Defining Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Needs

RecoveryWhat kind of Technology do you use?   Is your entire business on a single Desktop PC or Notebook?  Does your office use a File Server or multiple Application Servers? Do you have multiple offices?  Do you have just a few employees or an office of hundreds?  Are any of your services, such a email already hosted in “The Cloud?” Does your business use traditional phone lines, a PBX, Voice Over IP?  Is your company already using inherently resilient Software-as-a-Service products for Customer Relationship Management, Business Intelligences, Project Management, or Financial/Accounting Services?

Technology is the great equalizer and remarkably, many of the Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Solutions are similar regardless of the size of the organization or specific technologies in use.

Every Business has the same goal:  Restore business operations as quickly as possible.

For example, all Businesses need the following Disaster Recovery Services to achieve Business Continuity as the recovery progresses:
Reliable Communication to Family, Friends, and Emergency Services
Power
Food and Water
Extended Communication Capabilities to Staff, Customers, and the Media
Access to Business Critical Data (Sales and Financial Systems)
Ability to recover and return to normal operations as quickly as possible
Cross-Training of Staff to assist in Rapid Recovery

How these functions are accomplished depends on the scale required to accommodate the number of Staff affected by the Disaster or Disruption to normal business operations.

If you are an individual consultant that only bills once per week and you backup your data after each accounting session, then the inability to bill for a few days may not be an issue.  However, if you are a sales based organization with the need to file customer orders throughout the day, being off-line for more than a day could seriously impact your cash flow.

The key consideration is in designing any Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan is to determine how much data can you afford to lose between the time of the interruption event and the last backup of your data.  And, how long can you afford to be off-line, without access to your Business Critical Operations before it negatively or permanently impacts your business?

We Need to Move to “The Cloud” – Where to Go?

Cloud Question MarkAs previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”   The next logical question is “Where do we go?”

Dozens of well-known companies offer reliable web hosting for small to medium size Corporate Web Sites without issue.  Although there are thousands of companies offering web hosting services, make sure to do proper due diligence and ask about their infrastructure – the technology behind their product offerings.  Specifically reliability or “up time” and redundancy or duplication of technology if something fails.

Web Site Hosting ranges in price from free to tens of dollars per month for simple sites and from tens to hundreds of dollars for larger content and eCommece Sites.  This is very much of an industry where you get what you pay for.  If your web hosting is free, chances are its’ availability is at the convenience of the Hosting Provider.  In other words, if it is “up” great, if not, “What do you expect for free?”

Be wary of the $1.99 and $9.99 hosting packages.  Many offer nothing more than “Best Efforts” service levels to keep your site up and operational, i.e. “visible” on the Web.  We all know what we do the minute we see “Site not found.”  We immediately move on to the next supplier and probably never return to that original web site.

If your web site is not accessible, to the Internet consumer, it is the equivalent of hanging a sign that says, “Out of Business” on the front door.  Obviously, when one of the major providers has an outage and it makes the National News, you may get a free pass from your Business Customers but for general consumers, unless you are a destination site like a Walmart or Facebook, consumers will probably not return nor make a second attempt to reach you.

If you are wondering why I did not immediately mention the Big 3 in Cloud Hosting, Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure, it is because these are predominantly infrastructure providers.  If you are looking to convert the physical server in your office in to a virtual server and move it to “The Cloud”, then you should certainly be looking at these companies for their respective value proposition.  (By physical server, I am referring to a Server class computer running an Operating System such as Microsoft Windows Server or Linux that is used for storing files or hosting Line of Business applications like Accounting Software, Inventory Control, Email, and similar centralized business applications.)

Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure offer not only the ability to build a Server in “The Cloud” but also target specific services like File Storage, Archiving of Backup Files, Advanced Database Services, and raw computing power for advanced processing like calculating weather patterns and genomes.

You can still benefit from the power and reliability of these behemoths by looking for a Web Hosting company that built their technology on one of these three major providers.  Look for “Powered By” and the appropriate co-branded Logo.  There are never any guarantees that Web Hosting companies that build on the Big 3 will be more reliable than those that build on their own technology but it does offer you a baseline starting point for your research.

