Redefining the “Backhoe” Event

Until today, I hadn’t heard it called such, but I’ve worked in places that experienced a “backhoe” event. For anyone like me, who doesn’t know what this is, allow me to explain: A “backhoe” event is when someone—like a gardener, for instance—is doing some work around your office, removing plants, planting new things, etc., and digs up your cabling. Of course, most of the time it’s unintentional but causes an outage for your office until it’s resolved. This could be anything from an actual backhoe cutting buried Ethernet cabling to a truck hitting the pole with the transformer powering the building. Generally, businesses will have some backup plan prepared for such an event, or should, and a response prepared for customers who encounter the inconvenience of interruption in service.

I’ve been working from home for several years now, and four or five years ago I experienced a “backhoe” event at home. The interruption of work was only to one person—me—instead of an entire building’s worth of employees, as I officed at home. My ISP at the time had sent a technician to cut the hard line to my neighbor’s house (I don’t know why) and instead, had cut the hard line to my house by mistake. As you can imagine, I first went through the troubleshooting steps of lost connectivity to ensure it wasn’t a problem on my end. The next step was to call my ISP. Now at first, they had no idea what had happened, so they scheduled a technician to come out to my house. This was going to take a couple of days. Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to do my job—I took a day off to figure it out. At first, I took my laptop to a public place to use the free Wi-Fi, but it was full of distractions and insecure, so it wouldn’t work for long. Luckily, my cousin lived nearby and agreed I could office out of his house until the situation was resolved. It took two weeks, several technician visits, and lots of phone calls to my ISP to resolve the situation.

Fast forward to today. Today, my 10-year-old was the cause of a “backhoe” event for my neighbors. Oops. He was mowing the lawn in the front of our house and didn’t notice the cable laying in the grass. The mower chewed through it, and he stopped mowing and came to tell me right away—quite upset. After I calmed him down—accidents happen—we went outside to assess the problem. Sure enough, about six inches of cable had been chewed through by the mower. OK. First, we clean up the pieces and move the wire over into my neighbor’s yard. I can only assume when they recently mowed their own lawn, they had moved the wire over to my lawn to be out of the way and forgot to move it back. I rang their doorbell and we waited for a few minutes, but they weren’t at home. I wrote them a note explaining what happened and offering to pay any fees associated with reconnection.

The event today made me think about my previous at-home event, and Leon reminded me this happened all the time at offices in the “before” times. I realized my previous plan of working from a friend or family member’s home in the event of an outage would no longer be a viable solution—at least not for the near future. So, what now? These things can happen to anyone at any time, and now we have billions of people in this WFH state. Now, as mentioned before, this takes the affected employee and affected portion of business down to a factor of one (maybe two, if you have the rare married couple or roommates working in your office). This makes it unlikely to impact customers nearly as much as an office outage would have in the past. However, we should have some plans to mitigate the problems, if possible. For power outages, I keep a UPS at home to hopefully tide me over for a short time. What would happen now if I lost internet though? To continue to mitigate risk of infection and spread of COVID-19, I won’t be able to pick up and go to my cousin’s house this time. So, this is a good time to pick up some skills/tools, if you don’t have them. Learning how to do some basic cabling and having the tools handy could correct the issue we recently gave my neighbors until the technicians can come replace the cable. Can I solve every problem myself? No. There could be events I cannot even temporarily resolve, and those times will have to include me taking a day or two off until it’s resolved.

Please chime in with your plans to mitigate “backhoe” events for your home office.

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