Don’t let your website become the DC Metro

This week, with less than 24 hours notice, the DC Metro system shut down for 29 hours ON A WORKDAY.

What could have prevented the sudden paralysis? (No, it had nothing to do with Obama’s announcement of a Supreme Court nominee.) Two words: regular maintenance.

DC Metro

For readers who haven’t lived in a transit city, the magnitude of this event is hard to understand. Allow me to explain. Metrorail riders take about 725,000 trips per day. With the metro being down, most of these commuters were forced to take to the roads in their cars (or the replacement busses DC Metro provided). Traffic was, as you can imagine, a total cluster…nightmare.

The shutdown is unprecedented in Metro’s 40-year history. But after an electrical fire early Monday morning, WMATA (the governing authority) decided that a sudden and complete shutdown was their best option to keep riders safe. The other option, to keep the system open and publically announce the risk of a potentially deadly safety problem would have been a public relations cluster…nightmare.

So how did DC Metro get to this point?

The answer is pretty obvious: for many years, they didn’t do regular maintenance on the over 600 power lines required to keep everything up and running.

Although there is a lot to criticize about Metro’s actions here, I will give them credit for realizing that sometimes it’s important to actually stop and reassess the situation instead of just trying to push through.

With websites, we train ourselves to think in terms of a 24x7x52 clock. The Internet is always ON. Someone on the other side of the world could be looking at your site at 2am EST. Yet, we still need to build in points where we pause to reassess (hopefully before we get to the point where we need an emergency stop like this). For context, Spring Insight went through a reassessment period at the end of last year when we paused in order to migrate everyone to a better web hosting service. The move was a necessary part of regular maintenance to avoid security issues. Of course, we take these breaks at strategic times (like during the holidays).

The biggest lesson we can learn from big emergencies like the DC Metro shutdown is that it is dangerous to skip regular maintenance. For precisely this reason, Spring Insight offers ongoing maintenance services for all of our websites. Even still, I frequently hear from clients that they don’t need “extra services.” Here’s the thing though, ongoing maintenance is like insurance—you don’t need it…until you need it. These “extra services” can be real lifesavers when you are facing a website crisis.

Okay, rant over. Let’s all take a lesson from the DC Metro and stop putting off that regular maintenance. Don’t let your business get to the point where you need to order a sudden and complete shutdown in order to get back on track.