house in winter

Belt and Suspenders

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I’m writing this the night before we’re going to get some very bad weather. In North Carolina this time of year, that could mean an ice storm. Ice coats all the big and little branches on all the trees, and then they start to shatter onto roofs and overhead cables. I’ve lived all over the lower 48 and in Alaska, and ice storms are by far the worst, especially in a state that doesn’t bury the electrical lines.

But not to worry. As a long-term database professional, I know that to make it through an outage of any kind, you need redundancy in key services. What do we need to make it through a personal outage?


Our typical source of warmth (and cooling) is a heat pump. It works great for most of the year in the south. It does, however, require electricity. If the heat pump fails, we have a fireplace and plenty of seasoned wood. We also have electric heaters in the case the heat pump fails without a power outage. The whole family and pets can cozy up in the living room for days around the fireplace and sleep under quilts.


We have a pantry of canned goods and a manual can opener. But what we’re really looking for after a meal or two is something warm. That’s when the grill and backup propane comes in handy… throw a couple cast iron pans up there and start making a nice hot breakfast. We will have already transferred key perishables from the main fridge into a 7-day cooler, and they’ll last longer in the ice. If we run out of propane, we’ll roast things over the firepit. My daughter and I can use our Girl Scout skills to serve up a whole cookbook of campfire meals.


Because we are on city water, no electricity is required. Other things can go wrong with the water supply, though, so we have a regularly scheduled rotation of water containers. There are a few life straws floating around as well if the water goes bad. You might not be able to brush your teeth with a can of soda, but there are other liquids hiding in the pantry. It won’t kill the kids to drink juice for 3 days. One of those water containers is reserved for coffee, of course, using a backup canister of ground coffee.


There’s a whole bookcase (or 15) full of things to read if the internet is down. Not so fast, say my young people. And there is this thing called work. We are lucky (ha!) that the internet goes down frequently enough that our backup plans are solid. We all have hotspots, both on our phones and otherwise, and know where we can find public wifi. For maximum redundancy, we don’t use a family plan but spread it out across 3 services. I’ve switched between internet sources in the middle of a Zoom call without missing a beat, so I know we are prepared here.


Speaking of phones, we do need to charge them. We have a couple portable solar charging devices that can power both laptops and phones. The cars make good charging devices, too. Add spare batteries, good habits for keeping devices charged, and low power mode, and we’re good for a while. The only other thing you need electricity for is light, and I’ll let you laugh at my headlamp, but it’s invaluable.

Now that I’ve proven I have the ability to keep the family warm, fed, and entertained for multiple days, I’ll tell you the story about why I think about these things. When my first child was 13 months old, we had a major ice storm in North Carolina. We were living in a rental at the time, and had zero backup plans for any of the above. We were also almost out of gas in the car, and the toddler was intermittently projectile vomiting. Duke Power took 2 weeks to restore power to our neighborhood. Some of our aquarium fish died, although we were able to find homes for the larger ones. Hotels were booked for miles around, so after just a few days, as soon as the airport opened, we flew out to stay with grandparents.

And that is what experience buys you… a concrete understanding of how things can go very wrong and the willingness to make sure plans are in place to remediate them. Want to hear what I can do for your database availability? Contact me for a conversation.

(Don’t contact me if you want to sell us a generator, because that’s another story. But you can comment below to share how you prepare for storms.)

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Author: Valerie Parham-Thompson

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