertisement. For that you need to contact them and pay a fee. These ads display before a posted video.

To get around this your video should showcase what you do or have to offer. As an example

Let’s say I own a marina called Barnacle Bill’s someplace in Maine and I post a video with a dialog something like this:

“At Barnacle Bill’s we have slips available for vessels up to 60 foot with 9 foot beams for only $150 a foot. Our factory trained technicians are available 7 days a week to handle all your mechanical needs so you can enjoy the water longer. and yada yada yada.” You get the idea. Sounds like a typical TV ad which is a no-no according to the TOS.

With a little cleaver re-wording and camera work, you can give a tour of the marina: “Let me show you around Barnacle Bill’s up here in Happy Port Maine, here we have ample dockage for boats up to 60 foot. This is our mechanic shop where we keep a staff on hand to keep our customers floating. A floating customer is a happy customer. Over by the fence we are putting in a snack shack to fend off the munchies. Hope you enjoyed my little tour of Barnacle Bill’s in Happy Port Maine”…(fade to a webpage address)

Simple showcasing. Maybe on the next video I would show a boat being hauled out of the water using the same format or maybe there is a ships store where someone can buy supplies. Get the idea?

Create a YouTube channel where you can have a collection of your videos so visitors can see them time and time again.

But you need to be very careful in how you do this so you do not violate the TOS.

Unlike TV advertisements you do not need high end video cameras or editing software, although it would not hurt. A decent video camera for around $100 and free editing software can get you going. Even a cell phone can be used to capture the video, but I do not recommend it for the resolution looks like a video from a cell phone. But it can be used if you want.

One of the best things about video cameras today is once you finish shooting, you can instantly see the clip and reshoot if needed. No rewinding of video tape like in years past. I did an instructional video and I must have botched the opening scene five times until I got it right. The instant viewing after shooting made doing the retakes a breeze and saved a lot of time.

Invest in a decent tripod
Invest in a decent tripod

One thing is a must, and that is a way to hold and steady the camera. No one can hold a camera still for long without introducing camera shake. So a tripod is a handy tool to have but make sure it is sturdy and avoid those $20 ones that fold into a small bag.

Or you can prop the camera on a table with books, pillows, rolled up towels or even a box of uncooked pasta. Of course that will all depend on where you are planning on shooting.

Speaking of which, Depending on where you are shooting your video, you can add extra lighting easy enough by moving a few lamps or buy one of those clip-on flood lamps from Home Depot or Lowes for around $20.

I would recommend looking up how to use lighting properly otherwise you could ruin a good shot and you could look like one of those police line-up photos.

The hardest part of doing the video so happens to be financially the cheapest and that is creating the script. Once you write it, you will find that you will need to re-write, edit, edit, and edit some more. Practice reading it out loud and maybe some more edits are in order. Practice reading it again a few more times to get the timing and pronunciation right. Take your time here for if you rush through it your video will show it.  Like I said this is the hardest part.

Be sure to tidy up first
Be sure to tidy up first

OK, you have the camera, tripod, flood light and script so you are ready right? Wrong. Set up your camera where you want in and look through the view finder. Even take a few test shots running about 5 or so seconds. Take a look at the shots see how the background is. If you are doing a video outside, spruce up the area behind you, if you are shooting inside make sure the area is clean. No one wants to see a cluttered desk or clothing scattered all over. Take a few minutes to make things presentable.

Be sure that you are dressed appropriately and professionally. A lawyer in a tee shirt does not cut it, nor would you expect a person in a tailored 3 piece suit giving a tour of a marina. In your test shots, include yourself as well and say a few lines to see how you look and sound.

Forget using gimmicks
Forget using gimmicks

Unless you are in the circus, leave the gimmicks packed away. We have all seen those cheap used car commercials on late night TV where a fast talking loud salesperson is showing off cars blasting airhorns or tossing signs saying they are slashing prices. That went out in the ‘50s but for some reason they are still being produced.

Like TV ads, keep your video short and sweet say no more than 60 seconds. Unless you are doing an instructional video, no one wants to sit through a ten minute “ad.”

Once you have completed your video, edited it and posted it now what? Don’t expect a lot of hits right off the bat unless your video is so outrageous like Gary’s. What you will need to do is market your video.

In order to do this is as easy as adding a link to your Facebook page (if you have one), make an announcement on Twitter, include a link or embed it on your webpage, include a link to your YouTube channel in your email signature, even send out an email blast to your customers.

YouTube is not the only place that can host your video but they are the most popular one. Vimeo and others can host your videos as well for a nominal fee. Just do a search for video hosting.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In that case a properly produced video is worth millions of words. Do it properly and video can drive sales your way.

Photos – YouTube, JVC, John Kimmins, B&H Photo, Nature Lover

Free Computer (and other) Education

Years ago if you wanted to know how to program a computer or do just about anything on one you needed to obtain an advanced degree in math, electronics, engineering and what have you.  That ran you into tens of thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands by today’s standards).Startup Stock Photos

In some aspects that is still very true today especially if you want to design the actual chips, circuit boards or develop a new computer language.  But a lot has changed over the years where you can obtain computer education for little to no cost.

As an example, you want to learn a programming language, say JAVA.  JAVA seems to be the language of preference in most computer science classes.  You could attend a formal class at a college to learn the basics of JAVA but that can cost you from $1,000 to $3,000 or more.  OK, if you are going for a degree you will have no choice but go that route.

