In an era where reliance on electricity has never been more critical, even a momentary blip in power can trigger serious ― and extremely expensive ― consequences for your business. From equipment damage to data loss to wounded reputation, the effects of downtime can take a significant toll on any organization. Those that lack a sufficient power protection solution face even more devastating business impacts when an unexpected loss of power occurs.
But the news isn’t all doom and gloom; organizations that properly prepare can significantly improve their chance of making a successful recovery when a power outage does strike. By implementing an emergency preparedness strategy, you can help prevent your entire operation from going lights-out, even when the power does just that.
The Importance of Creating a Power Outage Procedure for Your Business
As climate change fuels more frequent and severe weather events such as hurricanes, wildfires and snowstorms, longer blackouts are becoming an even greater threat. In 2021, the U.S. power grid collapsed multiple times during incidents unleashed by Mother Nature, with the average electricity customer experiencing 7 hours and 20 minutes without power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual power industry report. Even more, a 2018 Bloom Energy survey found that one in four companies experiences a power outage at least once a month.
From severe weather to wildlife interference to vehicle accidents, there’s certainly no shortage of blackout risks, making proper outage planning absolutely essential. The consequences of downtime from unexpected power outages can be huge, including lost revenue, equipment damage, data loss, missed transactions, reduced productivity and spoiled inventory, among other unpleasant effects. While the average cost of downtime can vary dramatically by industry, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that power outages cost U.S. businesses $150 billion each year. But the results of a power outage aren’t always easily measurable; damages can extend far beyond ruined goods or lost sales if your business’ reputation is tarnished from being unable to effectively serve customers. Furthermore, profits aren’t the only negative consequence of power cuts; in the medical world, for instance, the briefest disturbance in electricity can also cost lives. Many small businesses have even been forced to close their doors in the aftermath of an extended blackout.
While this collection of statistics is certainly ominous, it underscores the importance of developing a comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery strategy ― with power outage planning representing a key aspect of that plan.
How Businesses Can Prepare for a Power Outage
The Boy Scouts had it right when they coined the organization’s motto of “Be Prepared.” Indeed, it is much wiser to consider what is needed during a power outage before you’re left in the dark. That’s why the first order of business is to create a business continuity plan (BCP), a document that consists of critical information a business needs to continue operating during an unplanned event such as when an outage occurs. Unlike disaster recovery (DR) planning ― which outlines how to restore business processes within a certain timeframe in the aftermath of a disaster ― business continuity programs are designed to keep critical functions continuing with minimal downtime during an unplanned interruption. By evaluating which aspects of your business would be most vulnerable during an outage and detailing the steps to address them, a well-thought-out BCP decreases the risk of detrimental and costly consequences from a loss of power.
When developing a power outage plan for business, it is important to consider the different types of backup power solutions available and which will best meet your individual needs. While an uninterruptible power system (UPS) is the first line of defense in safeguarding critical equipment and processes, many businesses opt to deploy additional measures to bolster their level of protection. For example, extended battery modules (EBMs) facilitate longer runtime during a power loss. Another key element is selecting a power management software capable of performing an automatic, orderly shutdown of connected devices and saving all work-in-progress. Additionally, installing surge protection devices will help shield electronic equipment from power surges or spikes that can damage sensitive electronics.
A solid response plan may also include investment in an emergency generator to provide power during an extended outage. Regardless of the type of backup solution you deploy, before an outage strikes, make sure that the proper personnel know how to operate all backup equipment. Furthermore, it is crucial to properly maintain your backup solution to ensure it performs as designed when you need it most.
Other proactive steps that should be considered prior to an outage include determining procedures for disconnecting and powering down equipment; establishing processes for data backup and retrieval; assembling an emergency kit; determining personnel matters such as how long employees will remain on site during a power outage and possible work-from-home requirements; addressing workplace safety issues including installing emergency lighting; and defining procedures for entering or exiting the facility. Finally, make sure all information and resources, as well as safety tips, are shared with your employees.
What Business Should Do During a Power Outage
You’ve compiled your BCP, conducted routine power outage drills with your staff, and in the midst of your work day, the lights just went out ― so now what? Keep in mind that specific procedures will vary based on the type and size of the business, among other factors. For instance, power outage procedures for restaurants will differ from those in critical healthcare settings. But regardless of the industry, safety will always be the highest priority during a power outage, so the first order of business should be to check on all customers and employees and call 911 if there are any emergencies.
It’s always recommended that you report a power outage to your utility company. Some providers will have a dedicated point of contact assigned to your business; if this is the case, be sure to record that information in your BCP. Next, disconnect or shut down electronic equipment if you do not have power management software that will do so automatically, and ensure that your standby generator has powered on. Once these tasks are completed, you should account for all employees at predetermined meeting areas. Depending on the outage information that may be available from the utility company, management will need to decide whether to send employees home for the day, have them work remotely or stand by to return to the office. During any lengthy power outage, be sure to communicate regularly with employees on the status of the event.
Some companies rely on MiFi during an outage. This portable broadband device allows multiple end users and mobile devices to share a 3G or 4G mobile broadband Internet connection and create an ad-hoc network. In addition, some businesses may move to a defined alternate location where they can resume operations if the primary location is not usable.
What to Do After a Power Outage
When the lights finally flicker back on after a power outage, the immediate threat may have passed but there is still important work to be done. Once you’ve confirmed that electricity has been reestablished, be sure to check all electrical equipment for possible damage. If your business has a generator, you will also need to turn it off. Once these tasks have been completed, you can turn your attention to assessing any losses that may have resulted from the blackout.
How to Build a Plan
Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that as many as 75 percent of businesses without a BCP will fail within three years of a disaster, many organizations neglect to put a strategy in place. Business continuity and disaster recovery planning doesn’t need to be an ominous task. A company’s IT administrators often create the plan with input from the executive staff. However, any personnel with knowledge of the business and oversight can participate in the process or even draft the document.
When compiling your BCP, be sure to include power disruptions into risk assessments and business impact analyses. These examinations will help identify ways to prepare for electricity losses and how to mitigate the severity of an outage to your business. Your plan should include instructions for periodically inspecting building infrastructure and power protection equipment; determining who should perform what actions during a power event; and how to share the plan with employees. Help your staff prepare by scheduling training on your BCP, as well as conducting routine power outage drills. Don’t forget to review and update your plan on a regular basis.
Contact Unified Power for the UPS Equipment Your Business Needs
For more than two decades, Unified Power has been providing critical power equipment and services to companies across the country, including preventive maintenance and emergency response. We offer comprehensive power solutions customized to fit the needs of every business, including UPSs, backup generators, DC plants, power distribution units (PDUs) and more.
Our solutions and services will ensure you are back in business as quickly as possible after a power outage. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you keep power losses from becoming business losses.