10 Ways to Plan Ahead for Power Outages

Power outages are a frustrating business disruption. In addition to the interruption of normal operations during the outage itself, the subsequent recovery after the power is restored adds even more time and cost to the event. Whether your location is prone to outages, or has had perfect power supply for years, a little bit of planning can go a long way to mitigating the potential loss of productivity, corruption of data, and even damage to equipment as a result of a power outage. Here are some ideas to get you started on an effective response plan for a power outage:

  1. Starting with the basics, make sure you have adequate emergency lighting, flashlights, and extra batteries on hand. Candles work too, and you don’t have to worry about batteries, but they add risk of fire and can be a safety concern that rules them out as an option for many businesses. What works especially well on a budget are plug-in emergency lights which charge all the time, automatically light up when the power goes out, and can be used as flashlights. Certain models can also double as carbon monoxide detectors and backup smartphone chargers.

  2. Set an office policy for all users to log out of their computers at the end of each day. This ensures that all work is saved and all programs are properly closed, minimizing the risk of data loss or system corruption. This can also make it easier for your IT staff to perform after-hours maintenance on your workstations without having to worry about what a client may or may not have left open overnight.

  3. Install an Uninterruptible Power Supply (aka a UPS) for all critical equipment and servers. A UPS is essentially a surge protector that also has a battery inside of it, so if the power goes out it will keep your devices powered for a short amount of time. It's job is to keep your devices online during a short power flicker or brownout, and it can be connected to many devices and servers with a USB cable so the server can monitor the battery and safely shut itself down automatically if the battery gets low. Generally, we suggest that any on-premise phone systems, networking equipment, servers, and network attached storage devices are connected to a UPS. Exactly how long a UPS will keep things running varies on how large the battery is and how much power the devices are drawing, but a properly sized UPS will give you anywhere between 5 and 25 minutes of runtime during an outage. When we work with clients who are considering a UPS, we calculate the exact power draw of the equipment against the target runtime to determine the UPS that is ideal for their needs. We also take into consideration the sensitivity of equipment to power fluctuations, voltage variances, and line noise to determine if an offline UPS will be adequate or if an online UPS is the better choice. If your office is prone to power outages, you may find it useful to install smaller UPS’s on every single computer to give everyone a chance to save their work and properly shut down their computer in the event of power loss. If you go this route, be sure to make sure that devices are plugged into the portion of the UPS that is powered by the battery. For many workstation-size UPS’s, only half of the outlets are for battery backup while the other half are surge protection only.

  4. Establish a procedure to be followed in the event of a power loss, and make sure it is clearly posted and everyone knows where to find it. The procedure should contain all necessary steps and details to ensure that you mitigate any risk of loss or damage during the outage, failovers are activated to keep your business operating at a minimum acceptable level, and that you recover to normal operations as quickly as possible once power is restored. The simplest procedure could be as short as “Notify the manager, Walk around and make sure all the computers are shut down, call the power company at (xxx) xxx-xxxx with our account number ########## to report the outage and get an Estimated Time of Repair. After power comes back, turn everything back on.”

  5. Familiarize yourself with your power company’s website and reporting process. Often, power companies have the ability to submit outage reports online and will also post outage maps which allow you to monitor the status of your outage real-time without having to continually call into the company and deal with their phone systems and hold times. Since a loss of power typically also means loss of internet, finding these ahead of time can make it much more efficient for you to pull them up on your phone in the event of an actual outage.

  6. Get in the routine of maintaining your procedure. If your environment changes, such as adding new equipment or getting a new power company, make sure the procedure is updated as well. After a power loss occurs, review the steps you took against your written procedure and brainstorm if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted to improve your response and recovery for the next time.

  7. Train and practice. A procedure won’t help if the one person who knows where it is and and what to do is sick or out on vacation the day the power goes out (which oddly seems to be the case more often than not!). Educate multiple people on the procedure and practice dry-runs so those designated individuals are comfortable and familiar with the steps to follow in the event of a power loss.

  8. If continuity of your operations during an outage is critical, and there is a high cost to business interruptions, consider a generator. Generators can be very expensive, depending on their capacity and quality, and require regular maintenance, oil changes, fueling, and testing. There are many variables and considerations that go into this decision, and we highly recommend contacting NorthSky Technology for assistance in evaluating a generator and scoping the ideal configuration, load, size, and installation type. A good place to start in evaluating the cost/benefit is to calculate your Loss Expectancy. Add up your anticipated cost of lost productivity and wages, lost business, contractual/SLA penalties, and any additional costs added that you would expect to incur as a result of an outage. Also consider any potential risks, such as a % chance that an asset could be damaged or require repair, multiplied by the cost of that repair or replacement. Add this all together to determine your Single Loss Expectancy for a single event, or your Hourly Loss Expectancy based on the duration of the outage. This serves as an important baseline in later deciding if the necessary investment to install and maintain a generator makes financial sense for your business, and also provides important guidance for us to determine exactly what parts of your operations are critical for your generator to be backing up.

  9. If you have a generator already and it only powers specific outlets, make sure you have labeled and marked exactly which outlets are backed up by the generator, what is allowed to be plugged into them without overloading the generator, and (if necessary) have extension cords readily on hand that can be run to power up specified equipment off the generator power. Overloading your generator with too much power draw can shut it down, and risks severely damaging or destroying the entire unit. If your generator is powering your entire office, consider adding steps to your power loss procedure to unplug power hungry equipment such as fridges, coffee makers, microwaves, toasters, grills, and unnecessary lighting to ease the load on the generator and extend your fuel life.

  10. Implement a routine to check your supplies on a regular basis. Make sure your batteries are in good condition and that you have enough on hand, test your emergency lighting and UPS devices, and check your generator fuel level, maintenance history, and test schedule. For your UPS devices, keep track of when you bought them and how old the batteries are. At minimum, you should replace UPS batteries every 36 months. For UPS devices supporting critical equipment, we recommend changing batteries more frequently. Data centers, for example, typically change their UPS batteries every 18 months.

If you have incident response plans developed already, consider reviewing them with a power outage in mind to see how your plans hold up against the theoretical scenario of an extended power loss. If you haven’t yet developed any incident response plans for your business, this is a great place to start. You can develop a simple plan for a power outage, and then make a list of other more likely scenarios that would cause an interruption of business continuity or otherwise put the security of your business at risk. From this list you can then develop additional plans one-by-one based on the expected likelihood of occurrence. After developing a few incident-specific plans, you’ll have laid a great foundation for a comprehensive incident-neutral response plan.

NorthSky Technology’s Practical Security Program assesses three key areas of your business: Cybersecurity, Operational Security, and Business Continuity. As part of our Business Continuity evaluation, we review your exposure to loss in the event of a power outage against what you feel is acceptable, and we also audit policies, procedures, and systems in place to mitigate the impact. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about our PSP Assessment.