But let’s say you are not degree bound or just want to or need to learn JAVA or are in a degree program and need extra help.  There are plenty of free tutorials on the internet that do a great job of teaching JAVA.  Even Oracle, the owner of JAVA (formally Sun Computers owned it until it was bought by Oracle) has free tutorials on JAVA.  You can borrow books from your library as well.  Plus on YouTube you can find tutorials on JAVA as well with other sites.

As an example The New Boston,  http://www.thenewboston.org, has loads of free tutorials on various subjects including JAVA.   With some work on your part you will learn the language for free.

JAVA is not the only computer language you can learn for free.  COBOL, ASSEMBLER, FORTRAN, C+, and many other languages can be learned at little to no cost that way as well.

Cisco is just one thing that you can learn for free
Cisco is just one thing that you can learn for free

Let’s look at CISCO.  Like JAVA there are plenty of sources on the internet where you can get free tutorials.  To practice CISCO you could go to eBay and buy some used routers and switches which can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand or with a little digging you can get CISCO’s PacketTracer which simulates the hardware only it is free.  Since it is a computer simulator and draws no power, your wallet will love the fact there is no increase in your electric bill nor is there any additional hardware to buy.

In some areas you will need to buy the software to use to learn on but that is the fraction of the cost for a college degree.  A lot of times you can get software to learn on fairly inexpensively on eBay.  Granted a lot of it is not the latest but there is nothing wrong with it to learn on while saving money.

As an example you want to learn Visual Basic Dot Net, then you need Visual Studio to learn on.  I have seen Visual Studio for sale on PC Mall for over $4,000.  But on eBay and I’ve seen it for under $100.

By the way, if programming is what you seek then you will find that most compilers are available for free.

Computer programming is not the only thing you can learn this way.  CISCO, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, FileMaker Pro, and many other subjects

Astronomy, physics, economics and more can be learned for free
Astronomy, physics, economics and more can be learned for free

like Finance Theory, Psychology, Calculus, Economics, Astronomy and much more all can be learned for free.  You just need to search them out.

Some universities are offering free college level courses as well on the internet known as “MOOCs” or Massive Open Online Courses.  M.I.T. and

M.I.T. is just one ivy league university offering free classes
M.I.T. is just one ivy league university offering free classes

Berkley are just two several of the universities doing this.  You can get some great education again for free.  But not every course the university gives is offered for free and sometimes the course is pretty sketchy, that is they simply did not do good job preparing it and leave you hanging.  The courses might be a few years dated as to what the current curriculum is, but the knowledge is still sound.

For the most part you will not get any credit for taking those courses plus you might not be able to interact with the professors.  Some colleges like MIT will offer you a certificate of completion for a nominal fee.  Some of colleges have taken it a step further and will give you college credit for a fee but you need to meet other requirements first.  In any case you can take college level courses for free.

What universities you ask?  M.I.T., Berkley, Stanford, Duke, Harvard (yes that Harvard), UCLA, Yale for starters.

Let me get you started with some links to some free education:

800 Free Online Courses From Top Universities -http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses
MOOCs: Top 10 Sites For Free Education With Elite Universities: http://bit.ly/KtnCtd
MOOC List –        https://www.mooc-list.com/

MIT Open Courseware – http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Learning the Java Language by Oracle – http://docs.oracle.com/javase/tutorial/java/TOC.html
The New Boston – Bucky Roberts had produced numerous computer related courses plus a few others as well.  He does a great job.  Check him out – http://thenewboston.org
Alison – they have several courses ranging from computers to Risk Management to Math and much more – https://alison.com/
COBOL programming – http://www.csis.ul.ie/cobol/course/Default.htm
Harvard Online courses – these are the free ones, they do have online courses for credit but they will charge you for those  – http://online-learning.harvard.edu/courses?sort_by=date_added&cost[]=free
University of California Berkeley on iTunes has some free courses
University of Irvine has a few courses – http://ocw.uci.edu/
UMass Boston has a nice selection – http://ocw.umb.edu/index.html
Carnegie Mellon University also has a nice selection – http://oli.cmu.edu/learn-with-oli/see-our-free-open-courses/
Coursera as a great selection of courses from places like Penn University, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Stanford, UC SanDiego, Duke University and more.  Some of the courses do incur a fee.  It pays to check them out at – https://www.coursera.org/
Purdue University has a free on-line writing lab – http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/
Like Coursera, edX has courses from various universities – http://www.edx.org
Udacity – Free Interactive College Classes – http://www.udacity.com/
Khanacademy has numerous courses – https://www.khanacademy.org/
PYTHON  – https://docs.python.org/2/tutorial/

Lynda.com offers free education with a library card
Lynda.com offers free education with a library card

There is another resource that I found while not free but is very cost effective, Lynda.com.  Here are some great tutorials available at a very low price.  All you need to do is sign up for monthly access and you can access all of the tutorials that they have for the one price.  Some public libraries may grant you free access to that site just by being a patron so you can take an unlimited amount of courses from Lynda.com for free.  So it pays to check with your local library.

So with a little effort on your part you can find some great sources for free or nearly free education in computers well as many other subjects.

