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Best Practices for Fiber Optics Disaster Recovery
September 10, 2021

September is National Preparedness Month, and rightfully so. September is rife with severe weather events we need to be prepared for.

Whether it’s a hurricane, flood, ice storm, fire, earthquake, tornado, mud slide or other unplanned catastrophe, all can cause a significant threat to fiber optic networks across the globe. Of course, each disaster requires a different response to repair and restore a network, but here are some general guidelines to follow.

Plan and Prepare Ahead

The best disas­ter recovery plan is to prepare and rehearse long before the disaster hits. That means setting processes in place, training technicians on what to do and pre-positioning response supplies for easy deployment when needed.  It is essential fiber network techs have the right training and tools in advance of the event.

Post-Disaster Access Procedures

Access to the fiber network is one of the first challenges you might face. Avoid downed power lines and flowing flood waters. In addition to the obvious risks of being swept away, flood waters are nasty and polluted. They carry sewage, disease, live animals including snakes and fire ants, dead animals, and a wicked brew of household and industrial chemicals.  If water can’t be avoided, waist-high waders are crucial tools.

Follow Safety Procedures to the Letter

Once at the site, be sure to follow OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety standards for all procedures.  

The building, tower or man­hole should be structurally sound, free of vermin and more-or-less dry. Electrical systems should be powered off. Backup batteries should be disconnected. Be cautious for electrocution hazards, toxic hazards, and leaking fuels (like improp­erly stored gasoline or damaged contain­ers of alcohol). Don’t expect the lights to be working, so bring an LED flashlight, which provides strong, reliable lighting without sparks.

Another worry is air quality. Outside-plant cables are made of rubber and polyethylene, which are toxic when burned, so good ventilation is essen­tial. Never enter underground or en­closed spaces without ventilation and supervision. Follow OSHA enclosed space rules with which everyone should be familiar.

Initial Cleanup

You can expect your work area to be a mess. Start general site cleaning with presaturated alcohol wipes to remove dirt, soot and heavy debris from your work space. These wipes have an added benefit of disinfect­ing surfaces.

Use nonflammable, Universal Contact Cleaners to rinse dirt from hard-to-reach places. You might also be able to clean the surviving hardware, workbenches, keyboards and racks with nonflammable dusters.

Clean or Replace? Survey the Fiber Situation

For the fiber itself, assess the damage first. Use your test equipment to troubleshoot all the connections. There are no shortcuts. Every endface must be opened, tested and inspected. Importantly, don’t assume mated cables and patch cords are beyond repair; they may just need cleaning. Nonetheless, bring cable and endface replacements, if needed.

Clean the Fiber Connections

If the connectors are really dirty, mechanical “push-to-clean” tools generally won’t get the job done. While they’re handy for quick cleaning of lightly contaminated endfaces, you’ll need more sturdy cleaning sticks for the more rigor­ous cleaning required. Quality cleaning sticks are help­ful in two ways: they clean the entire endface (not just the contact zone), and they clean the sides of the adapter sleeves.

But be careful with cleaning stick you select. Don’t use cotton swabs. They fray on sharp vertical edges of the adapter sleeves and leave de­bris entrapped in the adapter. Also avoid foam sticks. Foam is a dirty cleaning material and is doubly cursed because it generates static electricity. The sharp edges of the adapters may shave off chunks of foam and deposit them on the endfaces, while the static will cause it to stick.

Wet-Dry Clean for Best Results

Wet-dry cleaning using a fast-drying solvent helps dislodge contamination and removes oily residues. Be sure to select a cleaner in a hermetically sealed, leak­proof container. Refillable pump-bottles won’t keep the solvent clean enough for proper repairs and may just spread contamination around.

Lastly, it is abso­lutely essential techs use high-quality, optical-grade lint-free wipes. Use the wipes to clean jump­ers and remove soot, grease, silt, and particulate from endfaces. Quality wipes can also serve double-duty to wipe cabinets, racks, workbenches and other surfaces on the first try, speeding the restoration process and simplify­ing inventories.

Plan and Prepare Now

Disasters, whether predicted or from out of the blue, can wreak havoc on fiber networking systems. The best approach for disaster response is to proactively prepare. Have a good plan in place, assemble all the tools you need and train technicians on how to use them.  Good preparation can go a long way in making your fiber disaster repairs both safe and successful.

Tools to Have Ready:

Here’s a handy list of some of the basic supplies to have on-hand.

  • LED flashlight or lantern with extra batteries
  • Personal protective equipment like gloves, safety glasses and wader boots
  • Hand tools like strippers, cleav­ers, pliers and screwdrivers
  • Painter’s tape, to pick up glass shards
  • MultiTask™ presaturated alcohol cleaning wipes in rug­ged plastic containers
  • A low-power fiber inspection tool to evaluate endface cleanliness. Be sure to include adapters for the most popular configurations of ports and jumpers.
  • Visual fault locator and continu­ity tester, because if the fiber racks are toppled or damaged the fibers may be bro­ken or crushed
  • Nonflammable Contact Cleaner sprays to flush dry debris from surfaces
  • Nonflammable, optical-grade duster remover to blow dry debris from surfaces
  • Nonflammable, fast-dry­ing, optical-grade fiber-optic cleaning fluids
  • CleanStixx™ Cleaning sticks in a variety of sizes
  • Clean Wipes optical-quality lint-free wipes
  • Replacement patch cords
  • TidyPen™ Glue Remover to remove damaged labels and a la­bel-making machine to make new ones
  • Drinking water
  • A hardened storage case suitable for harsh environments to contain all supplies