Storm Clouds: Put a Plan in Place for Emergencies

    Most businesses are all too familiar with the turbulence and tumult of a punishing recession that is not yet far enough away in the rear view mirror. But while economic forecasts have become more optimistic in recent years, those same businesses may have to weather a very different kind of storm in the not-too-distant future: the damage and disruption caused by winter storms and other natural disasters.

    Storms and subsequent power outages carry an eye-popping price tag for business leaders and operations managers. According to the United States Department of Energy, weather-related events and outages cost businesses upward of $30 billion in damages annually.

    As so many business owners have unfortunately learned the hard way, even a small outage can result in a challenging and expensive set of circumstances. When the outage is more significant, the outlook becomes grimmer: According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, one in four businesses forced to close during a weather disaster never re-open again. While not every weather event is a disaster, power outages are more common than many realize. In 2012, for example, there were 268 outages in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

    With the stakes so high, it is crucial that business leaders, owners and operators have an airtight plan in place to prevent outages—and to deal with them quickly and efficiently when they do happen.

    Emergency planning 101
    For business owners, the first step to protecting their buildings, businesses and bottom lines is to educate themselves about the strategies and systems they can employ to mitigate and minimize the damage and disruption caused by an extreme weather event or other outage. Integrating those insights into a well-designed emergency response plan is the most effective way to ensure the safety of your employees, protect your assets, limit downtime, and protect both your operational and financial integrity. While every business is different, all emergency response plans should include some fundamental elements: from generators to general tips, and from technology to training. These core pieces of the protection puzzle are at the heart of successful emergency preparedness.

    Next: generation
    While facilities and asset maintenance, emergency transportation, and communication with and coordination of employees, customers and professional partners are all important priorities in an emergency, much of your planning will be neutralized if you cannot keep the lights on. Consequently, backup power is an obvious first step in designing an emergency preparedness infrastructure that can protect your business in an outage. Invest in and install emergency generators, making sure to position those generators in areas that are not prone to flooding. The job is not done once the generators are in place: be sure to design and deploy a rigorous and routine maintenance and testing program to ensure that those generators will be there when you need them.

    Few business owners understand that a reliable emergency power source frequently demands more than a generator. Many systems utilize (out of necessity) an uninterrupted power supply (UPS): technology designed to bridge the gap between when an outage first hits and when the generators start operating. Sometimes that gap is just seconds, and sometimes it is far longer. Business owners will likely need to consult with UPS specialists to help decide what kind of UPS solution is appropriate for their specific system.

    A fuel and his money…
    The biggest and best generator in the world is useless without fuel—a fact that is often overlooked when designing a backup power solution. A reliable source of fuel can make all the difference, particularly in the event of a sustained outage or other large-scale emergency. Because fuel supplies can be unreliable in the emergency scenarios in which they are most needed, it may be wise to participate in an emergency fueling program. Prioritize emergency fuel-services providers who have both an ironclad delivery guarantee and the resources to make good on it.

    Catching the train
    Designing a reliable emergency response plan with reliable backup power is just the first step. Equipment and planning must be tested and refined over time with consistent and continuous maintenance, training and education programs. Understand that the best plans evolve over time to adapt to changing circumstances, and that your emergency response infrastructure and protocols should be subject to ongoing review and assessment.

    Addressing power outages has evolved beyond a code requirement to a necessary part of protecting your facility and keeping your professional functionality intact. At a time when even a minor outage can have an outsized impact, taking the time to establish an efficient and effective emergency response plan is a consequential and cost-effective way to protect your business against the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.