Green Power For Disaster Recovery

Hurricane Sandy not only destroyed property but the power grid as well.  Many businesses had to close due to a lack of power.  Some had a generator system in place that restored at least part of their electric needs.  But for the most part, Long Island and the New Jersey shore was in a state of black out for weeks to months.

Generators are possibly the number 1 item that is used for emergency

Stationary generators are the standard in emergency power
Stationary generators are the standard in emergency power

power that is used as part of a disaster recovery plan.  Most stationary generators run on natural gas which is supplied by underground pipes.  That is the same gas that is used to heat homes and provide cooking fuel.  One of the big concerns with using natural gas is the delivery of the fuel.  What if a large tree falls and the roots rip out the pipe somewhere along the line? It happens from time to time.

Some generators may have fuel stored in tanks on site like diesel, gasoline, propane and now some are using bio-fuel.  But those are subjected to delivery problems if tankers cannot get through.  Plus if not used the fuel can go stale or in the case of diesel, bacteria will grow in the fuel unless it is properly treated.  Not to mention the fire hazard that these can be subject to like with gasoline.

Using green power can be a viable substitute for fossil fuels but that too has some drawbacks.  I am going to run down the two most popular forms of green power fairly simply so you can have a better understanding of what is available.

Green Power is a name that is used for renewable energy that does not rely on fossil fuel.  The three forms that are widely used to produce electricity are hydroelectric, solar and wind.  Geothermal is another emerging method but is not really ready for the mainstream at this time.

Hydroelectric uses water to turn a turbine which in turn runs a generator.  This has been used very successfully for many years long before the term Green Power came about.  But it requires a dam to block a river to form a reservoir that supplies water to turn the turbines.  This is out of reach for any small to large business and really is only feasible on a grand scale.  Power companies have the resources to do this and as I indicated earlier have done so successfully for many years.

Next is solar power.  This is clean, noise free and easy to install.

Solar panels are placed either on top of a building, over a parking lot or in a field where they can catch as much sun light as possible generally facing south in the United States.  The panels can either heat water for domestic use and heating, or they can generate electricity through photovoltaic cells in the panels.

The panels that heat water contain an array of water tubes where water is circulated through either from street water pressure of by a circulator pump.  The water in turn can be stored into an insulated tank until needed or pass through a heat exchanger that transfers the heat to another source of water.

The problem with solar is if there is no sunlight or limited sunlight where in that case the water would not be heated and there has to be some form of shut off to prevent heated water from being cooled as it is circulated back to the panels.  For this a backup heating source might be required.

It is apparent that using solar for hot water can be best used to supplement existing systems.  But in a disaster situation this maybe the only viable alternative provided that you still have electricity to run circulator pumps.

Another problem with using solar heat for hot water is no different than any other plumbing system and that is leaks can happen. The joints should be inspected routinely and if a leak is found or a fitting looks weak then a plumber needs to be called in.  Thankfully leaks are few and far between.

Using solar for electrical power is possibly the most ideal use for it.  Like in the example above panels are placed to catch as much sunlight as possible.  Instead of heating tubes filled with water, photovoltaic cells in the panels convert the solar energy into electrical current.

solarThe current the panels produce is known as Direct Current (DC) which is what your car, flashlight, or portable radio runs on.  Since our offices all use AC or Alternating Current the DC power needs to be converted to AC through the use of an inverter.  Inverters have been very popular in motorhomes and in some boats for many years.  I even have a small one in my car that I use while traveling to keep my laptop charged.

When the sun goes down it is obvious that there is no power generation.  To compensate for this during the day time the solar panels charge storage batteries like those that are in your car.  These are connected to the inverter so during times of low or no sunlight you will still have electricity.

With the advances in solar cell technology even in low light conditions you can still get a fair amount of power generation.  But since the sun is generally available solar makes an ideal solution for disaster power generation.

Aside from not having any or enough sunlight there are three additional drawbacks with solar power that need to be pointed out.

First is the service life of the batteries.  Like those in a car you can expect three to five years of usage before they need to be replaced.  This is because of the effects of acid in the batteries on the lead plates which hold the charge.  The acid eats away at the lead eventually rendering the batteries useless in a few years.

Of course you will need a bank of batteries to give you any power for an extended period of time like overnight.  The size of this bank is determined by how much usage you plan on having.  Like in a small office you would not need too many batteries, but in a larger installation you could have a substantial battery bank.

As anyone who ever replaced the battery in their car can tell you that the battery can be very expensive.  Depending on the amount of batteries and their sizes in the battery bank this could run into the thousands of dollars every three to five years.

A battery room needs to be vented to eliminate the hydrogen gas
A battery room needs to be vented to eliminate the hydrogen gas

The next big drawback of using solar is that when lead acid batteries are being charged or discharged through use they give off hydrogen gas.  As we know from basic chemistry hydrogen is very explosive and needs to be handled carefully. We all remember what happened with the Hindenburg.  So where the batteries are stored needs very good ventilation and if they are kept in the main building and not in a separate ‘shed’ designed for the batteries, you need to be sure that none of the hydrogen gas can get into other rooms.  For the most part that is not too much of a problem.  All is needed is careful planning.

The third draw back I will address later in this article which actually applies to any form of power system you select for DR.

The second form of green power is gaining popularity with major utility companies, especially those in the mid-west and western states is wind power.  Using the wind is fairly simple and you need an area where the wind is blowing most if not all the time.  In some areas there is very limited wind so using it for power is almost useless.

