In a world of changing weather patterns, more extreme storms and wildfires occurring every year it seems, some commercial buildings and other facilities may not be prepared for a large-scale outage and total power loss.
Unbeknown to many, numerous buildings in major cities are Ill equipped to cope with a major power issue with many facilities having no back-up whatsoever in the event of power failure.
In the United States, a day known as the ‘Northeast blackout’ All hospitals in New York had backup generators in place. 58 New York City hospitals continued without interruption; the rest suffered generator failure. However, this was not a case of negligence of not having a backup system in place but rather a lack of understanding of the amount needed and a lack of understanding how they react in an emergency.
Regular surveys taken come to the same conclusion, that facility management can be way off the mark as far as the knowledge of what they need, what they want and what they have. For commercial facilities that have gone to the length of having a backup system fitted, in many cases do not have the right system to suit the load requirements of the building/facility in a major outage with a prolonged loss of power.
With the latest technology upgrades in Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems, this is the time to re-assess and implement the steps required to ensure the facility can operate for a prolonged length of time from a massive blackout.
Although we are talking about significant storms and lengthy black-outs, power failures from national grids can happen randomly for periodic short intervals, which also cause disruptions to businesses not least through loss of data for example.
Then you need to take into consideration wear and tear on power lines, something as simple as that can cause disturbances. In some case, mismanagement, falling trees, simple human control errors can all result in failures.
Major black-outs are of course rare, but when they occur, it can be a catastrophe for businesses without a generator and UPS backup system in place.
As power grids become more advanced they increase their load capacity, granted the grids are improving, add to this the monitoring technology means smaller disturbances are becoming less and less; however, this bears almost no relevance to a major black-out. The reality is that system is complicated; it’s not just about its ability to handle the load, it’s about transmission and distribution.
Defense is the Best form of Attack Against Power Outages in Commercial Facilities
In today’s super-connected world the thought of a persistent power outage is a daunting one. There is simply too much at stake to have the opinion of ‘this won’t happen to us’. For the sake of the businesses residing in the facility, this should not be ignored. There’s the possibilities of natural or man-made disasters or a simple deterioration of equipment, so preparation is the key, being proactive and protecting the facility and its occupants are a must.
Getting a Plan in Place
Regardless of the type of facility in question whether it be a commercial building, a manufacturing plant or a processing facility, there should be a clear and concise plan in place to deal with an outage. And in both short-term to long-term time-frames.
If a system is not in place, nor any planning, it’s time to take a close look at your infrastructure.
Here are some basics, plus things to consider asking your supplier or a commercial electrician, whether it be the system that is already installed, or the new system you are looking at.
1). The fundamental level is a backup generator, either diesel or natural gas. These are generally large enough to keep critical building functions alive while it has fuel. Load testing is straight-forward, you can hire a commercial electrician to assess your load capacity. An excellent place to start is by enquiring with your local power authority who in today’s day and age will have historical data and statistics on your average monthly load used.
2). An Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) will come into play. It’s a monitor for your utility power. When the power stops the switch automatically transfers power to the generator to start-up to continue to supply power to the building/residence. Upon standard power being restored the ATS switches the power back from the generator.
3). This is where an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) System is the vital link in the chain. In example 2 above, you see that the ATS switches power to the generator and back, but there is a delay between the outage and power being restored as the generator needs to switch on. A UPS system ensures all front-line systems such as servers and all office equipment do not lose any power before the generator kicks in.
All machinery and components suffer degradation over time. If a building has got the correct UPS and backup systems in place but they neglect to have them serviced, it may fail you the one time you need it. In the ‘Northeast blackout’ many hospitals had generator issues. A generator is no different from a car or motorbike engine, if it has been sitting idle for years with no attention, it may not start the first time. Different UPS and generator units come with different suggested system check time-frames, be clear what they are and be sure to have them tested.
5). Fuel Management Planning
For facilities with generators, one of the most significant concerns is fuel and fuel management. Understanding exactly how much time you will get from your machine based upon fuel load is crucial. The likelihood is if power is down due to significant storm then re-fueling trucks may not be around. So be sure to know what additional fuel you need in storage and store it where you can reach it.
Is the generator you have, or are looking to buy able to operate due to flooding?
Above are the type of questions you should already know or be asking the technician or team that supply your system.
Today’s world relies heavily on technology and subsequently electricity. An outage is a case of not if but when. The direct and indirect consequences of a prolonged power failure for your business is profound.
- Loss of potential sales revenue
- Loss of data
- Customer Service decreased satisfaction
- Company reputation
And many more, although it is not possible to avoid varying issues that a black-out creates, with the right systems in place you can minimize the damage caused.
If you are a small business in an office building or are responsible for offices under your management and are unsure of any of the points made in this article consider upping this on your priority list to find out exactly where you stand should a major power outage take place. When it comes to business, preventative medicine is easier to swallow than a cure.
Tim Blaine is an avid tech blogger, traveller and sports enthusiast, who likes to share his tech knowledge. He is associated with Pantherdata who are experts in the field of Uninterruptible Powers Supply (UPS) in Australia.