How to Be Prepared for a Prolonged Power Outage

Ed Spears, Technical Marketing Manager, Eaton


Preparing for an extended power outage has become necessary for companies across the country

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Figure 1. What happens when Mother Nature causes power outages?

Whether they’re facing threats from Gulf Coast tropical storms, Midwest snow events or unexpected tornadoes, ill-equipped businesses could see a significant blow from a prolonged blackout – including lost revenue, hardware damage, data loss and customer service complications.  

While an outage of any length can be disruptive for a company, it is challenging to pinpoint the proper IT equipment needed to manage long-term blackouts. IT managers have a critical role in helping minimize potential impacts and building a solid business continuity strategy. Below is a check list of areas to focus on when building a plan.

1. Consider the consequences. Although virtually every business supports some equipment that requires electricity, certain segments are more vulnerable than others during a power outage. For example, grocery stores and restaurants are susceptible to perishable food losses. Others may even face life-or-death impacts that could be exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis. Those include hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes and other facilities that administer oxygen to patients.

2. Assess specific business needs. Identifying pain points is an important practice for any business. For an eCommerce company that relies on website sales, how do you ensure power to critical servers? For a product manufacturer, how will the absence of power impact deadlines or order delivery? For mission critical facilities, like a data center, security implications might also come under evaluation. And every business can avoid data loss by backing up information and documents off-site on a regular and frequent schedule. 

3. Establish a communication plan. During an extended outage, it is important to be able to communicate with employees, customers and vendors. Procedures should be designed ahead of time for alternate modes of communication and how to best get the word out, whether it be through email, SMS texting or social media channels. Companies need to be able to tell their customers when they’re back up and running.

4. Define the necessary length of uptime. Determining the criticality of business processes for blackouts of varying lengths—24 hours, 48 hours, a full week, etc. ── helps to ensure the power outage plan will cover all possibilities. Companies will need to decide if they want to continue to run IT functions for a specific period of time or immediately shut down systems gracefully.

5. Choose the optimal type of backup. Depending on the specific length of uptime a company desires during a sustained outage, there are variety for options available for backup power. These solutions can keep critical systems running during a power event, helping prevent both data loss and equipment damage.

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Figure 2. The Eaton 5P Lithium Ion UPS

Calling for backup

Businesses should have an integrated system in place to help secure the best protection against downtime. An integrated power management system incorporates the range of devices needed to safeguard critical equipment – from central IT infrastructure to the proliferation of distributed IT solutions or edge applications that a business may have deployed. Solutions that are powering today’s advancing, complex IT environments include:

·        Uninterruptible power systems (UPSs). Not only does a UPS enable employees to save files and ensure the backup process has been completed, it also provides the time needed to turn off equipment. If devices are on when the power goes out, they will all turn back on once when power is restored – leaving equipment extremely vulnerable to damaging power surges or overloading a still-recovering electrical circuit.

Lithium-ion batteries. While valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries have long been the industry standard for UPSs, new lithium-ion batteries offer a host of benefits for UPS applications. Most notable for an extended blackout is the fact that they last longer and recharge faster, offering an eight to 10-year life cycle compared to traditional VRLA batteries, which generally need to be replaced every three years.

·        Standby generators. Standby generators, which can keep critical applications operating for extended time periods, range from small devices that can fit into a Home Depot shopping cart to giant machines requiring transport by a semi-truck. Generators can be portable or permanently installed, and their most common fuel options include propane, natural gas and diesel. Companies that rely on a generator will need to ensure they have enough fuel supply to maintain power for a prolonged period. If an outage were to happen during an earthquake, for example, roads could be knocked out and impact the ability to resupply fuel.

Power monitoring software. To help IT staff monitor equipment and keep critical IT applications running during outages, remote power monitoring software can be leveraged in conjunction with power management devices. IT teams have a range of tools at their disposal depending on what type of software they choose to use, including the ability to view event history, receive real-time status updates. Alerts can also be set up in advance to provide notifications for IT staffs when there is trouble.

·        Predictive analytics services. Going hand-in-hand with power monitoring and management systems are advanced preventive maintenance services for power management devices. Predictive analytics services can help IT managers anticipate failure of critical components before they occur. Repairs or updates can be scheduled at convenient times, avoiding emergency service calls, and utilizing convenient maintenance windows.

Having a thorough understanding of business operations and their most critical functions will help IT leaders ensure their organization can survive an extended power outage. A lot rides on the underpinning electrical infrastructure to keep systems, and business, up-and-running. Having a strategic emergency response plan in place – one that leverages the right power backup solutions combined with ongoing routine maintenance service – companies can be prepared for any disruption that comes their way.