The government has produced wind maps of the country which can help you decide if wind power is for you.

A wind turbine can be effective using prevailing winds.
A wind turbine can be effective using prevailing winds.

The wind turbine as it is called produces D/C power just like with solar and this is used to run battery chargers and set up a bank of batteries for the times that there is no wind.  And like with any battery system you will need an inverter or two to change the D/C to A/C for use.

D/C is not as efficient as A/C and long runs of cable can rob you of D/C power through resistance in the cable.  Depending on where you plan on setting up the turbine you might have to have the inverter installed into the turbine directly.  You may need to do this even with a solar system as well.

Before running out to have a wind turbine installed you will need to comply with various building regulations and in some areas the installation would be prohibited.  You might need to apply for a variance and go through all kinds of legal headaches.

There has been some controversy over using wind turbines.  First is the height of the tower to support the turbine which has to be at least 30’ above the tree tops and people can claim it as an eyesore and legal issues can crop up.  Two types of towers can be used to support the turbine.  One is self-supporting and those can be expensive.  The next one is supported with guy wires from the tower to the ground.  Room needs to be allocated for where the guy wires are anchored.  So you just might not have the space.  Next is the sound from the blades as they go through the air for it has been reported that the sound can be disturbing.

In very high winds like what is found in a tropical storm or hurricane can spin the blades so fast that they can explode, but this is very rare since the blades would turn in such a way to feather themselves as not to over spin.

A new issue that is cropping up is bird strikes.  It has been felt that birds do not see the blades and can fly into them thereby getting killed.  Animal rights activists could create other legal issues for you.

Regardless if you go with solar or wind power you need to plan how to wire the system into your building.  You may have to have a disconnect that will isolate your green power from the grid.  A long talk with an electrician and your utility company is definitely in order before you even buy the system.

As with anything there is a cost that needs to be considered and figured in.  This brings about several questions.  These questions will be pretty much the same regardless if you are deciding on green power or not.  This is the third drawback that I mentioned earlier.

First, how mission critical is it not to have power and how long can you be without it?

The answer to this is by examining your business model.  For some companies a few hours without power is all that they can tolerate while for other companies that would put a major strain on them and for others a few days or a week would be all they could tolerate.  Here a long talk with your accountants is in order.

Next how much power are you going to need in a disaster?  Again back to your business model.  Are you looking to run everything or just certain functions of the company like clerical or executive offices?  Of course one of the areas that should always be in the equation is your server / network infrastructure.  Another area that needs to be in the equation is security for both fire and intrusion.  If your security systems rely on telephone lines you need to be sure your telco system as power to cover those assets.

In the food industry refrigeration is always must to keep food fresh so that too needs to be figured in.

Most manufacturing plants most likely would not be able to take advantage of green power for disaster recovery, except the offices.  Some warehouses could potentially use green power.  I certainly would not expect to see a steel mill running on green power.

To determine your power requirement is relatively simple and requires only basic math.

Simply look at the labels on the equipment or owner’s manuals of the items you need to keep powered and find the wattage.  Just add them together to determine how much power you are going to need while the main power lines are down.  Mind you these figures are going to be for items turned on simultaneously.

Let’s say you determine that you need 8,000 watts or 8 Kw.  You might be able to get away with an 8.5Kw power system but to be prudent and for a margin of safety a 10Kw system would be best.  This way if something is turned on that you did not calculate for or if an item is drawing more than it should you will have a safety cushion.

What if wattage is not posted on the item or in the manual?

A lot of times amperage will be listed instead.  Using the simple formula:

Amperage x Voltage = Wattage

You can determine the wattage of the device.

As an example you have a computer that draws or needs 5 amps or 5A.  The standard electrical outlet in the United States provides 120 Volts or 120VAC.  From here we can determine the wattage by plugging in ( bad pun ) the appropriate numbers.

5A x 120Vac = 600 watts

Now all we need to do is add that to all of our other wattages to determine what size power system we need.

From there it is time to shop around to see what is available.  The prices will astonish you so be prepared for sticker shock.  Although green power provides free electricity, the initial costs can be quite steep where you will need to question the return on investment or ROI.  Again this will all depend on how much you stand to lose when the power goes out.

Let’s use my house as an example since I am currently working out of it.  I live on Long Island where we pay some of the highest electric rates in the country.  My average electric bill is $250 a month which obviously is $3,000 a year.  I would need a 10Kw power system to keep my house operating.  From here let’s look at Solar and Wind power.

Home Depot has a 10Kw solar power system for about $22,000 plus installation.  Not adding in any finance charges it would take a little over nine years to pay off the system provided that it is being used to power my house all the time instead of emergency power which in that case it would take a lot longer to see any ROI.

Going to the Bergey website who manufactures wind turbines for home and businesses I came up with a price for a 10Kw wind turbine producing 220 Vac, a 100 foot tower and wire kit.  The price for this not including installation, any options or legal fees was $50,180 which just increased the time for me to see a ROI significantly.

Has a home user it really does not pay for me to go green.  But for a larger business it just might.

