The Heat is On...or Not - Emergency Furnace Repair

From the Suburban Survival blog

Every now and then, you'll see a car broken down on the side of the road or hear of someone suffering through some type of disaster. Usually, if you're like me, you think, "Phew! I'm glad that's not me." But, of course, in the back of your mind, you remember the times it was you, or realize that it is only a matter of time until you are in the same mess.

This week was my turn - once again. The day started nice. In fact, I went for a jog that morning in a t-shirt and shorts. By the evening the temperature had dropped - to the single digits and it was snowing.

I got home from picking up my son after basketball practice and turned the heat up. Nothing. Nada. No heat. Not good. I headed down to the basement (even colder down there) and began to dig through boxes of stuff trying to find my furnace owner's manual. Once I found it, I checked the diagnostic codes and found that it seemed the ignitor might be the problem. If you are like me, you are probably asking yourself, what is an ignitor? I get the concept - something that ignites the flow of gas, creating heat. But where was it in the twisted mass of wires, gizmos and gadgets?

Looking at the furnace, I reset the power and tried starting it again. I could see an orange glow inside, something I had never noticed before. Then flames as the gas tried to ignite. After a few seconds the flames went out. Then a couple of repeats and back to nothing. The installation flow chart mentioned a flame sensor as the final point of failure for all the good that did me then.

To make a long story short, I did a lot of frantic searching the Internet for some help, any help. I was filled with dread at the very prospect of calling out a heating company for an emergency repair. The price tag dancing in my head was enormous and so overwhelming, I had to fight the urge to collapse in tears in the corner of my basement and slip slowly into a hypothermia-induced hallucination.

So, by this time, I realized that I needed a flame sensor. Nothing more than a piece of metal hooked up to one wire. Off to the hardware store, with my wife, since that was better than sitting in a cold house with the temperature dropping. A heating guy overheard me talking to an employee and confirmed that it was the flame sensor, but then told me I couldn't get one that time of night and had to be a licensed contractor anyway. He did give some tips on how to clean and repair the existing one. Thanks unknown guy from Martin Heating and Cooling (at least that was the name on the jacket).

Back home, with some renewed confidence, I took the furnace apart and got the flame sensor out and very gently cleaned off the accumulated ash. I got it back together and with crossed fingers, restarted it. And it stayed on! Heat never felt so good!

In the heat of the moment, taking photos or a video didn't cross my mind. However, I'll save you some time and grief - here's the best link that I found for this problem:

So the suburban survival tip of the day - buy a house with a fireplace as an emergency back-up!

Combining his law enforcement and corporate security experiences plus a love of martial arts, Eric Smith created Business Karate, LLC. His new book, Workplace Security Essentials, outlines how any business, school, hospital or organization can master the art of self-defense, reduce losses, avoid liability and build a safer workplace. Visit for more. Follow on Twitter @businesskarate

Are You Ready For the Next Shooting?

               Military leaders are often accused of preparing the army to fight and win the last war instead of preparing for the next one. It sounds like an obvious mistake, but it is hard to ignore what you know and what you experienced and instead try to analyze or anticipate the unseen challenges ahead.

            Security is no different. Following the latest crime trend or horrific shooting, law enforcement and security professionals figure out what went wrong that time and immediately react by building training and response plans on that event. It is very easy to allow that tunnel vision to keep our focus on the last crime instead of being prepared for different variations. (Read more on crime trends and fads)

            The recent school shooting in Marysville, Washington is a reminder. Many recent school shootings have involved a crazed student or outsider, targeting students for no particular reason. School shooter training has often focused on the response once the first shots have been fired and how to lockdown and secure students in the classroom.

            It is important to remember that these types of active shooters are still relatively rare. Workplace violence, including school shootings, comes in many different forms and often involves disgruntled employees as well as unhappy customers. In fact, while researching my latest book, Workplace Security Essentials, I was somewhat surprised to find that violence at work is almost equally caused by co-workers and customers.

            Another common motive is revenge for domestic situations. The spurned lover seeking revenge. That seems to be the motive behind the shooting in Marysville. A 15-year old student was ‘heartbroken’ after a break-up with his girlfriend. He posted various comments on social media about how devastated he was and that he didn’t know how he could go on without her. For reasons still unclear, he lured his victims, but not the former girlfriend, to meet him in the school cafeteria where he shot them without warning, killing one on the spot and another who died later in the hospital. He then shot himself as a school faculty member rushed him. 

            So what are the lessons? This shooting caught everyone who knew Jaylen off guard and was not expected at all. Some of the traditional threat assessment models taught to schools would not have necessarily alerted anyone to the threat. Most of us probably shake our heads and wonder why a 15-year old could get so upset over a relationship at that age. And yet, we accept, at least on some level, that domestic violence and revenge does happen between adults. Thinking more about it, it only seems odd that we would not ask ourselves why we would expect teenagers to handle highly emotional relationships better than some adults do. 

            Clearly, if school faculty becomes aware of a student upset or troubled about a relationship gone wrong, it is a good idea to pay attention to the situation. Domestic relationships might not be our first thought when thinking about motives of school shootings, but shouldn’t be overlooked either. 

