The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, and other super-storms in 2012, has once again highlighted the need for disaster preparedness. While no amount of preparation could have saved some businesses, losses at many others could have been mitigated if disaster plans had been in place.
Power failures represent one of the most common risks to small businesses. You don't need to live in the path of a hurricane or in an earthquake zone to be at risk. Widespread power grid failures can occur almost anywhere. While manufacturers and retailers can experience substantial losses of perishable inventory, service oriented businesses can be impacted by the loss of computer and phone service.
Regardless of your location or type of business, it's a good idea to assess your risk and develop a disaster plan in the event of a power failure. Your contingency plans should address power failures lasting minutes, hours, days or even weeks.
Below are a few options to consider for on-site backup power:
Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
These represent your first line of defense for computers and sensitive electronic equipment. Most of these are relatively inexpensive and maintain power for just a few minutes.
The goal here is to give you just enough time to save your data and safely power down the equipment. Depending on your power requirements, a larger investment of a few thousand dollars may increase the backup time by as much as an hour or two. If you have a standby generator, a UPS will be required to bridge the short time period between the power failure and the start-up of the generator.
These can be purchased at many home improvement stores and are a cost effective method of providing emergency power for short periods of time. Your disaster plan should identify exactly how and where the generator can be safely used. Identify your wattage requirements and size the generator accordingly. The generator should be placed outside in a well-ventilated area.
Electrical devices are usually plugged directly into the generator. If a power transfer switch is installed on your main electrical panel, it may be possible to use portable generators to power your existing electrical system. Most portable generators use gasoline. Other options include diesel, propane or natural gas. Some generators can even use multiple fuel types. Be sure to identify the source and storage requirements for fuel in your disaster plan.
These backup generators are plugged into your power system at all times and will automatically kick on in the event of a failure. It's critical that these are installed by a professional and incorporate an automatic transfer switch.
While these are probably your most effective option in an emergency, they can be costly and permits may be required. Automatic standby generators typically run on natural gas or propane, though some models burn diesel fuel.
When developing your disaster plan, be sure to think outside of the box. Here are a few alternatives that can reduce your exposure without adding new backup power.
- Inventory Levels -- Invest the extra time involved in maintaining minimal inventory levels, especially of perishable items. This will improve your turns and cut the risk of loss during an emergency.
- Cloud Computing -- Many businesses now store their computer data and run their business applications at a cloud hosting provider. The large data centers that house these servers are already protected from most disasters. Because your software and data can be accessed from just about any device with internet access, you can more easily move your business functions to a temporary location with power.
- Third Party Logistics Providers -- Store perishable items at a third party warehouse that already has substantial power backup systems. If one of these facilities is near your business, perhaps your inventory can temporarily be moved to the facility in the event of an emergency. 3PL's (third party logistic companies) may also be able to provide refrigerated trucks for short term emergency storage.
- Electric Vehicles -- If your business has an electric vehicle sitting in the parking lot, you may already have a backup power source! Some companies are developing inverters to allow you to utilize the power stored in your vehicle batteries.
Every business is unique and no backup solution is best for everyone. The most important thing is to develop a comprehensive disaster plan that works for you. Remember...a devastating power failure can hit your business tomorrow, so prepare today!
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