You need to review the idea of going green with various members of your team
You need to review the idea of going green with various members of your team first

Depending on how much you stand to lose each day without power it might pay to install a green power system for disaster recovery and business continuity.  This is where you need to sit down with your accountants, the utility company, your lawyers, your insurance company and if you lease your building, your landlord.  Some utility companies may offer incentives to go green and you just might qualify for a tax break which could help offset the initial costs.  After getting everyone’s take on the situation then you can decide to move forward with green power for DR or table the idea.

Even with the costs, the complexity and hassle of going green for DR could pay big dividends down the road in an emergency and keep your business afloat while others drown.

 

Photos – Generac

 

(c)William Lewis

Facebook To The Rescue

In an earlier article I addressed that one of the most crucial aspects of a disaster recovery plan is communications.  Communications as a whole is so vital most any solder can tell you the lack of effective communications can mean losing a battle.  Granted we are not at war within the borders of the United States but in a disaster the effect can be the same when it comes to safety.

Today a lot of people use some form of smart phone like the i-Phone or one of the Androids.    These phones can not only provide telephone communications, but email, text messages and have the ability to surf the web.  You see them everywhere you go.  All of which can play an important part in disaster recovery or DR.

Social media can play an important part in your DR communications

Facebook to the rescue in DR
Facebook to the rescue in DR

efforts.  On the web exists possibly the most popular social media website known and is growing like a weed.  If you haven’t guessed, it is Facebook.

One of the problems with Facebook is that people can and do post photos and sayings that are from questionable to borderline pornographic.  If an employee in your company is viewing something like that at work, you could stand a good chance of having a sexual harassment complaint and law suit filed against your company.

At the same time Facebook can be a great marketing and communications tool as well.  As for marketing on Facebook, that will remain as another matter for a later article.  We are going to address Facebook as a communications tool in DR.

To use Facebook as such is really child’s play.  You need to create an account with a “person’s name”.  In this case we will use Paula Personnel and for our purposes it will be the human resources department who handles the page.

Paula has all the employees added as friends so only they and no one else can see what is written on the timeline.  Personnel, or whoever is in charge of posting logs in as Paula using her email address and password and posts everything for the employees, errr ‘friends’ only.  All the public would see is the profile picture and top banner.  For added security those pictures can be of say a cute puppy and appear to have nothing to do with your business, if you desire.

In the event of a disaster or major storm the employees are instructed to routinely check the Facebook page for any updates.  And like I mentioned in the beginning with today’s smart phones that would not be much of a problem, provided they can access the internet.

I need to caution you that you make sure whatever you post is set for your “friends” list only.  Potential criminals could use that for their own advantage.  Or worse yet, the media.  So be very careful before you hit the ‘post’ button.

Twitter can also play a role in DR
Twitter can also play a role in DR

Twitter can have a minor role in DR communications as well.  But the big problem here is that when you send out a Tweet, everyone and I mean everyone can read it.  So what needs to be done is use that in conjunction with Facebook.

First Paula Personnel sets up a Twitter account.  Now all of the employees will have Twitter accounts and be followers of Paula.  In the event of a disaster or storm, Paula Tweets a cryptic message something like, “My Peeps come home”.  That could signify the employees to go to the Facebook page for any information.  But whatever is Tweeted must be very, very carefully written before it is sent out.

Social media can play an important role in DR communications if used properly and should be another tool in your arsenal.

 

Communications For Disaster Recovery

One of the most crucial aspects of any disaster recovery plan has to be communications. Without a reliable communications strategy in place all of the disaster recovery planning and efforts are seriously hampered. Any solder can tell you without reliable communications you can lose the battle.

To ensure that you have adequate and reliable communications you should consider various options and have at least two forms available.

First most companies use what is known as a PRI which is their primary form of communicating. This is a business grade telephone line and can carry several phone calls simultaneously. The PRI is a digital circuit and

The CO handles the land line communications for a town
The CO handles the land line communications for a town

requires the proper equipment to use it which is very common place in many businesses. In larger companies they would have several PRI’s in place just to handle the call volume. In some aspects that alone can be part of a DR plan. One of the big down falls of a PRI is that regardless of who your provider is the “last mile” generally is your local phone company. This connection will originate at a location in or near your town known as the central office or “CO”. Even if you have multiple PRI’s chances are that they will all originate from the same CO and most likely run along the same telephone poles.

What if the PRI goes down altogether or the CO is rendered inoperable, now what? A lot of place still use fax machines and most likely those are on what is known as POTs lines. Unlike the PRI the POTs line is old fashioned analog. A lot of fax machines also have handsets so in an emergency you can use that for communication. But these too can originate from the same CO and would use the same poles.

Hence there is a weak link right there.

One company I know of had their PRI fail when someone in the CO accidentally disconnected the service. They where down for three days while the phone company worked on the problem but they still had the fax machines to call out on. But the executives did not like that idea of talking on a fax machine so they relied on the next option.

Everywhere we go we see people on cell phones. These can and should be a part of your DRP. Although they are pretty reliable these too have drawbacks.

A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications
A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications

Not considering usage limits from one plan to another, cell phones do have a limited range and the area you are in might have sketchy to no coverage. As an example in my own town in most of it I get great cell coverage but in another section the coverage is poor at best.

Should a cell tower go down as what happened in many areas of Long Island and in New Jersey due to a lack of power from hurricane Sandy in 2012, the cell phones became useless. The were expensive paperweights. That storm not only took out cell coverage but many land-line phones where affected as well when trees fell on wires.

