We had an emergency at work today, involving a critical server that was not properly cared for by its department. Due to the severity of the situation, I was called in to help recover the server. I had to go pick up the server from the data center and bring it back to to office to work on it. It was important enough that my boss offered to let me take his car, a 2006 Cadillac CTS. I think he was a little surprised when I declined, in favor of driving my 1998 Corolla instead.
By any benchmark, his car is superior to mine in every way. It’s faster, has a better sound system and is likely far more fun to drive. So why did I decline? I had two reasons. First, we were in what we all considered to be an emergency. This was no time to take a joyride in the boss’s car. But more importantly, his car did not have my emergency tech kit. I didn’t think I’d need it, because I was only planning to drive 15 minutes away, pick up a server, and drive 15 minutes back. Nothing was expected to go wrong, at least in the journey itself. But I didn’t know what kinds of circumstances I would encounter in that journey. It was not the fear of the unknown that held me back; it was the expectation of the unknown.
I won’t bore you with the details of the recovery of the server. While many of the details would serve to re-enforce the point of this article, they are also irrelevant to most of its readers. Over the years I have worked on a lot of computers at a lot of different companies. Frequently, the only tool I had at my disposal was a screwdriver, which the company happened to have laying around. I was always glad to have the screwdriver, but I often wished for other equipment. Sometimes I only needed a spare cable which I didn’t have, sometimes a set of disks. Other times I had what I needed, and was glad for it. The phrase, “wow, I’m glad I had one of those laying around”, sprang to mind often.
When confronted with such similar situations on a regular basis, most people will begin to notice patterns, and tools which they use the most. The wisest of these will, if they are able, begin to build kits which contain the necessary tools, and in the case of computers, hardware. They may do this so that they can always be the hero, or they may do it just to make their job easier. The most important thing is that they do it.
If you don’t already have a kit, you may be wondering where to start. If you do already have a kit, you may be wondering how to improve it. Either way, there are two types of items that you should consider, and given the resources, a third which you may also consider:
- Tools which have been needed before
- Tools which are expected to be needed
- Tools which aren’t needed, but make things easier
The first type of item is the easiest: “What kinds of tools have I wished I had in the past, or have been glad when I did have them?” Think back to past situations, and try to remember what these items are. It would not be amiss to keep a notepad with you, and keep track of these things over the course of a few days, or even weeks. In fact, as this should be an ongoing process, you will probably want to keep that notebook handy at all times anyway.
The second type of item takes a little more work, and at least a few thought experiments. You will want to ask yourself questions that start with, “What would happen if…?” Here are a few sample questions relevant to my job as a systems administrator:
- “What would happen if the operating system on a particular computer failed?”
- “What would happen if we needed to recover files from an unbootable computer?”
- “What would happen if we needed to replace hardware in a particular computer?”
In your situation (be it work, or at home), your questions are undoubtedly a little bit different:
- “What would happen if the main water line to my home broke?”
- “What would happen if I left my headlights on and my car battery died?”
- “What would happen if I got a flat tire on the way to work?”
Obviously, the focus doesn’t have to be on work. These last questions are more general, and underscore the need for a decent set of tools at home (or at least the phone number of a good plumber), and jumper cables, a spare tire, a tire jack, etc in your car. My past experiences have caused me to keep a flashlight (and spare batteries), sewing kit, notepad, and even electrical and of course, duct tape in my car. There is not a single item on that list that has not caused me to say, “I’m sure glad I had that with me”, on numerous occasions.
The last type of item includes everything that falls under the “wouldn’t it be nice if…” category, rather than the, “there’s a good chance I’ll be needing this in the future” category. These may be items which may be too cost-prohibitive to get now, but which you may be saving up for. They may be items which you know you could get by without, but which you know will also make life easier if you get the chance to use them. Be wary of this category! These are items which, if left unchecked, could become unnecessary bulk which actually slow you down, rather than help you out. You should be mindful of excess supplies in each one of these categories, but “nice to have” items run the highest risk.
If you’re looking for more examples, there are plenty to be found. They go by names such as “72-hour kit”, “bug-out bag”, “first aid kit” and even “sewing kit”. There are companies which sell each of these, as well as supplies for each of these. Look around, find something that appeals to you and your needs, and ask yourself: “Do I need everything in here? What do I need that’s not here?”
Disaster is always on the horizon. It is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Preparing for disasters before they occur will help turn a bad situation (when it occurs) into a less-bad situation, and occasionally even a good situation. An appropriate emergency kit is the first step in this direction.