Avoid Getting Shocked By A Thunderstorm

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

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AVOID GETTING SHOCKED BY A THUNDERSTORM

We’re getting into the spring thunderstorm season, and here in the Midwest the lightning can be quite impressive—and destructive. I especially worry about my computer system’s vulnerability. My computer is plugged into a power strip. How can I be sure the power strip provides enough protection? Any thoughts on this?

Most power strips are definitely not enough protection; they just function as extension cords and usually provide little or no defense from lightning. What you need is a surge protector. A good surge protector should not only protect your gear from lightning strikes, it should offer insurance to cover the loss of properly attached equipment. However, be aware that even the best surge protectors may not protect your equipment from a direct hit to your building. Be sure your surge protector also has an R-11 telephone jack so you can safeguard your phone, too. And if you’re connected to cable for the Internet, look for a unit that accommodates the cable hookup, too. You can get an adequate device for less than $50.

You may want to consider protecting your whole office because a nearby lightning strike can blow out all your electrical and electronic equipment. You can buy a surge protector for a small building for between $150 and $300; however, it needs to be installed on your electric meter or service panel by a licensed electrician.

Another option—and one that I strongly endorse—is to buy a good uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that has built-in surge protection. In the event of a power outage, the UPS—which is basically a large battery—keeps the computer running just long enough for it to automatically save any open files and then shut down. Such a device costs less than $100 to serve one computer and considerably more for larger setups.

Caveat: The conventional wisdom used to be that plugging a surge protector between the wall outlet and a UPS would provide double protection against lightning. However, now some leading vendors of both types of products not only advise against doing this, they warn that it would nullify their products’ warranties.

Now the only thing you have to worry about during a thunderstorm is staying dry and not standing under a tree.

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