Many times the cell towers can become overloaded with calls and again the cell phone is becomes useless. This happened when the New York Metro area and surrounding areas were hit with an earth tremor in 2011.

Another form of communication you can add to your DRP are satellite phones. These are still costly but not too far out of reach and can make an ideal addition. Unlike PRI’s, fax lines and cell phones satellite phones

A satellite phone does not require cell towers
A satellite phone does not require cell towers

do not rely on traditional systems at least on one end of the communications side. A very big plus for these for the most part is that the range is almost unlimited with the one exception.

Aside from the cost being one of the drawbacks with satellite phones is if a satellite is not in optimum position you might not get reliable communications for a short period of time. This is slowly being rectified as more satellites are put into orbit. But when the satellite is in position, then the range is unlimited.

When you call out on a satellite phone, the signal is picked up by an orbiting satellite, then bounced to a receiving station then it goes over traditional land lines to the destination. Here lies the second issue, what if the destination so happens to be in the same area where the disaster is located and has been affected by it as well?

Some people may consider using is the good old CB Radio. These have very limited range, are subject to outside interference, and generally are not monitored by the authorities. To use a CB no license is required. The FCC eliminated that years ago which gave birth to a problem and that is everyone and their neighbors can be on the air jamming up the airwaves with useless chatter. And depending on where you are located, truckers use the CB as a way of communicating with each other.

Another form of DR communications you might want to look into is actually very old and predates the internet, cell and satellite phones. That is amateur or HAM radio.

First thing that probably pops into you head when you hear HAM radio is a room filled with complex radios, oscilloscopes, someone using a Morse code key and head phones. In some extreme aspects this is not far from the truth but that really holds true for someone who is very advanced into the hobby. But let the truth be known you can obtain a HAM radio

HAM radio can be daunting
HAM radio can be daunting

that is a walkie talkie and get great coverage.

HAM radio does require that you obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission “FCC” and that can deter someone from going forward. One of the things that can scare people off is having to know Morse Code. A few short years ago you were required to know Morse at a set speed. That is no longer a requirement in most levels of license.

What you do need to know is some radio and electronic theory which is not too hard to master. The American Radio Relay League or “ARRL”

HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie
HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie

holds classes for the public so you should look into them as a resource. I took an on-line self-assessment test in how I would fair in taking the test and I got an 80 without picking up a book. In all fairness being involved in computers on the technical level did give me a slight advantage.

At least with a HAM radio available you have the ability to reach out to another HAM radio for assistance. Some hospitals and police departments are using HAM radio as back up communications but check in your area to see if they do have HAM radio.

One thing that needs to be pointed out that whatever you say on any radio can be listened to by other people so discretion in what you say is strongly advised. Even cell phone calls can be intercepted by someone using a programmable radio scanner.

As long as we are on the subject of two way radios, one more can be considered but has some drawbacks and that is shortwave radio. Instead of being able to communicate a few miles, you can reach people around the world. Like HAM radio, you are required to have a license and the station needs a license. Shortwave radio sets are expensive as well and have certain installation requirements.

Social media for DR communications?
Social media for DR communications?

Another thing that you might have thought of is right under your nose, but it does require extreme caution in how you use it and that is social media. Social media can be used for internal communications with your staff provided you take precautions to make sure that only they can see it. I will address that in my next article.

Plus if you lose your internet connectivity for one reason or another using social media becomes a mute cause.

And naturally this all of this depends on the availability of having electricity. During Sandy a lot of areas were without power for weeks into months. So whatever your DR communications plans are, you need to have some form of backup power either through batteries or generator. In a later article, I am going to address that exact issue so check back regularly.

These are just some of the options that you can use in a disaster for communications and should be added to your arsenal of tools.

Paperless Office for Disaster Recovery

What does hurricanes Andrew in 1992, Charlie and Frances in 2004, Katrina and Wilma and Ivan and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have in common?  And what about the EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011?  And let’s not forget the wild fires in California?  What do all of these have in common?

In each and every single one of them countless businesses were either washed, blown away or burned down forever.  Many of the businesses might have recovered if they had a proper Disaster Recovery Plan in place.  Granted in 1999 – 2005 Disaster Recovery Plans (or DRP) might have been nothing more but a pipe dream or obscure term for most while in later years some businesses started to adopt them.  Those that did stood a better chance of recovering.

A paperless office solution not only can reduce the amount of paper that you print, but can be an integral part of your DRP.  With the advent and new changes in technology part of any DRP should include some form of hosted paperless office.

Imagine losing your mission critical documents
Imagine losing your mission critical documents

In the event of a disaster where your building is inaccessible, damaged or destroyed, all of your paper documents will become useless.  As you can imagine that alone can put you out of business.  By making your printouts as electronic documents and placing them onto a secure hosted location on the internet using a paperless office solution can help bring your business back from a disaster quickly.  All you need to do is access your electronic documents any time, any place with an internet connection.

Paperless offices can handle most any type of electronic document like PDF’s, spreadsheets, word processing documents, AutoCad drawings, photographs and graphics and more.  Adding physical paper to the paperless office is as simple as scanning them into the solution and directing them into the appropriate categories.  Most copiers today have scanning capabilities built into them already that allow you to scan to a location on a server or PC as a .PDF, .JPG or .TIFF.  And many will also OCR the PDF’s for you as well.  From there all you need to do is migrate them into your paperless office.

Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office
Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office

By being very diligent in creating and storing your documents electronically, especially mission critical ones the destruction of your building will become more of an inconvenience than anything else.  OK, granted it would be a major headache and inconvenience but at least you potentially would not be out of business and have a greater chance of recovery.

What types of documents could you consider as mission critical that you need for recovery in the event of a disaster?

  • Copies of leases
  • Insurance papers
  • Bank and credit statements
  • Receipts and packing slips from vendors
  • Invoices
  • Physical inventories sheets
  • Deposit slip receipts
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Job applications
  • Employee records
  • In essence, anything on paper

With a hosted paperless office solution the provider can customize the paperless solution to fit your business structure including showing you how to limit who can access what documents.  As an example you certainly would not want a routine clerk having access to payroll information so various levels of security can be set up.  You would need to check with the solution provider about setting this up.

Who can benefit from setting up a paperless office solution?  Everyone.  There is no business to small or too large that cannot benefit from some form of paperless office.  Especially for disaster recovery.  And you do not need to go insane and make everything paperless.  Just start with the most critical documents and move onto others.

As a homeowner or renter you too can benefit from this as well using the same scanning technology only on a smaller scale.  From here the home owner or renter can scan all of their documents and save them into a hosted paperless office just like any business in the event their home is destroyed.

Granted a paperless office solution will not eliminate all of your paper but with proper use a paperless office solution can reduce your paper flows and it can help save your business in the event of a disaster.  You just may even qualify for an insurance break for having a DRP and especially one with a hosted paperless office solution.  But check with your broker.

Paperless Office Is For Everyone

Ever since the first bit of data that was spit out by a computer, the idea of eliminating paper in the office was born but never really took hold.  The “paperless office” became a dream that has been hard to adopt even by the largest companies.  Sp far it has been called “paperless office”, “e-filecabinet”, “document management” and a few others.

The term ‘paperless office’ conjures images of an office environment that runs totally without any paper what so ever anywhere.  Where in some industries this can be obtainable but for most companies it is really out of reach.  The term ‘reduced paper office’ is a more realistic approach for just about any company regardless of what industry it is in and no matter how large or small the company is.  Even home owners can utilize and reap the benefits of a reduced paper office as well.

Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets
Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets

What really hinders the making of a true paperless office is that there are

certain regulatory forms that must be in paper.  Not all vendors are paperless and will still send out paper invoices, statements and packing slips.  A lot of legal documents must be in hard copy as well as well as many utility bills.  So we can quickly see that a true paperless office is a difficult task to obtain.  So we have to settle for a reduced paper office instead.  But for discussion sake we will refer to the term of paperless office.

Some of the advantages of having a paperless office are:

  • Reduce the need for file cabinets and reclaim useable floor space or even reduce the size of your physical location thereby saving on rent and utilities. A smaller place generally requires less to heat and cool.
  • Save on printing costs by not needing cases of paper, a stock pile of toner, and buying new printers every few years. By reducing the need for having cases of paper and all those toner cartridges you again reclaim storage space and never have to worry about running out.
  • Considering how paper burns pretty easily, by not having paper in the building can increase the chance of reducing the risk of fire and could make a fire easier to extinguish.
  • Document collaboration is a snap by having team members able to access the documents instantly. Even across the globe.
  • Security can be increased by limiting who can gain access to certain documents by the click of a mouse.
  • No more lost documents which is a real big advantage since they will always be available. No more of the ‘who’s got such-and-such document’ scenario which is so popular in many offices.
  • Disaster recovery can be greatly enhanced especially if a hosted solution is in place. Mission critical documents can be safely stored and retrieved at any time in the event of a disaster as long as you have an internet connection.

But a paperless office is not fully a bed of roses for there are some disadvantages as well, but a lot of these are easy enough to overcome:

  • Security is possibly the most important aspect. You need to be very diligent on who has access to the documents and how secure your network infrastructure is.
  • Like file cabinets, storage can be an issue. The hard drive of a computer
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents

    can hold just so much data.  Here you might think of using a Network Area Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) device where you can add drives as needed to increase the capacity or look at a hosted solution to hold the images.  Thankfully hard drives are fairly cheap and take up very little physical room so adding storage to a NAS is really a non-issue.

  • If your building is destroyed and your paperless office solution is in your building then you are in as bad a shape as you would be with paper. Here a hosted solution would be the best course of action.  Of course you need to review their service level agreement before taking them on to ensure uptime and accessibility.
  • Not all paperless software solutions are alike. They each have their own little quirks and learning curves.  And they all come in a variety of prices from under $200 to several thousand for custom made ones.  Unless you are comfortable with and know databases then you can make your own solution which is not that hard to do.
  • There are various documents that due to regulatory constraints must be in physical paper form, but those are dwindling down. Here you will need to consult with your lawyers and accountants to see what physical documents you need to keep.
  • End users love paper and retraining will be needed to reduce the amount of paper that they do indeed print. Granted there are times paper will need to be used but with proper training this can be greatly reduced.

Not that long ago only the largest companies could afford having a paperless office.  But as technologies improved and computers and scanners have gotten cheaper even the smallest businesses can take advantage of having a paperless office.

