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Make a power outage business continuity plan with these tips

Power outages can lead to business disruption and hit at any moment. Infrastructure testing and emergency protocols can help with business continuity when the lights go down.

Electric power is one of the most important resources to protect when it comes to critical infrastructure. Power loss is something virtually every business could face at some time, and the results can be disastrous.

A power outage business continuity plan must be included in an organization's incident response protocols. Organizations can also take various measures to minimize the likelihood of power outages, such as infrastructure testing and ensuring ample backup power supply access.

Below you'll find downloadable checklists of duties to perform when a power outage occurs. These steps are customizable and fit into any incident response plan.

Consequences of power loss

A loss of power can shut down an entire business unless organizations take suitable precautions. A complete loss of commercial power is the worst case scenario, as opposed to local and/or regional outages that are confined to specific locations. Severe weather events, such as tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms, can disrupt commercial power. This can result in catastrophic business losses that may last hours, days or weeks. Employee injuries and even fatalities can result from these events.

By contrast, localized power outages can be caused by incidents such as failures in overhead transformers or vehicular crashes into telephone poles that damage power lines. Even more local outages can be caused by short circuits in data center power grids, damage to power feeder cables entering buildings, equipment power supply failures, failures of emergency power systems and even insufficient fuel to run emergency generators.

Minimize business disruption from power outages

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) and organizational resiliency plans typically include strategies for power outages response and necessary resources. These include local backup power systems, spare power supplies for equipment racks and devices, spare power cables, power connectors and spare power outlets.

Periodically inspect the building infrastructure for power protection equipment, including the following:

  • lightning arrestors;
  • power conditioners;
  • surge suppressors;
  • diverse cable routing in vertical and horizontal raceways and cable paths;
  • diverse power cable routing into the building; and
  • service from two different utility power substations.

Ensure that emergency lighting is in place throughout each floor of the office and in stairwells. If an organization is a tenant in an office building or manufacturing facility, check with the facilities management team on their power protection activities.

What to do when the power fails

Short-term power outages can last about 15 minutes. They are nuisances but will not likely disrupt business operations. If the office has windows, oncoming daylight should make it possible for employees to move around until the power returns. Once power returns, the business will need time to recover and restart systems, and reestablish network connections and related activities. Check with building facilities personnel on the cause of the outage and determine remedial actions that can help prevent future occurrences.

Longer-term power outages, lasting hours or days, require a more intensive process. Ensure that employees are unharmed, and commence evacuation of personnel as quickly as possible. Establish outside meeting locations where employees can gather, receive further instructions from management and first responders, and management can take head counts of employees. Depending on information provided by the local utility company, management will need to decide whether to send employees home for the day, send them home to work remotely or stand by for an imminent return to the office.

From a technology perspective, regular backups of systems, data and databases will ensure that the company can return to business, even if employees need to work remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of remote working, which has become part of the "new normal" for many organizations. It has also become a primary business recovery strategy and is especially applicable in power outages.

Launching emergency power systems can help keep the organization running unless other circumstances necessitate a physical evacuation. Backup power and remote working make sense so long as the outage is of a relatively short duration, and is largely confined to a specific geographic area, such as a city or section of a city, and is not a statewide or nationwide disruption. For larger-area and extended power outages, the above strategies may be insufficient, so it is important to discuss short- and long-term power outage strategies periodically with senior management, facilities teams and utility companies.

Include power loss in BCDR and resilience plans

One of the principal risks and threats to business continuity is a loss of power. Vulnerabilities to an organization from a power outage can be caused by a lack of backup power, improper internal wiring by not following local construction codes, and failure to periodically engage building management or an electrical contractor to examine the building power infrastructure.

For BCDR, incident response and resilience plans, include power disruptions into risk assessments and business impact analyses. These examinations will help identify ways to prepare for power outages and how to mitigate the severity of an outage to the business.

To get started on a power outage business continuity plan and related activities, download these simple checklists.

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