If you are looking for Infrastructure Cloud Hosting to move your Servers or specific Line of Business Applications, there are dozens of exceptional providers that meet all of the compliance requirements and have the references and credentials to pass any level of due diligence. Don’t just limit yourself to the Big 3.  In fact, some of the lesser-known Boutique Cloud Hosting Infrastructure providers actually have better Service Level Agreements.

If you are looking for a place to host your company web site or eCommerce store, there are many well known providers available.  Make sure to review the Service Level Agreement to make sure that their offering meets your business requirements for “up time”, support, and recovery.

For a professional assessment or assistance with selecting a Cloud Hosting provider, feel free to contact me at jason@jasonpalmer.com

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Web Services

Web Services

Web Services

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  The category of Web Services – which includes such applications as Company Web Sites, Blogging Sites, and eCommerce Sites are perhaps the best examples of use cases for “The Cloud.”

My web site, www.jasonpalmer.com is both a Company Web Site with information about Palmer Computer Services, Inc. and the Consulting Services offered by me, Jason Palmer, as well as a blogging site based on WordPress.  Since the information is inherently for public consumption, it makes perfect sense for the site to be hosted outside my corporate network and in “The Cloud.”

The key advantage is obvious:  If the web site is hosted off-site in “The Cloud”, and there is no direct connection between “The Cloud” hosted web site and the corporate network, then even if the web site is hacked, the damage is completely contained.  The site can be restored from a backup and returned to service relatively quickly.

Another advantage of hosting the Company Web Site in the “The Cloud” is that it is assumed that most Enterprise Class Hosting companies will have significantly more computer technology infrastructure and layers of redundancy than your own corporate data center or computer room.  Enterprise Class Hosting companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure are extremely robust in their basic offerings and in advanced configurations, provide mission critical “up” time with the ability to mirror a web site globally translating to zero down time.  In general, most Cloud Hosting Providers have Data Centers in multiple regions of the Country as well as around the World.

This enables you to host your web site hundreds or thousands of miles away from your offices so that in the event of a regional disaster, like a Hurricane, the company web site will still be operational.   In a disaster, many companies use their web site to post current operational status information.  For example, a Utility company will post updates on outages and repair progress.  Or, a school or company might post information about closings or shortened hours of operation.

Given that “The Cloud” is a 24-hour, 7 Day a week, 365 Days a Year environment, the larger Cloud Hosting Companies offer around-the-clock service and support with endless amounts of resources.   This enables you to quickly scale your web site to meet scheduled or unscheduled demand at your convenience.

For example, if you run an eCommerce web site, it is presumed that from Thanksgiving to Christmas the number of visitors to your site will increase significantly.  With a Cloud hosted web site, it is relatively easy to increase the capacity of the web site to handle the additional web visitor traffic.  This can be a simple as making a few changes on a control panel to assign more resources and paying an incremental additional fee or calling in to a support representative for assistance.  The theory is that “help” is always available and no matter how much capacity you need, it is available on-demand, without issue.

Another example might be that a company has a positive or negative publicity event causing excessive unplanned traffic from people looking for additional information.  Think “Oil Spill” or “The Royal Birth.”  Normal visitor traffic might be 20,000 people a day but after the event, traffic might spike to ten times that amount to over 200,000 per day (or if a large company, perhaps hundreds of thousands per day to millions per day.)  Cloud Hosted sites can immediately add in the additional capacity for the short period of time to handle the spike in traffic and then gradually back off the additional capacity as traffic levels return to normal.

This type of flexible scalability would be almost impossible to accomplish with most internal corporate data centers.

Moving a company’s Web Services to “The Cloud” assures that, in most cases, the web site can immediately scale to meet increased demand at a nominal incremental cost.  And, that in the case of a regional disaster, given that the web site will be hosted in “The Cloud”, in a data center outside the local area, communication to and access by customers or the general public should continue without issue.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Moving Telephone Service to the Cloud

Telephone Service in the Cloud

Telephone Service in the Cloud

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  Converting Voice Telephone service from traditional physical copper lines and an on-premise Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Telephone Switch to a Virtual Cloud Based PBX or Hosted Voice over IP Service (VoIP) provides critical Business Communication Continuity.

