Tips From a Road Warrior (8): Make Sure You Don’t Get Wet.

One would think that flight attendants know how to secure their supplies in the galley of an airplane as this is a daily routine for them. Every now and then, however, I hear something falling as the plane touches down, usually it is a coffee pot or bag of ice, or as in a recent case several soda cans. I was sitting in the last row in a Boeing 737 operated by Southwest, going to a conference for a presentation. Unfortunately during landing, flight attendants apparently need to stay seated and strapped in, so they just have to watch. I think that was the case in this instance as they watched helplessly as about 10 cans or so rolled down the aisle. It might have been comical were it not for a couple of cans that were damaged upon falling, and randomly spraying soda on passengers as they rolled by. One can of Coke rolled next to me and stopped, spraying my pants for a few seconds until I was able to kick it to a safe location. The damage was done however, and off I went to my meeting with Coke all over my pants.

I remembered this incident when I visited a radiology department that had its data center in the department. Upon entering the room, I noticed that all of the cabinets were covered with transparent plastic. Apparently they just had a water pipe burst in the room above, which caused the water to leak into the servers causing considerable downtime. The plastic looked kind of funny, almost like a huge umbrella, but it apparently did the job. It is not uncommon that computer rooms are flooded, either as a result of pipe bursts, or the sprinkler system going off due to a false fire alarm. Flooding because of natural causes is also not uncommon, especially when the servers are located on the first floor, or, even worse, in the basement. It has been a puzzle to me why hospitals near a flood zone or hurricane prone areas always seem to put their computers either on the first floor or in the basement.

The PACS administrator who personally draped his servers in plastic seemed to be a very pragmatic person, having found a low-cost solution to a potential risk. Of course, what would have been better would be to take into account the location of water pipes, sprinklers and floor location when planning a high-tech system to avoid thousands of dollars of damage, not to mention the potential disruption in patient care. A risk analysis prior to the installation would have been very beneficial and might have prevented a lot of issues.

The same applies for changes in the infrastructure. Most institutions coordinate software updates and changes between the IT department and the clinical departments, but something as mundane as changing piping, plumbing and other infrastructure doesn’t seem to be coordinated with IT departments. Statistics show that the number one cause for network failure is a cable cut by someone. The CIO of a major hospital in the Dallas Metroplex once told me that his biggest liability is that he shares his wiring closet with the facilities department. A spilled coffee cup of coffee on top of an expensive router is all it takes to bring down a critical part of his network.
HVAC considerations are often an afterthought. Many ER departments put their CR reader and computer, including the viewing station, in a closet because of patient privacy concerns. One can pretty much guarantee that such a location will have a cooling issue. I saw one recently in one of those closets with a very elaborate, dedicated AC unit, just to cool the system down. Not pretty, and rather noisy.

It is interesting to note that most engineers and support people don’t take these mundane issues regarding infrastructure into consideration and get burned, or, rather, get wet when there is an issue.

You can’t always prevent disasters, but if you perform a risk analysis up front before installing your system, and then stay informed of any potential facilities changes, you will be prepared for any eventuality including falling and spraying soda cans so that you don’t get wet.

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