May 09 2014

Is Your Commercial Structure Ready For The Next Power Outage?

Businesses have a new problem to worry about. It’s the very fundamental issue of power. The idea that the lights wouldn’t come ‘on’ in a business could hardly have been imagined as recently as 10 years ago but it’s a looming, and really scary reality now. Over the last 15 years, power outages amounted to 92 minutes a year in Midwestern states and a whooping 214 minutes a year in the Northeastern area of the country. And that’s just for system failures. It doesn’t even count failures due to fires or numerous natural disasters.

Every minute of ‘downline’ time at a business due to power outages has a geometrically increasing effect in damage to the business. Maybe 2 minutes down-time won’t hurt anything too much but 30 minutes starts to get serious and an hour or two (or longer) can be disastrous…. not only in lost customers and customer services but also in damage to the plant and equipment of the business itself.

What can be done to protect from, or at least to mitigate dangers from power outages to a commercial business? There are a few things you can do to lessen the effects of this kind of danger…..and in, depending on a variety of factors, perhaps even prevent them completely.

  • Be prepared and ensure that all employees know what to do when the power goes out. Your first step is to avoid chaos that only makes things worse. Most likely, getting lights back on should be your first priority. You can’t solve the problem if everybody is stumbling around bumping into each other.
  • Be sure your plans for ‘what to do’ is clearly prioritized so that you and your team can immediately begin to follow your plan.
  • Be sure you’ve also got a ‘power recovery checklist’. There’s a right way and a wrong way to get everything turned back on too.
  • Have some sort of plans for medical/first-aid issues, food safety (if that’s possibly an issue), drinking water (and perhaps purification) and also long-term sanitation needs.
  • Have a ‘crowd control’ plan ready if you’ve got lots of employees and/or customers on the premises.
  • Have adequate space and supplies in shelters for employees and/or customers in the event that you are trapped inside your business or deem it unwise to leave the premises for some reason. Also consider specifically issues related to extreme cold or heat…i.e. how are people going to keep warm or cooled off.
  • Be sure you do regular data backup in order to minimize the effect of power outage surprises.
  • The size of your operation has a lot to do with how affordable various options are but for small to medium sized business, battery backup can go a long way to keeping essential functions going. Look at all your options and consider their affordability. If you’re a much larger operation, it’s not unreasonable to consider large generators which could be used for continuing operations or at least to give you more time to ‘ramp down’ your operation in a less disastrous manner.
  • Be sure you’ve got surge protectors of all essential equipment. This will help minimize very brief power interruptions.
  • Have battery powered radios so you can receive advisories.

The simple fact of the matter is that when the power goes out, there’s only so much you can do. You’re not in the power generating business. You’ve got your own business to run. For that reason, your biggest priority should be staying in control of the things that truly are within your control, and within your realm of responsibility. To the extent that you can, it’s preferable that you have alternative power for everything you can.