Telephones and PBX Phone Systems are extremely durable and last for years with minimal maintenance.  In larger office implementations with frequent staff changes or desk moves, there may be fee based professional programming services involved to move an extension or reassign a telephone number to a new staff person or location.

Even if rare, when that PBX in the closet breaks, and it will, the entire office may lose all telephone service until the PBX can be repaired.  As these systems get older, parts may be more difficult to obtain in a timely manner.

Solution:  Move Telephone Service to Voice over IP – VoIP in “The Cloud.”

VoIP is a fancy term for delivering traditional telephone services over an IP Data Network, in this context, the Internet.

Each person uses a specialized VoIP phone that connects just like a computer or tablet directly through the Internet to a PBX (Phone System) in “The Cloud.”  This is known as “Hosted VoIP” – because all of the intelligence of the PBX is remote from your home or office and “Hosted” at a Data Center somewhere in Cyberspace a.k.a. “The Internet.”

The primary advantage of Hosted VoIP is that wherever you have access to the Internet and can plug in your VoIP telephone, you have phone service.  For example, if you take the phone from your office and plug it in to the Internet connection in your home, you can make and receive calls at home.

Many Hosted VoIP providers provide a “soft client” (think Telephone App), that enables you to use your Smartphone to masquerade as your physical VoIP phone to make and receive calls.  The capability is also available for your Windows or Mac computer with a Headset or Microphone and Speakers.  Again, anywhere you have access to the Internet; you have direct access to your Telephone Number and all related Telephony features – such as access to Voice Mail.  All of these features can be self-managed by the user via a web based control panel accessible through any web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

If a physical telephone breaks, only that user is affected.  The defective phone can usually be replaced overnight or from a spare kept on the shelf.  The user can always use one of the “soft client” VoIP apps to make and receive calls from their computer or even temporarily take over another phone from a user not in the office.

Think of a VoIP telephone as a specialized computer.  You “Log In” and “Log Out” with a user name and password just like you do to so many other Internet Services (such as Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.)

The other key advantage of Hosted VoIP is that there is no longer an on-premise PBX (box in the closet) to maintain.  Each telephone stands on its’ own.  This usually represents a significant cost savings in on-going maintenance costs and savings in the large capital outlay required for periodic upgrades or full replacement.

Hosted VoIP usually provides a predictable, fixed monthly cost for all Telephone Services.

All telephone system programming is maintained by Enterprise class “Cloud” based Hosted VoIP providers that have massively large, redundant infrastructures that virtually guarantee that Telephone Service will be operational without issue 24/7/365.

Hosted VoIP offers the ultimate in Business Communications Continuity.

Moving Traditional Telephone Service to Hosted VoIP in “The Cloud” assures that critical business communication can continue during a disaster and eliminates a potential point of failure in your communication infrastructure.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Move Email First

Email in the Cloud

Email in the Cloud

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  One application in particular is Email and its’ use case is Business Communication Continuity.

Email is considered to be the most important business communication medium.  It is the natural extension of paper and has replaced the Fax as a means of providing written documentation of a “meeting of the minds.”    When having any kind of Internet connectivity problem, the first manifestation that most people seem to notice is “Email is down.”

Because people can get to their email on so many platforms, such as their Desktop, via a Web Browser, a Mobile Phone, a Tablet, eReader, or even a Smart TV, and check it so frequently, it becomes immediately obvious if there is a problem with the Email Server.

Ask any Information Technology professional and they will acknowledge that Email Servers require periodic and extensive maintenance.  The amount of disk space used to store new email grows continuously.  As that storage space grows, so does the amount of storage required to back it up.  If a company has compliance and email retention issues, that requires even more space for duplicate archival copies.

