Convincing optical technicians to clean fiber endfaces

April 1, 2010
One of the biggest problems facing optical network managers is assuring system uptime.

by Harvey Stone, MicroCare

One of the biggest problems facing optical network managers is assuring system uptime. The key ingredient in optical network performance is getting the fiber technicians to clean and inspect fiber-optic endfaces, particularly their test jumpers. It seems that telling them they need to clean and inspect is like telling an 8-year-old to brush and floss his teeth after every meal. Fiber techs need to internalize the idea that cleaning is necessary. They have to believe it in terms they can relate to. The real question is, how can we get the technicians to relate to the “need to clean”?

Studies have shown that our brains are wired to remember stories. Stories are the way that information was passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years before the printed word. All of us like a good story. We even listen to bad stories. Therefore, I would like to suggest that crew leaders tell the following story that may help you get your fiber techs to clean.

Maybe you could start with something like: “Listen to what I heard on the news this morning …” or, “I read this item in the paper this morning …” or, “My neighbor told me …” No matter how you start, I might suggest that you localize the story; that is, change its details to fit your area. For example, if there are no deer in your geographical area, perhaps the animal in the road could be a coyote, raccoon, or jackalope. Change the state, town, and highway numbers to match your area. Change the name of the highway maintenance guy. However, if you really don’t like telling stories, at least have your crew read this article.

Dan Checker is a part of the Arizona highway maintenance crew. Arizona had just started a new preventative patrol that sends personnel out very early in the morning to check key highways to make sure all is well before the morning commute. Very early yesterday morning Dan was driving south on the I-17, south of Camp Verde heading to Phoenix in his F-150 pickup. He was cruising down the interstate when he had to swerve quickly to avoid a deer crossing the highway. Amazingly, the deer made it to the opposite side without stopping to glare into the headlights and make an early trip to the Roadkill Café. However, Dan did not notice that a bunch of orange safety cones he had in the back had flipped out of the truck bed and fallen onto the highway while he zigzagged to avoid the deer. Unfortunately, these cones did not end up on the side of the road or in the breakdown lane. They ended up in the passing lane. In a million-to-one shot, they actually formed a blockade shutting down the lane, almost as if it had been intentionally closed.

Traffic was still light at 4:00 a.m. so oncoming cars saw the cones ahead and just moved over to the right lane, cruising along on their way to their intended destinations. No immediate problem.

But as dawn approached and people were taking to the highways for the commute to work, the traffic on this stretch of road started to build. Driving along, commuters would see the red tail lights ahead, signifying that something was awry up the road. Some drivers had to slow down waiting to merge into the passable lane. It was basically a minor inconvenience, and then the commuters went on to their destinations. It put some commuters a little behind schedule, but many still got to work on time.

The road remained functional for a while. However, during the peak rush hour a major backup occurred. Cars and trucks were congested for miles before the cones. People started cursing in their cars. Cell phones were engaged and lots of stress and tension were in the airwaves. People were clearly late for work. That section of highway was not a happy place and the highway patrol was flooded with calls. Finally, a highway patrol officer passing the scene in the opposite direction confirmed the problem and radioed in to deploy a maintenance truck to the scene and remove the cones from the roadway. Once that was accomplished, traffic again started to flow at a more normal rate. Soon the logjam was gone and traffic was once again moving smoothly. The commuters were content at last.

The moral of this story: Clean every jumper every time before you plug them in—especially the test jumpers. You see, Dan was like a fiber technician out checking a fiber-optic link. He accidentally touched the test jumper endface (the zigzag to avoid the deer), which contaminated the fiber-optic connection (the cones falling out of the truck and landing in the travel lane). The cars and trucks on the highway were digital traffic (photons), and the highway (the fiber link) still worked when traffic was light. But when traffic increased (more users online or more downloads), traffic halted. The commuters (users and customers) got very upset, resulting in a dispatch of another crew to repair the problem (clean the fiber connection).

Now, from me the writer to you the reader: I would appreciate feedback on this storytelling approach to help get fiber technicians to clean.

HARVEY STONE is product manager for MicroCare’s cleaning products. You can offer the feedback Harvey’s looking for by visiting his Tech Talk section of the MicroCare Web site,

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