Power Outage Procedures For Businesses

If there’s one type of disruption that happens everywhere, regardless of region, it’s a power outage. Most businesses will, at some point, experience an outage. It could be brought on by anything from storms and downed trees, to animals gnawing on electric lines, to grid operator error. An outage of any length can be disruptive, making power outage procedures and planning a critical piece of any good business continuity plan.

Power Outage Procedures For Businesses

There are essentially two sides of the coin when it comes to power outage emergency response plans: planning for your power needs and assessing the appropriate backup power need; and creating procedures to handle business processes or functions while the power is down.

Because companies differ vastly in terms of the products or services they provide, as well as their organizational structures (remote vs. on-site workers), it’s difficult to design a power outage plan template, of sorts, that works across the board. A hospital, for instance, performs so many vital functions that practically the entire facility needs to be on emergency backup power within seconds of an outage occurring. On the flip side, since neither a construction company nor a marketing company perform life-saving functions, they have dramatically different backup power requirements.

There are, however, certain steps that every business should take as part of designing its own power outage emergency response plan. Let’s walk through them.

1. Consider your specific business needs.

When planning a power outage procedure for your business, take into consideration the following (listed in priority order):

  • The health and life safety of individuals. Top priority will always go to medical equipment or other health and life safety needs. Emergency lighting should also be considered, as should environmental controls as appropriate.
  • The criticality of your business processes. Ideally, you’ve already done a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to determine which business processes are most critical to your company. However, you don’t necessarily need a full BIA to get a good grasp on business unit criticality. You can do a modified version by sitting down with people from various departments and asking about their critical processes. For this exercise, don’t assume it will only be a short power outage; it could last several days, a week, or more. To make sure you determine the right level of criticality, find out what the impact of a disruption would be for each department for varying time periods—24 hours, 48 hours, five days, greater than five days, etc. Your power outage plan will then be thorough enough to cover all the possibilities.

See how easy it is to determine your company’s critical processes with our online business continuity software.   

  • Technology dependencies. As part of your modified BIA for the previous consideration, you’ll uncover each department’s critical dependencies on technology and information systems. For the most critical technology, that means making power available for a set of key functions, applications, and technologies. For example, email, health and life safety applications, telephony, and other critical applications need to remain up. Often it makes the most sense to have enough backup power to continue to run IT functions rather than taking the time to shut them down gracefully, which can often take longer than the available time provided by the uninterruptable power supply (UPS).
  • Facility dependencies. In regard to heating, cooling, safety, and lighting, what are the essential things your facility requires to continue? The impact of a power outage in July will be different for people working in Arizona versus Minnesota, for instance. It won’t be long before an office building gets too hot for employees to simply wait it out; the same may not be true in Minnesota. If employees can work remotely, it’s possible that backup power for the entire facility isn’t necessary for operations to continue for a period of time.

2. Based on your needs, determine the amount and type of backup power required.

Based on the information you gathered for each of the considerations above, come up with the amount of backup power that will be necessary to continue critical operations. You will need to engage your facilities team or landlord to assist in the identification of appropriate vendors to assist in the design and implementation of a backup power system (generator, UPS, etc.).

For example, many businesses have a generator on site, but how much will it need to handle—just a few phones? Five computers? Emergency lighting only for evacuation purposes? Consider that some departments don’t need to fully function in a power outage or maybe not at all. A hospital accounting department, for instance, might be able to function adequately with a reduced staff following a workaround patient discharge protocol, while the remainder of the department is on hold.

3. Determine procedures for those functions that will not be supported by backup power.

After assuring that your critical functions will have power available and can continue to operate, what will you do for those functions not supported by backup power? You’ll need procedures in place for alternate places of work, alternate modes of communication, and getting the word out to both customers and vendors.

Your plan should start with the moment a power outage occurs. In the case of a July power outage in an Arizona office building, for instance, how long will you and your employees wait to see if the power comes back on? Will everyone leave after 10 minutes, or 30 minutes? If the power company estimates that power will be restored in less than 30 minutes, will employees be told to wait in a neighboring building? If it’s estimated to be more than 30 minutes, will they be asked to return home to work remotely? Having a power outage emergency response plan in place ensures things will go smoothly right from the start.

Be Prepared For Any Disruption

A thorough understanding of your business and its most critical functions will help you design a power outage procedure that works for your business—and better prepare you for any type of disruption that comes your way.

Using the BCMMetrics™ BIAOD tool, you can easily identify your critical business processes and resource requirements. This secure online tool walks you through the evaluation process step by step and helps you effectively determine acceptable downtimes for your various business units and their associated resources. You’ll emerge with detailed, easy-to-understand reports that are tailored to fit your needs—and help you and your team strategize more effectively for business continuity. Why not see the tool in action? It’s already helped hundreds of companies prepare for the future; it can do the same for yours.

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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