Facility Dude

Don’t get left in the dark during a power outage

By Kate Donnelly
Sep 04, 2015

Facilities Management, Safety and Risk Management

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Don't get left in the dark during a power outage When you were a kid, chances are you found power outages exciting. As an adult, however - and specifically a facility manager - these occurrences have gone from fun and entertaining to troublesome and irritating.

One difficult thing about responding to power outages is the fact that they can be brought on by any number of factors, many of them out of your control. Weather, mistakes at the power company or even mix-ups with utility bills can all result in the lights going out when you don't expect them to.

While some organizations may be able to get by for a few hours or even a day in the dark, for others - such as healthcare facilities or food service establishments - having no power can be a much more serious problem.

Here are some tips for how to respond the next time you find yourself without power.

Power outages are becoming worse

Back in 2003, an error at a hydroelectric plant left a good deal of the Northeastern U.S. and parts of Canada without power for days. Since that memorable occasion, there haven't been any more power outages of that severity, but data indicates that that power losses are getting worse nonetheless.

According to Buildings, the number of power outages hasn't gone up, but the amount of time that people are spending in the dark when the lights do go out has. The source indicated there has been a 5-to-10 percent increase in the number of minutes people sit without power as of 2012. Severe weather events were cited as the main offender in knocking out power, though other factors can play a significant role as well.

Step 1: Assess

The first thing you should do when the lights go out is discover the extent of the power outage. Coordinate with your maintenance team to figure out if the power outage is restricted to just one wing of your facility, or if it's a building-wide phenomenon. In some cases, it may even be a larger problem affecting a whole portion of the local power grid. Determining which parts of your building and surrounding area have power versus which don't is a hugely important step for planning the rest of your response strategy.

Step 2: Safeguard

Although losing power can be an inconvenience, chances are it's not going to put anyone in immediate danger. Of course there are some scenarios in which this isn't true - such as a hospital losing power, a restaurant losing its refrigerators to a power disruption or the heat going out in the middle of winter. Identify if there are any immediate safety risks that need to be addressed, such as moving patients to a different part of the hospital, or transferring food to an emergency icebox.

Step 3: Back up

It's not uncommon for commercial and industrial facilities to have redundancies in place to avoid significant disruption in the event of a power outage. Emergency or backup generators are among the most common instances of this. These run on external fuel sources such as natural gas, propane or diesel. They can continue providing power as long as they have fuel, so it's helpful to be proactive and ensure that your supply of fuel for the emergency generator is constantly stocked.

In the information age, there are additional things to keep in mind. With nearly all companies relying almost completely on digital storage for everything from customer information to employee data, losing that sensitive material to a power outage can be a costly inconvenience. You can help avoid this by using cloud-based and SaaS solutions wherever possible.

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