The larger the company, the more users delete mail, create folders, and add/remove contacts from address books.  This in-turn means that more frequent Email Server maintenance events are required to reorganize and streamline the Email Server Database Store (which holds all of the email.)  Some maintenance events require the Email Server to be stopped temporarily which can frustrate users, even if scheduled for off-hours like nights and weekends – when email usage should be lowest.

This is nothing new and thousands of Email Administrators have been successfully managing their Email Servers for years without issue.  However, as Email has become the predominant form of business communication, the volume of email has increased significantly creating greater challenges to the status quo.

The inability of a user to send and receive email for any reason is deemed unacceptable.  If an Email Server malfunctions, company management and users may not be willing to tolerate an afternoon or an entire day without the ability to send and receive Email.

Solution:  Move Email to “The Cloud.”

Enterprise class “Cloud” based email providers have massively large, redundant infrastructures that virtually guarantee email will be operational without issue 24/7/365.  (Caveat:  None are perfect.  The largest of the large have had issues.  Google and Microsoft have periodic interruptions in service but they also have the most amounts of resources to throw at the problem for a quick resolution and recovery.  And when this occurs it makes headlines and you will be in good company with million of other affected customers so it is a legitimate excuse.)

Although moving Email to “The Cloud” seems more expensive, because each additional user incurs an increase in the monthly cost versus the relatively fixed cost of maintaining your own Email Server, the savings comes in the elimination of all of the related costs of maintaining your own Email Server.  No longer is there additional staff time for Email Server maintenance, increased costs for additional processing power or storage space for the ever-growing volume of email.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is “Business Communication Continuity”:  The ability to maintain productivity and critical communication during a localized disaster such as a Hurricane, Flood, or Fire that wipes out your home or office.  During Tropical Storm Sandy, many offices and homes were swept away, burned to the ground, or were under water for weeks.  Email Servers along with all other “on-premise” technology were destroyed.  Many had off-site backups and were able to restore their data but for those that hosted and maintained their own Email Servers, Email was unavailable for days or even weeks.

For those that used “The Cloud” to host and maintain their Email, as soon as they could access the Internet, they were able to send and receive Email.

Moving Email to “The Cloud” assures that critical business communication can continue during a disaster and eliminates a potential point of failure in your communication infrastructure.

Mobile Device Management – Verizon VZ Manager Software

Verizon VZ Access Manager Logo

Verizon VZ Access Manager

If you are a Verizon Wireless Cellular Data customer, you most likely use the Verizon VZ Manager program to manage your connection to the Internet.  VZ Manager is available for both the Mac and PC Operating Systems.  You need to run the correct version of VZ Manager based on the specific Verizon Wireless Cellular Data Device you are using.  In some cases, newer versions of the Verizon VZ Manager Software that support 4G devices may not support older Verizon 3G Cellular Data Devices.

To find the correct version and download the VZ Manager Software for your specific Verizon Cellular Data device, visit:

http://www.vzam.net/download/supported.aspx

Once you load the VZ Manager Software on either a Mac or PC and connect your Verizon Cellular Data Device, the first thing you need to do is to activate the device.   This is accomplished from the OPTIONS menu by clicking on “Activation.”

If everything works properly, the VZ Manager Software will make an initial connection to the Verizon Wireless Cellular Data Network and link your new device to your account enabling you to connect to the Internet.  During the initial connection, you may be prompted to allow the VZ Manager Software to either update itself or download Firmware updates to your device.

You may be prompted to reconnect multiple times during this update process.  The last update is usually a roaming list that includes specialized network information to allow you to connect to both the Verizon Cellular Network and other Cellular Carries where Verizon has Cellular Data Network Sharing agreements.

There is a special caveat for Mac users:  The Mac version of the Verizon VZ Manager Software is unable to update the Firmware of the Cellular Data Cards.  This must be done using the Microsoft Windows version of the Verizon VZ Manager Software.  (Firmware is a specialized kind of software that manages the autonomic functions of the device.  The best analogy is that you do not have to think for your heart to beat, your lungs to breath, or your eyes to see. Your body just takes care of these things.)

