Emergency Plan Pointers

Kelly Parker 150wYou don’t have to tell us about natural disasters or strange weather. Wheatstone’s factory is in temperamental North Carolina! We asked one of our seasoned field engineers, Kelly Parker, (who happens to be in California; smart guy) if he had any advice for broadcasters preparing for disasters. Here are some pointers to ponder.

Have a practical backup plan. You know the drill. Every facility should have redundant servers, redundant networks, completely redundant everything. But who spends that kind of money anymore? At the very least, you should have a practical plan in place, meaning you should spend as much on recovery and redundancy as what you can afford to lose in revenue. If your pain point is an hour’s worth of advertising revenue, then that’s a good budget amount for your recovery plan. Start with what’s most likely to knock you off the air, and make contingencies for that. For example, Parker knows one broadcaster in Florida who is using all fiber optic connections for his WNIP system instead of copper as one more safeguard against a lightning hit.

Eliminate single points of failure. If every console funnels communication through a single PC, that’s a single point of failure bound to fail you sooner or later. Instead, distribute the workload across the audio over IP network, so that if one switcher or breaker or whatever goes out, you have plenty of backup built into the network to keep your station on the air. While you’re at it, make sure your AoIP network is smart. That way, it can detect silence long before your listeners do.

Standardize equipment. The more you standardize on equipment, the easier it is to swap out gear in an emergency. Better yet, have the equipment do the swap for you. For example, each WheatNet-IP BLADE carries a complete map of the entire connected network in its onboard CPU flash RAM. This allows BLADEs to quickly and automatically take over for each other in the event of a disaster. Instead of you trying to troubleshoot, all the BLADE has to do is query the other connected BLADEs and import all the necessary configuration settings. No external PC required, which, by the way, is probably the last piece of equipment you’d want running the show because of stability issues.

Think dual purpose for everything. If you can, set up your consoles and studios to serve dual purposes and always get equipment that can do more than one or two things. You’ll notice that our Wheatstone and Audioarts consoles have layers of controls with presets so they can serve dual, often quadruple roles in the station. Along those same lines, WheatNet-IP BLADEs have silence detectors, virtual mixers, and a slew of other options built-in so you don’t have to add the equivalent in outboard gear or go without. That’s just smart as far as being able to stretch your dollar, but it’s also good for disaster recovery. “What you save in cost by having all that built in could be just what you need to add on that server or whatever else you need to make your facility more disaster proof,” said Parker.

Test your backup plan. Too often Parker hears about stations that have moved into a new building with all the backup gear – UPS, mirrored servers, the works – but no one bothered to test the system. An elaborate backup system does you no good if it doesn’t work.

Call for help. As cheap insurance, consider a $50/month DSL as a secondary line into and out of your studios. In an emergency, it may be your only lifeline to the outside world and it could be an entry point for you or someone on your Wheatstone team to get online access to the studios in order to manage a disastrous situation. If the building is still operational, you can have Wheatstone’s Glass E virtual mixer remotely controlling the control surfaces. That’s just one option. This could be from a different city, different country, anywhere there’s access to the Internet. We usually suggest somewhere tropical, but that’s probably not a good idea this time of year.

Have an exit plan. Don’t try to be a hero. Get the heck out of there if it’s unsafe, and by all means, have a plan. Again, load your laptop with remote software like our Glass E virtual mixer software to control the main studio console from anywhere that’s safe. You might not always be able to find an Internet or Wi-Fi connection, but in a lot of cases you will. And that’s going to make a whole lot of difference if you’re the only one on the air feeding NOAA weather updates to your friends and family holed up in the basement, hanging on your every word as that tornado or hurricane or whatever it is swoops down on them.









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