            Remember that violence is caused by different things for different people. What may not bother one person, could greatly trouble another and even incite them to rage. Schools and businesses need to keep that in mind and take any situation with elevated emotions seriously.

            It is impossible to say how every potentially violent individual may or may not tip their hand in advance. Continue to focus on both the recognition of warning signs as well as the actual response when shots are fired. There is no simple, easy answer for every possibility, but avoid tunnel vision and avoid focusing on what happened in the last shooting.

Combining his law enforcement and corporate security experiences plus a love of martial arts, Eric Smith created Business Karate, LLC. His new book, Workplace Security Essentials, outlines how any business, school, hospital or organization can master the art of self-defense, reduce losses, avoid liability and build a safer workplace. Visit for more. Follow on Twitter @businesskarate

The Future of Security

I was lucky to get the chance to attend the ASIS 60th Annual Seminar this year in Atlanta, Georgia. For those of you who haven’t heard of ASIS, it is the largest association for security professionals, with about 40,000 members worldwide.
This was by far the largest convention that I’ve ever attended, even bigger than a Comdex convention I went to years ago. In addition to the training and education sessions, there was a large exhibit hall that was full of every type of security product or service that you could imagine. 
For more ideas on how to protect your business, check out Workplace Security Essentials. For a limited time, the publisher is offering 25% off the cover price so act now. 

As you might imagine, the exhibitors were anxious to show off the newest version of their products and the latest technology. Some looked impressive. Some did not work as well as hoped. I was getting one demonstration on a guard tour and incident reporting system and the software interface did not work. I never did get to see what the program actually was supposed to do. It is hard to get excited about new products when even the demo fails. I’ve had enough of that with real-life products.
At one point, while passing by an exhibit, I heard the salesman pitch the product to his prospective client by promising that the technology could be used to eliminate or reduce the security guard force. At other booths, security guard services were promoting their ability to respond and protect businesses, while looking professional and promising lots of training for security staff.
It struck me that two types of services should ideally be merged. I have always believed, even as a police officer, that one well-trained, well-equipped and motivated responder could replace several untrained and unmotivated individuals. But how to get there?
It rekindled that vision of security people, guards or officers, professionally trained and using the latest technology and equipment to maximize their effectiveness. It is disappointing to hear sales pitches that pit one against the other.
The true future of security will involve technology (hopefully after being vetted and working properly!) and there will always be the need to have a security force to respond to and handle various situations and emergencies – the ‘boots on the ground.’ It will not come overnight and might involve some changes in the industry. On the technology side, facility directors or those in design and construction might be reluctant to try new products or be concerned about price increases. On the security guard service side, the industry must move away from the current model based on low pay, high turnover and limited training.
I am looking forward to the two worlds merging and providing the best possible levels of protection to organizations.

Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces. To learn more email Eric at businesskarate dot com.

DIY Investigation Gone Wrong!

A quick search of the internet can result in numerous tips on how to fix, repair or build things on your own – DIY. There are even entire websites dedicated to avid 'do-it-yourselfers'.
However, some issues should be left to the professionals. Complex investigations are one. Especially when it involves school kids and sexual assault.

A school district in Alabama is facing a lawsuit after setting up a 14-year old girl to catch a suspected rapist. The girl, described as a special needs student, complained to teachers about advances made by another student. The male student had a long history of complaints, but the school had not been able to prove the allegations.
The girl was told to pretend to go along with the male and that teachers would be hidden nearby and intervene and catch him red-handed. However, the male took the girl to a different location, in another part of the school. She tried to stall, but eventually was raped by the male.
From the news story, this was a horrible event, largely because it should never have happened. Worse, the suspect was not prosecuted as the victim would not talk about the attack. There was clear evidence of injury, but the responding police officer did not pursue the case as there was no way to tell if it was consensual or not without her statement.  
So what are the lessons learned?
1.     Never put the victim or a potential victim in harm’s way. This ‘set up’ was not well planned and there was no contingency for things going wrong and in real life, things do go wrong. Always have a back-up plan. A trained police officer going into this type of situation, such as pretending to be a prostitute, would have had back-up plans, microphones and been under supervision from back-up from beginning to end of the investigation.
2.    Understand the legal system. The way the news article describes the incident, the girl was instructed to go along with the suspect. His legal argument would then be that he thought his actions were with a consenting partner and even though ‘caught in the act’ there would have been no criminal charges.
3.    Look at alternatives. The faculty was so desperate to substantiate claims against the suspect; it seems no one stopped to think about how else that could have been done. Substantiating a complaint could have been done through witness interviews. Interviewers should have looked for inconsistencies in the suspect’s story, as one example.
4.    Include professionals. Local police should have been involved in the investigation. If police were reluctant, then the school could have brought in trained investigators or run the investigation plan past the local police.
DIY may be a great way to approach home repairs, but it is too risky when it comes to putting schoolchildren in harm’s way.

Learn self-defense for your business with Eric Smith’s new book, Workplace Security Essentials! Every aspect of protecting a workplace is compared to a self-defense skill taught to budding karate students, all in a practical and entertaining style, drawing on Eric’s law enforcement and security experience.
Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces. To learn more email Eric at businesskarate dot com.