There are few options to accomplish this task.  If you are fortunate enough to have a Windows notebook that is also compatible with your Verizon Cellular Data card, just follow the instructions above to install the updates and prepare your card for Mac use.

If you are running a Microsoft Windows Virtual Machine in either VMWare Fusion or Parallels for Mac, you can assign your device to the Windows Virtual Machine; Download the Microsoft Windows version of the Verizon VZ Manager Software for your particular Cellular Device, perform the activation again, and apply the updates. Upon completion, you simply disconnect from your Windows Virtual Machine and re-launch your Mac version of the Verizon VZ Manager Software.  At least once every three months, and preferably monthly, you should repeat this process so that your Verizon Cellular Device is always up-to-date.

NOTE:  If the previous paragraph made no sense to you then you are not running a Microsoft Virtual Machine, so move on to the next option.

If you do not have a Windows Virtual Machine on your Mac, and you do not own a Windows Notebook that is compatible with your specific Verizon Cellular Data Card, then find a friend who does.  Hopefully, they will let you download and install the Verizon VZ Manager Software for Windows and update your Verizon Cellular Data Card.  Not to worry, activation and updating of your Verizon Cellular Data Card is Air Time Free and does not dip in to your Data Plan.

For AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile customers, the procedure is pretty much the same.  One company, Smith Micro, pretty much writes the software and rebrands it for each Cellular Data Carrier.  And, only a few companies, such as Novatel, Pantech, LG, and Kyocera manufacture the majority of PCMCIA, Express, and USB Stick Cellular Data Devices.

Hurricane Tech – Make your Smartphone a WiFi Hot Spot with Tethering

WiFi TetherWhen the Power is out, if you do not have a Generator, access to the Internet through your home or office Wired or WiFi Router will be out as well.  Fortunately, Smartphones and many WiFi capable devices such as iPad’s, eReader’s, and Notebook Computers can run on Battery Power when Electrical Power is not available.

A technology called “Tethering” allows many Smartphones to share their Internet data connection capability through the embedded WiFi in the Smartphone.  This enables the Smartphone to become a mobile Hot Spot, similar to a MiFi so that any other WiFi enabled device, like your WiFi only iPad, eReader, or Notebook Computer can access the Internet through your Smartphone.

(For more details on mobile data Internet connections, see my article “Mobile Communications Technology Overview”.)

In many cases the Cellular Carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint charge an extra monthly fee for the Tethering capability and a separate Data Plan for the additional usage.  This is especially true if your phone has a grandfathered “Unlimited Data Plan.”  Verizon requires Unlimited Data Plan users to have a separate data plan for Tethering.  With the new Verizon Share Everything Plans, the Data usage and Tethering capability are included and you only pay for the Data you use across all of the devices on your Share Everything Plan.  With other Carriers you may still be required to pay an extra fee for the Tethering capability of your Smartphone.

However, every rule has its’ exceptions.  With certain Smartphones based on the Android mobile operating system, (that would be most phones that are NOT iPhones, Windows based, or Blackberry’s), “unofficially” no additional fee is required.  At Verizon, it is official, based on the FCC Tethering consent decree in July 2012. You need only to browse the Google Play Store, searching on the word, “Tethering” to download an “App” that can turn the Tethering Feature “On” for you.

To clarify:  If you have either a 3G or 4G Tiered Data (like the Verizon Share Everything Plan or AT&T Mobile Share Plan), you can download any number of 3rd Party Apps which will enable your Android to Tether and become Mobile Hot Spot.  Unlimited Data Plan Users technically still need to pay Verizon or AT&T a Tethering Fee and have a separate data plan.  You should call your Cellular Carrier to verify the usage terms of your Agreement.

Be advised that right now some of the Carriers seem to be ignoring this grey area of the usage policy but that is subject to change. Keep in mind that the Carrier will absolutely know if you are sharing your Smartphone Data capability using Tethering – so you have been warned.  It is possible that you could get a call or letter from your mobile phone Carrier stating that you need to pay an additional fee or purchase an additional data plan.

