Is Your Toilet Disaster Tolerant?

Companies spend a lot of money on their disaster recovery and business continuity plans. They spend hundreds of hours doing tabletop exercises and full blown deployments to see if everything comes together as it should. Many mitigate power failures through the use of uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), battery rooms, and diesel generators.

Try, Try Again

Early in my career, I was working with a local bank when they installed their first set of generators. The first time they fired them up, nothing happened, apparently because the contract didn’t cover connecting the generators to anything. The second time they fired them up, most of the mainframe systems blew out because they didn’t have enough power filtering. The third time they fired them up, everything appeared to work for about 10 minutes until we realized that the air conditioning wasn’t connected to them and the room was heating up. On the fourth and subsequent tests, the system worked flawlessly.

And a One, and a Two…

Using the NFPA 101® Life Safety Code as a guide, many locales may require evacuation of a building if it is considered unsafe to be there. Some examples are:

  1. Dangers from tripping and injuries due to lights being out.
  2. Person(s) being trapped on elevators.
  3. Dangers of extreme heat and cold on employees.
  4. Inability to contact responders if an emergency occurs while telephones are out.
  5. Sanitation problems due to no water

This article is focused on item number 5.

Over the past few years, you may have noticed that bathrooms, or toilets as they are called in the rest of the world, have become more automated. When you are done with your business, the toilet flushes, the water turns on when you place your hands under the faucet, and a length of towel magically appears when you wave your hands before the dispenser. Some ‘green’ bathrooms eliminate towels and have hot air hand dryers instead.

If you think about the toilet facilities detailed in the last paragraph in context with item number 5, you may not come up with much beyond a plumbing failure. But think outside of the box and take a look under your sinks and behind your toilets. You might be surprised to learn that your toilets, sinks, paper towel dispensers, and hand dryers may not work if the building power is out. And if they are not functional, your building needs to be evacuated for safety reasons, even if your data center is running.

This might be a good time to have a conversation with your building or facilities manager to check on the disaster tolerance of your toilet facilities. Some questions to ask:

  • Do the toilets have emergency lighting?
  • Are the lights on our backup power or battery?
  • How long with the battery last and can it be replaced if there is an extended outage?
  • Do the toilets, sinks, towel dispensers, and electric hand dryers use building power?
  • If they use building power, are they on our backup power?
  • If they use batteries, how long will the batteries last, and can we replace them?
  • Do we have access to replacement soap and towels if the janitorial staff is not available?

Addressing these issues now might mean the difference between successfully continuing your business or shutting it all down because you can’t tinkle.

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