In this article we’ll examine some of the unintentional abuses that many fire alarm technicians are making with one of their most reliable (and expensive) programming tools — Their laptop computer.
If you read the owner’s manual for any line of personal computer, you’ll notice a check list of things you should do and not do when it comes to maintenance. On that list of “don’ts”, you will undoubtedly always find that the manufacturer recommends keeping your laptop away from electrical sources, magnetic fields, dusty environments and direct sunlight.
One way to avoid external electrical sources
With all the advanced technology over the past few years, laptops are being used more and more to program fire alarm, access control and security system panels. The big problem is that many of these electronic systems are located in mechanical/electrical rooms where there is a little demon lurking in the corner called “the transformer”.
The transformers we’re referring to are the ones that convert high-voltage power in commercial buildings.
Are your technicians using transformers as desktops?
It just seems to be the most logical place to set a laptop as most transformers have a nice-sized, smooth, flat surface on top and many times there is an electrical outlet within close range for plugging in.
So what’s the big deal?
What most people don’t understand is that electrical transformers are loaded with EMI.
EMI can cause all sorts of problems with laptops. It can temporarily or permanently distort the video screen, it can wreak havoc on internal circuits within the unit, and it can even erase data from the hard-drive.
If you think about it, what is a high voltage transformer? Well, I’ll tell you… It’s one huge coil of copper with hundreds (if not thousands) of volts running through it. It’s a wonder these transformers don’t set your hair on end when you get anywhere near them.
Don’t leave your laptop exposed to dusty environments
Another thing I’ve seen over the past few years is that technicians have a tendency to leave their laptop running in dusty environments, such as construction areas.
Inside every laptop there is a fan which cools the CPU. Whether visible or not, in dusty areas, this fan is pulling in enormous amount of debris created by other trades working on the job site.
Dust, welding smoke, you name it… it can’t be good for your PC performance and if left in this type of environment too long, can cause a laptop to overheat, resulting in permanent damage.
Don’t leave laptop exposed in your vehicle
I once worked with a fire technician who destroyed three laptops in less than one year. Every time he needed a replacement, it was the same old story…
“I don’t know what’s wrong with it – I left my laptop in my service vehicle and it overheated”.
You would think after the first incident that this technician would have figured it out, but no, not this guy. One time he actually left the laptop sitting on the dashboard (also a great invitation for theft)!
The summer temperature inside a vehicle can reach over seventy degrees Celsius or more. Combine this with leaving a laptop fully exposed to the sun with a potential magnifying glass, (aka., windshield) and you’re certainly going to do some major damage.
If your technicians have to leave a laptop on their service vehicle, make sure they know to keep it in a backpack or reliable laptop case and also make sure it is out of direct sunlight.
Bottom line is, make sure your technicians are knowledgeable about the proper treatment and care of their laptop computers. This will not only stop downtime during service calls, but will help in saving your company unneeded expenses as well.