Don't Let Your AV Equipment Suffer an Epic Power Fail

If you watched the Super Bowl, or even surfed the Web at all in the past 24 hours, you likely read about the little power disruption that occurred just after halftime at the Superdome in New Orleans. Had the Niners gone on to come back and win the game—seemingly returning from the dead after the power was restored and quickly going on a third-quarter scoring tear that the Ravens couldn’t stop or match—this would have likely gone down as the most disruptive tech mess-up in history.
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If you watched the Super Bowl, or even surfed the Web at all in the past 24 hours, you likely read about the little power disruption that occurred just after halftime at the Superdome in New Orleans. Had the Niners gone on to come back and win the game—seemingly returning from the dead after the power was restored and quickly going on a third-quarter scoring tear that the Ravens couldn’t stop or match—this would have likely gone down as the most disruptive tech mess-up in history.

Fortunately, when we “mess up” in our jobs, it is usually only witnessed by a few people. There are, however, five power-related lessons that we can glean from the Super Bowl’s 34-minute “Whoops!” that was witnessed by hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

1. Eliminate Dumb Mistakes
We’ve all worked on those racks or cabinets that are so tight, or that have cabling that just barely reaches, where even the slightest bump or repositioning of gear results in cords being ripped from the back. This is stupid. Don’t do this. Part of having clean, well-managed cable bundles and proper wire management is having enough slack to be able to work on or move the gear without wires becoming disconnected. Don’t let a maid’s overzealous dusting be your downfall.

2. Protect It
Surges, spikes, brown outs, sags, under-voltage, over-voltage, lightning… fluctuations in electricity can work some bad mojo on electronics, wreaking havoc that can rob a system’s performance, shorten lamp life, and destroy single components, entire systems, or even the wiring that interconnects them. And because basically every component that we install relies on power in some form or fashion, we need to make sure that the systems we install are appropriately protected. There are a variety of ways to go about this, from single-component solutions, to rack-mount components and strips, to panelized solutions that eliminate issues at the circuit level. One of the most effective technologies I’ve used—and what protects my own home—is manufactured by SurgeX. This surge-elimination technology completely absorbs electrical surges up to 6,000 volts (beyond which, apparently the physical Romex wire itself fuses together.) But whatever brand/system you prefer, some protection from the elements is the second line of defense. Also, it is one of those things that homeowners almost never question on a proposal. “You need this to protect your investment from lightning or surges…”

3. Back It Up
There will be times when power is going to go out regardless of your best efforts. And for prolonged outages, a generator is the only thing that will help. But many power outages are very brief affairs, where the power is only out for a second or two. These massive, instantaneous system power cuts can be a shock to your electronics, and are especially hard on devices with hard drives (music and movie servers and DVRs) and lamp-based devices that need cool down time. And often, when power is restored, it comes back up in a rush of electricity that can cause more damage. Installing an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) on the system with enough battery power to run everything for five minutes or so will be enough to get them through those momentary power flickers. Often the click of the system switching to battery power—and then back—would be the only indication that something happened. A UPS can also provide enough power to allow for a more “gentle” system power down cycle if the outage is expected to last.

4. Make It Easy to Restore
Many systems will return to a standby mode once the power is restored, but some surge protectors require a button press to turn connected outlets—or banks of outlets—back on. Make sure that your clients know what to look for on their systems and how to remedy the most likely power-related issues when the juice comes back on. This can save you a service call and your clients some aggravation.

5. Remote Access
Like nearly everything else, power management has gone to the Cloud. Now you can remotely manage power systems from a networked computer using technologies like Panamax/Furman’s BlueBOLT technology, SurgeX’s Axess (SurgeX), or Monster Power’s Remote Access. These devices often have some intelligence built into them that can perform functions like automatically rebooting a modem or router if internet access is lost, possibly eliminating an issue before the homeowner even knew there was one. You can also address those, “My cable box isn’t working!” issues by remotely logging in and rebooting the box yourself.

Power… AV systems can’t live with it and can’t live without it. But by taking a few simple steps, you can make sure that it is working for you far more than it is working against you.


John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

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