Power Protection Tips for Businesses

April 15, 2019

By Erik Linask - Group Editorial Director

Power outages often result from devastating naturally occurring events, like hurricanes, heavy snow storms, floods, and such.  Or, they may be the result of man-made events, like car accidents, or they may happen when animals or even sailboats come into contact with energized lines.  Of course, there’s also equipment malfunction, and any other number of potential reasons power might go out.

For utility customers, it really doesn’t matter what caused an outage.  What matters is how long power will be out and how well prepared they are to handle an outage.

Homeowners are often fairly well prepared, with many owning generators to power parts or entire homes, plenty of firewood during colder months, surge protectors for sensitive electronics, handy flashlights, and other common preparations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Federation – an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – has come up with a power outage preparedness checklist for businesses to help ensure they are perpared for an outage.  Let’s face it, the question is not “if,” but “when” will a business experience a power outage.  The majority of the list is applicable to nearly every business, though a few of the items are specific to food service businesses, which certainly are at risk of revenue loss without power.

  • Understand what aspects of your business would be most critically affected due to a power disruption. Would it be the ability to process e-commerce orders? Would it be the loss of documents in progress? The loss of the ability to communicate or ring up customer sales?
  • Talk to your business insurance provider to see how your coverage protects you in the event of a power outage. Update your preparedness strategy if needed. Have a hard copy of your policy stored in an easily accessible place that doesn’t require power to open. 
  • Set your computer systems to frequently auto-save and perform server back-ups. If you work in a cloud-based system such as Google (News - Alert) Drive, tasks in progress are likely already being auto-saved. 
  • Invest in uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units at key stations so you can, for example, print customer bills or your current inventory list quickly. UPS units allow you to quickly complete electronic tasks in progress and properly save and shut down. They don’t have a long power life, but they can provide you some much-needed time in an emergency.
  • Have surge protection at each computer station. Some UPS units may come with surge protection. Either way, protect your electronics from the risk of damage and destruction. 

These last couple of points are important because they ensure PCs, laptops and other electronics are protected.  For network equipment – servers, switches, communications systems, firewalls, etc. – a separate power protection solution is a worthwhile investment.  While protecting individual PCs makes a lot of sense, protecting the infrastructure that is the core of a business is even more necessary.

Power protection systems function much like surge protectors and UPS units.  They are designed to regulate line voltage before power reaches the equipment to flatten any spikes to could damage the equipment and send business operations into a costly tailspin.  They may also include UPS elements to allow IT teams to manually – either on-site or remotely – shut down systems to prevent data loss once power is restored.

The costs of replacing laptops or PCs in one thing.  The cost of replacing network components and software that has been damaged is exponentially greater and can take weeks or even longer, putting entire businesses at risk.  Power protection systems ensure that doesn’t happen and the length of and outage is the extent of business disruption.

Now back to the list.

  • Have a commercial generator and know how to use it. Know how long it will last when it’s full. Have a backup supply of fuel ready. Test it every six months to ensure it’s ready to work for you and run it with a “full load” to make sure it meets your power needs.
  • Back up key data daily. Export key reports such as sales, customer data, vendor orders, accounts payable/receivable, and employee timesheets to a cloud-based system. 
  • Keep a listing of important telephone numbers near a landline. Landlines will sometimes work even if mobile phones are down depending if you work through a PBX (News - Alert) system. Employees, vendors, key customers, the insurance company, your bank, and the regional Small Business Administration (SBA) office are all useful phone numbers to have access to in an emergency or disruption.
  • Keep the mobile phones of key personnel fully or nearly fully charged during each shift. A good habit is to have them charging any time they’re not in use for business purposes. Have an emergency mobile phone charger stored for emergency use.  
  • If you operate with POS revenue, such as a brick-and-mortar retailer or a restaurant, set up your business on Google Wallet, Paypal, Square, Venmo, or another mobile commerce platform. Use this platform as a backup for customer payment in case of an emergency.
  • If you operate a business that has perishables, move refrigerated items to a freezer and keep the door closed to prevent loss.
  • If it is safe to operate and you can continue to receive payments, consider a flash sale of limited services or items that could spoil unless sold, for example, salads or mixed drinks with ice. 
  • Keep accurate records of your sales and your losses during the outage. Even if you initially have to document this data on paper, you can plug it into your typical platforms later. Your insurance provider and any recovery-loan provider will need accurate data.
  • Keep an emergency kit large enough to assist more than one person at a time. For example, flashlights or headlamps could help employees as they safely escort customers to the door, or they can be set around your space to illuminate a path to the door. Your kit should also include extra batteries, a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, a battery-powered or hand-cranked AM/FM radio, and safety gear like gloves and masks. Include a small toolbox that could assist if the gas main valve needs to be shut off or if doors or windows are hard to open once the power is out.

Edited by Erik Linask