Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blackouts and other disasters and the risks to your personal finances

Blackouts / loss of electricity, can be a costly and time consuming risk to your personal finances.

Over the last few weeks we've had some minor brown-outs and I began wondering about the impact of power failure on my family and our finances. Anyone living in Coastal states can easily be effected by hurricanes, etc....

The Risks
  1. Personal safety - alarm systems, internet and VOIP may fail as well as land lines (less likely)
  2. Data - Computers storing financial data will shut off unexpectedly, causing data loss for currently running programs and possibly damaging hard drives
  3. Timing - you may be cut off from financial markets or banking services that you had expected to use at the time of the blackout
  4. Inconvenience - electric locks may fail, communications may be difficult, traffic signals may be out in your area, you probably won't have electric lighting
  5. Food - food under refrigeration may spoil in an extended blackout
  6. Pets - electric pumps / water cleaners for fish, water/food dispensers for dogs and cats may stop working, (question: are invisible fences battery powered)?
  7. Medical - medical equipment may not have power

Mitigation Strategies

  1. Backup your data at the end of each session (Quicken offers to do this for you, does MS Money?)
  2. Purchase an automated back-up program and perform comprehensive backups regularly; I use PC Backup from stomp software, Retrospect by EMC is a very popular backup product.
  3. Back-up your data onto an external hard drive; costco, bj's wholesale have inexpensive external drives. I prefer Maxtor's external hard drives. I also like Simpleshare's network based hard drives - you can physicially separate your network hard drive from your computer into separate rooms
  4. On-line back-up. Consider this alternative for critical data. It's expensive if you have alot. @backup was once partnered with quicken and seemed fairly professional. Their prices range from $4.95 - $65/mo. There rate sheet is here.
  5. Buy a fire proof safe and put in it an external hard drive with a current monthly backup. Keep copies of your insurance records and a video tape of your home's contents.
  6. Whole house surge supressors - Power surges sometimes occur in and around blackouts. I have a whole house protector. It was inexpensive to have an electrician install it and all outlets in my house are protected. I think it cost about $150 - $250.
  7. Surge suppressing power strips - I use Power Sentry strips from costco.
  8. UPS - I have a seperate UPS for every computer. They cost about $100 at costco and should be within 20% of that elsewhere. UPS (uninteruptible power supplies) usually provide 30 minutes to 1.5 hours of battery time for your computer to run. A good UPS will also provide an interface to your computer (usually some type of USB cable connection) that will let your computer know if the UPS has been activated due to power failure. Some systems then allow for a safe automatic shutdown of your computer, protecting your hard drives. Most UPS have an audible alarm that sounds when power fails. This is helpful if you're nearby to hear the alarm go off. You can then manually shut off your computers if you haven't automated them (I haven't). Make sure all of your critical components are connected to the UPS, these include your monitor, PC and external hard drives.
  9. Consider a UPS for your internet connection - I have my modem, router, network switch, VOIP telephone adapters and Simpleshare network attached storage device all connected to a dedicated UPS. The simpleshare is much smaller than my old file server and uses less electricity. I assume my new network switch does the same. My file server had a 450 watt power supply, these machines don't. Hopefully that means everything will run much longer on a UPS than a normal computer would. All I needed to do to shut the simpleshare down was push a button. It shut down very quickly.
  10. The most expensive alternative is a power generator. Many fixed generators (which run from $1,500 - $25,000) offer automatic switchover on power failure. Make sure you know which circuits are covered. I haven't bought a generator yet, but am tempted. An 8-12 hour portable generator can keep lights and refrigerators running while you wait for power to return. It can also charge your cell phone! More robust portable generators seem to run $850 - $3,500. They can be purchased at my stores including Lowes and Costco.
  11. Most alarm systems have a UPS installed with them. Make sure your alarm has it's own UPS.
  12. Make sure you have a charged cell phone, first aid kit and flash lights. Matches are also handy.

Request for comments

Do you have any blackout related expenses or mitigation strategies? I'd love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful day,



2million said...

MS Money has a customizable backup feature so it can pretty much backup every session if thats what you want.

I also recently bought a USB external hdd case and used an old hdd to start backing up to. I love it since you can basically plug it into any system and immediately get to the data, no software required.

I also have a Zip drive I have backed up to in the past.

good tips!

makingourway said...


Thanks for the comment and information re: MS Money. It seems to act similar to Quicken.

I love the external USB hard drives and have several. If you can keep your backup drive in a fireproof box it will be even safer.

I remember zip drives. had a few - even jazz drives. the challenge was always the cost of the media.

Have a wonderful day,