George Carlin famously said, “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” When it comes to business, we think of lightning strikes as a brilliant idea, but it’s also a type of interface cable for computers. When lightning from the sky hits your business, you may need both. There’s a myth out there that lightning never strikes one place twice. But the fact is it often does. Especially if it’s a tall isolated object. For example, the Empire State Building gets hit about 25 times a year. Lord only knows how many other buildings do. But if lightning doesn’t strike twice, well, it did with my business, at least metaphorically.
Back in the 1990s, I had a recording studio business. We had offices on the first floor and the recording studio on the lower level. Well, the new owners decided they were going to work on the building. They broke a sewage pipe and flooded out the entire basement with raw sewage, shutting me down for over three months. The incident really put my business in peril. I learned a lot back then. And I’ve used those lessons to help prepare me for emergencies nowadays.
Last Wednesday night, as I was sitting down watching TV in my living room, all of a sudden I felt this tingly sensation. I looked over at my front door and boom! A big flash. Lightning had struck. Once I came to my senses and figured out what happened, I looked out and saw a hole in our ceiling where the drywall had exploded all over the room.
Actually, the lightning hit the tree in front of our house and then leaped into the house. At that point, the lights flashed and I went into full panic mode. Did it set the roof on fire? It was still raining. We were walking around the house looking. I called 911, the firetruck came. The firemen were nice enough to walk around with a thermal camera to check that there were no fires in the attic or anything, and that worked out fine. And they helped us shut down our carbon monoxide detector, which was going crazy. We knew at that point that we’d been hit, but there was no physical damage that we could see. I knew enough to say, “Okay. It’s time to get into business mode and make sure that nothing else is going to happen.”
I walked into the office and my computer was shut down. Nothing was working. I tried to boot the computer and nothing. Then I grabbed a cable off the back of it that was connected to my hard drives, and it was probably about 200 degrees. I mean, it was hot. So I pulled that out, unplugged everything, and just let it sit.
The next day, we called an electrician. He came through the entire house and found that the ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCI outlets were all dead. He went through the entire house and found no burnt wires. This was good, meaning that the electricity didn’t strike the entire electrical system. At that point, I took a deep breath, let it all mellow out, and got up the next day and went to work.
What I figured out is that maybe the electrical system wasn’t hit, but the cable modem was. And so the jolt traveled up into the cable modem and blew that out. Then traveled to everything that had an ethernet cable connected to it.
I had a battery backup surge protector, and that seemed to survive okay. So, I went out and bought all new surge protector outlet strips. I took out the old ones and rewired all the electricity in my office. Then, I took my Mac to the Apple Store 20 miles away (the only appointment I could get for a week) and they were able to get my computer to reset and it booted up and tested okay, which was great.
I got it back into the office and then I was able to start to connect gear to it. The monitors worked, the keyboard worked, but there was a bunch of peripherals that were connected to ethernet that were toast.
Methodical Medical Maintenance
I went piece by piece through each one. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, I put it in a separate room, went on Amazon, and ordered new ones. Things like a USB hub and ethernet hub needed to be replaced. My phone system needed to be replaced. My printers need to be replaced. A whole bunch of business tools that I needed to get back in business needed to be replaced. But inch by inch, I started to bring everything back.
So step one, replace the electrical systems. Step two, go through the computer systems and see what was working. And step three, start getting the new gear in, test it, and get everything back to normal. I took heed for the lessons I learned the first time I had a business disaster. I didn’t have insurance back then. And even if I did, I didn’t utilize it right.
Here are a few things that I want to share about being prepared for disasters, as best you can:
I’ve talked earlier this year about backups. They’re very important. Not only do you want to back up locally, but you want to back up to the cloud. Luckily, after getting a new cable interface (which is a Lightning cable, by the way) between my computer and my hard drive system, those all came back. My local backups, I have a NAS, network-attached storage, died because of the ethernet. I had to get a new one of those. Hopefully, those hard drives will come back. But having those backups and having the cloud backups, at least, kept my business going for the last few days as I started to repair all the gear.
Having a business that’s being run from home doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need business insurance. The personal stuff will be dealt with, with the homeowner’s insurance. But my business insurance covered all of my gear, as well as gave me some funds for the disruption and time. It’s going to take five to seven days to get the business back up and running.
The next lesson from this is to make sure you communicate with your staff and with your clients as soon as you possibly can. Say, “Hey, we had this problem. Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s how to manage expectations.” Since my phone system was down, all of the calls were going to my cell phone. By the way, because of my anti-spam call blockers, all unsaved numbers are sent to voicemail. That had to be managed along with any email communications and making sure that clients understand where things are at each and every day, so I can deal with their issues as needed.
One ray of sunshine in the storm was having virtual employees who kept the business running at the same time. Backups are hugely critical. Having a system in place to recover everything is critical. Having business insurance and homeowners insurance, both are mission-critical. But finally, having the patience to understand that there are certain things I’m not going to be able to replace because of supply chain issues, or some of the gear has become obsolete. Also, I ordered parts which when delivered were wrong. You just need to have the patience to make sure that everything works.
A bolt of lightning can be an inspiration or disruption, but it doesn’t have to be about a business ending. As long as you put in place the systems, get the insurance, do the backups, and make sure that you have a plan in place to get back to normal. So it’s time to get back to work!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about your business disasters and how you recovered from them.