You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server
You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server

Let’s start with a simple office.  All the documents that you create on your computer are already in the paperless format as well as digital photos and email attachments which are stored in a folder on your computer or server.  All that is needed is to migrate the documents into your paperless office.  As far as paper documents you need a scanner that can create .pdf, .tiff or .jpg images.  Most copiers and scanners today have that capability with the software that is bundled with the machines plus the software will run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on a PDF document to make it searchable.  These documents then can be migrated into your paperless office.

The fax machine is not dead, at least not yet and many companies still use them.  By connecting the fax line to a computer or server with a modem installed, add the appropriate software like eFax® and now all of your incoming and outgoing faxes will be paperless.  These can also be incorporated into your paperless office after ‘e-printing’ them.

You will need to research the various fax software package for some like eFax® limit how many free faxes you can make and require you to have a monthly or annual subscription.  Plus if you have several computers that you are going to fax from then multiple licenses are going to be required along with the subscription fees.  Best way around this is by setting up a simple print server that handles all of the faxing.

A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines
A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines

A lot of office copiers will have electronic faxing built into them so it might pay to discuss that with your copier supply company.

Of course you need someplace to store the images or e-documents like on a computer, server, NAS or hosted storage.  Most importantly you need the paperless office software and selecting one can be a daunting task since there are so many on the market like PaperPort Professional® and others.

If you decide make a paperless office it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a very high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.

Of course there are other advantages to having one built and hosted for you.  Like uptime in the event that a disaster destroys your building, the host takes care of hardware and software upgrades, the host also backs up the data to help prevent loss on their end.

If you are knowledgeable in databases then you could conceivably make your own version of a paperless office.  But you would be responsible for all of the maintenance, upgrades and backups.

If you are up to the task of building your own paperless office you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server,

FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office
FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office

MySQL®, FileMaker Pro®, MS Access®, Oracle® or SAP®.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access® and FileMaker Pro® standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle® and SAP®.

Next you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC unless the person who does the database work knows html, especially if you want web access to it.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.   FileMaker Pro® and MS Access® plus a few others will allow you to create a front end that the user sees.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database and the particular DBMS first plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro® that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your

Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office
Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office

documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

For a few hundred dollars any small business or home owner can have a paperless office solution in place.  Of course you can still spend thousands for a very robust system that has unlimited storage.  Paperless Office technology has been dramatically improved since the early days of computing to a more efficient and user friendly tool.  Now anyone can implement one in their environment.

Redundant Internet Connections For Disaster Recovery

A lot of businesses today rely on the internet for commerce in one form or another.  Regardless it is email, on-line applications, research or ordering the internet is the life blood for many companies.  Losing that connectivity can potentially cost millions of dollars depending on the type of business.

Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headache
Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headach

Most companies will have only one internet connection, hence a single point of failure.  In order to prevent that it is wise to have a second internet connection from a different Internet Service Provider (“ISP”).

What a lot of people do not realize is even if you have a second ISP, the internet connection could potentially be supplied from the same Central Office (“CO”).  If the CO has problems then you could lose both connections.

Part of this is because most places use good old fashioned copper wires from the pole to the building to supply connectivity.  Regardless of what ISP you select, the very last mile, that is from the CO to your building runs along lines owned by Verizon.  And what now have is the single point of failure once again.

That is why when you select a secondary ISP, it pays to find out where their CO is located.

Some places will have cable connectivity like CableVision here on Long Island.  They use a totally different CO and they own the copper from along the whole stretch thereby taking Verizon out of the loop for one connection.

Other places could even have a fiberoptic connection which eliminates copper altogether and like the cable will originate from a different CO.  The fiber could also be from another provider which again takes Verizon out of the loop.

Typical fiber optic cable
Typical fiber optic cable

With the way that fiber has come down in costs and the speeds far exceed what can be obtained on copper, it pays to look into having fiber as your primary connection and copper as your secondary connection.  This way if one should fail, you will still have the other to work from.

Generally how this is accomplished is that both connections are brought into the same room.  From there they are connected to the same firewall which is configured to accept both.  Most firewalls today will have a failover built into them so if your primary line goes down the secondary takes over instantly and seamlessly.  No one would ever know.  From the firewall the connection is now connected to the network where everyone works.

Using two ISPs for redundancy
Using two ISPs for redundancy

A lot of times the firewall will also do what is called ‘load balancing.’  That is split the traffic among both connections so one does not have a bottle neck.

Some companies will even go as far as having a third connection should they lose the first two.  This can also be copper of fiber from another provider.  Some places will use a broadband connection similar to cell phones using a device where 3G or 4G modems are connected to.  This is good in case a tree or accident takes down a pole outside.  Problem with that is the costs can be very high and you would not get the same amount throughput as you would with copper or fiber.  And like cell phones you might not get good reception.

A device that I used is known as CradlePoint.  It takes three broadband modems connected to it by USB cables then to the firewall.  In testing I pulled both the primary and secondary internet connections and just left the CradlePoint connected.  No one in the office of 55 ever knew the difference.

CradlePoint router
CradlePoint router

A major issue does arise with multiple internet connections and that is if you have your own email server like Exchange, should your primary internet connection fails then you could risk the possibility of not having email at all.  Here is where you would need to discuss with your internet providers to establish what is known as BGP to ensure that your email will work regardless of what internet connection is working.

In summary, if your business relies on the internet then you should truly consider having a second connection through a second ISP.  It makes good business sense.