A Special Note for iPhone Users:  If your iPhone supports Tethering, (IOS 4 or later), you may need to use either the USB Charging Cable or pair the Notebook Computer with your iPhone via Bluetooth to use the Internet capability of your phone with your Notebook Computer.  If you have an iPhone5, then you can definitely Tether via WiFi as described above. IOS 6 has a built-in App for turning the iPhone5 in to a Mobile Hot Spot. (Apple prefers to call it a “Personal Hot Spot.”)  If you use the native Apple IOS 6 App, you will definitely need either one of the NEW Mobile Share Plans from AT&T or the one of the NEW Share Everything Plans from Verizon or similar plan from your Carrier.

Hurricane Tech – Powering your Generator – Natural Gas

It is quite common for Whole House Generators and some Portable Generators to support both Natural Gas and Liquid Propane as Fuel sources.  However, the Generator must be specifically configured to accept either Natural Gas OR Liquid Propane as the fittings and pressures are different for each Fuel type.

If an option, usually the best Fuel choice for your Generator is Utility Supplied Natural Gas.  It is delivered in pipes buried in the ground under high pressure.  Delivery is based on pressure physics and not at all dependent on Electricity.  Natural Gas is stored in huge tanks with floating tops at the Utility.  As the Natural Gas in the tank is consumed by customers, the delicately balanced weight of the top of the tank lowers and forces the Natural Gas out of the tank and in to the Distribution pipes to your home.  The Utility Gas Supply is rarely disrupted during even the worst storms specifically because the delivery system is not dependent on external electrical power and the pipes are mostly underground.

I have never lost my Natural Gas Service due to a Storm.  Check with your local Natural Gas Utility for the history of outages in your area.  For example, in the North Shore of Long Island, NY, Gas Service is virtually 100% reliable.  But in parts of the South Shore of Long Island, due to an antiquated delivery system, every time severe flooding occurs, Gas Service is suspended.

The significant advantage of Natural Gas as a Fuel source for a Generator is that it is a continuous, 24/7 supply – provided that Gas Service has not been disrupted – which as stated for most areas is rare.  Natural Gas is usually the least expensive of all Fuel Options.

The only significant disadvantage of Natural Gas is that it is not necessarily the most efficient of the Fuel sources.  In my article, “Hurricane Tech – The Whole House Generator Option”, I discuss the efficiency differences between Liquid Propane and Natural Gas.  However, the convenience and low cost of Natural Gas far outweigh the marginal loss in Generator efficiency.  A minor issue is also the increased cost of initial installation.  You may need Permits from your town and are usually required to use a Licensed Plumber.  A Town Building Inspector will want to perform a Pressure Test to make sure the connection is at the proper specification.

Hurricane Tech – Powering your Generator – Liquid Propane

Some Portable Generators can use Liquid Propane (LP) as a Fuel.  (See my article, “Hurricane Tech – Keeping the Lights On with a Portable Generator” for information on Portable Generators.)

It is quite common for Whole House Generators to support both Natural Gas and Liquid Propane as Fuel sources.  However, the Generator must be specifically configured to accept either Natural Gas OR Liquid Propane as the fittings and pressures are different for each Fuel type. (See my article, “Hurricane Tech – The Whole House Generator Option” for information on Whole House Generators.)

Liquid Propane is a slightly better option than Gasoline or Diesel.  Liquid Propane (LP) is available in BBQ Grill Tank size of 20lbs and significantly larger “whole house” 420lb tank sizes – and everything in-between.  The advantage of Liquid Propane is again it is usually readily available at reasonable cost and, at least in the smaller tank sizes of under 50lbs, can be easily transported.  The key advantage is that is supports longer run times between Liquid Propane tank changes than would be achieved between refilling a fuel tank with Gasoline.

