How to protect your small business during a blackout
A brutal winter storm bringing freezing rain, snow, and ice hit the Southeast and Northeast USA early in January 2022. Winter weather alerts covered nearly 1,000 miles – from Georgia to Maine – affecting nearly 80 million people. The resulting power outages left thousands without power. This comes a year after the devastating power outages in Texas. Despite states’ efforts to strengthen power systems, unpredictable and extreme weather conditions catch us off guard and cause power outages.
Is your business prepared for sudden power outages? In this post, we look at important safety procedures and policies you should have in place to protect your business, staff, and customers. We look at what you should do during and after the power outage.
Precautions to take before an outage
First and foremost on your power-outage emergency plan is to institute a plan. This plan will include everything we will discuss below – and it is vitally important that all staff members know and understand this plan. Your employees and colleagues should know what to do when the lights go out. This will not only help keep your business steady and your appliances and assets from being damaged during the blackout, but – and most importantly – it will ensure employees and any customers or visitors to your business will be safe, too.
Some safety measures to implement include having emergency kits accessible throughout your business. Employees should be trained on how to use these kits as well. Your business should be equipped with flashlights, first aid supplies, water, generators, and other basic items like rope and tools. Everyone should be barred from using elevators or escalators in the building. Keep bottled water or water filter kits on hand as well in the event that tap water is not safe to drink during the outage.
During an outage, smoke alarms, sprinklers, and illuminated exit signs must be powered on in some way. To do this, be certain that your backup systems such as battery-powered systems are in good condition.
It is crucially important that you and staff members know how to safely run your business’ generator. Generators need to be placed where its ventilation systems are unobstructed. This will avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should never plug generators directly into power outlets or use them under wet conditions, as you can seriously injure utility workers with the former mistake, and injure your own staff with the latter. If you need to refuel your generator, let it first cool off before doing so. With proper handling of your generator, you can be confident to know that your critical business operations remain running.
Not all power outages are the same, as some can be quick power surges or brownouts (diminished overall power capacity). Your business should invest in surge protection for equipment and machines. Damage and malfunctions can be done to these assets during a power surge. Surge protection is costly, but not nearly as much as it would cost to replace computers, heavy machinery, or manufacturing equipment.
What to do during a blackout
At the moment of power outage, call your utility provider and report it. The utility company needs to know when and where the outage occurred so they can get to work immediately to fix the outage. Let them know of any hazards such as downed power lines. It is best to call your utility provider’s designated helpline to report the power outage. This is one of the critical power outage procedures for businesses, as it allows the utility to respond as quickly as possible to any dangers.
If there is immediate danger as a result of the outage – as in your staff or customers are in a health and life-threatening situation – call 911.
Even if you have surge protection for your business, during an outage, turn off and disconnect equipment (manufacturing, assembly lines, and computers) to avoid damage and fire risks. This is another of the most important power outage procedures for all businesses.
Connectivity and communication are important to maintain during a blackout. Thus, your business should have portable WiFi devices ready to be used. This will allow staff and customers to connect to the Internet or data to contact support. As we all become more accustomed to paperless databases, it is vital that we keep our systems online and connected.
If you are a restaurant or grocery store, you will want to keep doors closed on all refrigeration units. This will help to preserve food products for as long as possible. When outages are prolonged, loading coolers with dry ice help maintain safe temperatures for food.
Post-power outage checklist
All may seem right when the lights return and the HVAC system starts humming again, but it is important to confirm that power has been fully restored before you resume business operations. Some major appliances may still not be safe to use. Only turn major equipment back on after 10–15 minutes when power returns, then inspect equipment for any damage before fully resuming operation. Keep an eye out for damaged outlets or exposed wiring in your equipment.
Everyone in your business should be trained on how to safely and correctly turn off generators. Generators must be turned off in a specific way: turn off the generator before unplugging all equipment it is powering.
Finally, assess any losses financially or production-wise that may have incurred during the power outage and revise your power outage procedures as needed. Knowing how much your business lost and determining what changes to make for future outages will help you continue to grow your business.
Put the energy professionals to work
Whether the power is on or off, having a great relationship with your utility provider is important for small businesses, albeit it can be time consuming and complicated for busy professionals. The energy professionals at NGP Americas are here to help your business receive the best in energy services and supply. We do the hard work to ensure you get the best business energy deal and the best customer support.
Contact us today for more information.