Suppress the surge

Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, I came into the office like any other morning. I was looking forward to a short week and getting caught up on things after a long weekend. When I entered the building that morning, I knew my plans for a quiet, get-caught-up week were shattered.

I was greeted by several different types of beeping alarms, lights flashing and the smell of burnt electronics. I knew it wouldn’t be good. It appeared that we were experiencing some sort of power issue, but the power wasn’t completely off. After further investigation, we noticed a dead squirrel lying at the base of one of the power poles that was feeding power into our building and realized what had happened. A little while later, the power company was on site and restored power to normal operations. Now it was time to assess the damage.

I made sure all our servers were up and running properly, then proceeded to check all the computers in the office. Several computers were still not powering up. After troubleshooting a little further, we noticed the surge suppressor the equipment was plugged into had a burnt electronics smell. You know what that means – it was fried. One of the surge suppressors was so bad it melted the plastic casing and carpet directly underneath. Luckily, all our equipment was fine, and for all intents and purposes, the surge suppressors did their job. In total, we had six surge suppressors throughout the building burn up.

Did you know that surge suppressors can only protect against so many surges? That surge suppressor you have had for the last five to 10 years may not be capable of protecting your equipment. Surge suppressors work by absorbing excess voltage into a metal oxide varistor (MOV) so your electronics don’t take the jolt. The MOV degrades over time based on how much it has absorbed. Once it has reached its limit, it can no longer protect your equipment. It is even possible for one surge, if it is big enough, to deplete the capabilities of the surge suppressor.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to completely know for sure if it’s time to toss it or not. Some surge suppressors have a light that can indicate they are no longer providing protection. However, this isn’t always reliable, especially if it’s old. If you know your surge suppressor has taken a big hit, it’s probably best to replace it. Also, if you can’t remember when you purchased it, it’s probably time to get a new one. It’s a small price to pay to protect your expensive electronics.

There are many opinions about how often you should replace your surge suppressor. The factors to consider are the quality of the surge suppressor and how often you experience power quality issues. My recommendation would be somewhere around every three to four years, assuming you have not had any lightning strikes, brown outs or serious power quality issues.

I will replace all the surge suppressors in the office. It’s just not worth the damage that could be caused if not protected. If you think about it, having a squirrel, or any animal for that matter, get caught up in the power lines is not an uncommon occurrence. It’s even likely that the last power outage you had was caused by a similar situation to what we experienced here. Be safe and take the time to replace the surge suppressors that protect the valuable equipment you have plugged in. It may even prevent the possibility of a house fire.