The disadvantage of Liquid Propane is similar of that to Gasoline or Diesel:  as the Generator consumes the Liquid Propane, additional supplies must be obtained. However, since it is stored in Gaseous form, the ability for a Propane Distributor to re-fill your portable tanks is not dependent on Electricity but just basic physics:  The pressure in the Distributor Storage Tank is sufficiently great so that when the Storage Tank valve is connected to your tank and opened, your smaller portable tank fills up.  In the case of smaller Liquid Propane tanks, you tend to bring them to a Propane Supplier.  For larger Liquid Propane tanks, the Supplier delivers the Liquid Propane to you in a Truck in the same fashion as a Fuel Oil delivery for a Heating System.  The truck pulls up to your house, extends a long hose, and fills your tank(s).

Small portable Liquid Propane tanks are subject to the same safety handling issues as those that you follow now in safe handling of your BBQ Grill tanks.  In fact, they may be the identical size and style of tank.  The major safety concern arises with larger 100lb, 200lb, and 420lb or larger Liquid Propane tanks that may be permanently installed.  Unlike Natural Gas connections, Liquid Propane connections can be flexible and the fittings and hoses require more frequent inspection to make sure they are in good working order.

A few hundred pounds of Liquid Propane is like storing a “Rocket Engine” next to your house.  We have all seen the results when a large Liquid Propane tank explodes – there is usually nothing left of the house.   The point is simply that as long as proper maintenance and inspections are performed by your Liquid Propane Supplier and/or Licensed Plumber of your tank, fittings, and supply lines, Liquid Propane poses no more risk than other Fuels and can be used safely without issue.

Hurricane Tech – Powering your Generator – Gasoline

Most Portable Generators use Regular Grade Gasoline, the same type that most automobiles use.  (See my article, “Hurricane Tech – Keeping the Lights On with a Portable Generator” for information on Portable Generators.)

The advantages of Gasoline (or Diesel Fuel) are obvious:  it is usually readily available at reasonable cost and can be easily transported.  The disadvantage is that the supply is limited to what is in the Generator Fuel tank or that which you have on hand, stored in Fuel Containers.   The Generator will be continuously burning Gasoline or Diesel Fuel and therefore you must continuously replenish your supply.

Depending on the capacity of the Generator fuel tank and the rate at which Fuel is consumed, you may be re-filling the fuel take as frequently as every four hours.  This can be a real drag but a necessary trade-off for having electricity vs. sitting in the dark.  Your entire day becomes consumed with “feeding the beast” and obtaining a sufficient supply of Gasoline to “Keep the Lights On.”

During the recent Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy in the Northeast, a significant majority of Gas Stations lost power and could not pump Fuel.  Those stations that had Power quickly exhausted their Fuel supply or strict limits and rationing were put in place.  This made Gasoline and Diesel a scarce resource during the power outage.

Given the “Liquid Gold” nature of Gasoline during a crisis, it would be a good idea to have a locking shed to store your Fuel Containers or at least a locking cable or chain to weave through the handles to deter and attempt to prevent theft.  Try not to store Fuel Containers in plain site of the road to deter opportunists.

Some General Safety Considerations:

When properly handled and stored, Gasoline is a relatively safe Fuel source.  Although highly flammable, Gasoline tends to just burn and not explode (unless stored under pressure).  It is critical that Gasoline containers be stored away from any ignition sources and in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside.  Gasoline expands and contracts with the changes in temperature so it is important to periodically open the containers to relieve any built up pressure.

It is a good idea to wear heavy duty, chemical resistant rubber gloves when handling Gasoline to protect your skin from any spills while Fueling the Generator.

Some States require “Spill Proof” nozzles like the one displayed in the photo for this article.  The spout usually has a mechanical release that requires the edge of the spout to be in contact with the edge of the tank to allow the flow of fuel.

Make sure the Generator is completely OFF and allow the Generator to cool down for a few minutes PRIOR to re-fueling.

It is a good idea to have a properly rated Class B, for flammable liquids, and Class C for Electrical, Fire Extinguisher when fueling.

Periodically check all Fuel Containers for cracks, leaks, broken rubber seals at the spouts and vent the pressure as necessary.

NEVER SMOKE OR HAVE ANY FLAME NEAR GASOLINE – vapors can ignite.