How can I minimize the effects of a power outage on my company?




Power outages come in many shapes and forms, and can be local, regional or widespread. One of the best ways to minimize damage from any of these forms is to immediately switch to your own power source—at least for the short term.

At the local level, you can pay (often quite a lot) for your local utility to run a second line to your business. Located as far away as possible from the main line, the second line will lower the odds that both lines are damaged by the same physical event. Also, be sure your on-site electrical distribution equipment is properly maintained. Problems with this equipment can cause more than their share of outages.

To protect against common short-term dips and spikes, consider uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). A standard feature in many data centers, a UPS uses stored energy to bridge the short gap between when an outage hits and when you’re able to switch to another power source or, at least, to properly shut down equipment. For longer outages, on-site emergency generators can supply power for as long as their fuel lasts--but they can’t come on line nearly as fast as a UPS.

Finally, distributed power equipment/cogeneration systems provide substantial, proactive protection. Similar to an emergency or backup power generator, these systems are intended to be run regularly and not just during outages. Companies often use them regularly during hours of peak demand or peak electrical cost to preempt possible brownouts while lowering costs.

What emerging technologies can help me minimize damage to my systems?

More and more companies are investigating the use of smart-meter technology, which can reduce the frequency of power outages and the time it takes to recover from them. Used in cooperation with local utilities, smart meters are part of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems. AMI systems include the meters, a communication network, and an IT application to manage the network and supply specific meter data and events to the utility’s IT systems, including its outage management system (OMS). OMS helps utilities reduce the number and duration of outages.

Companies are also investigating the use of solar power as a back-up generation system. This rapidly evolving technology faces two challenges. First, solar-power installations typically depend on utility-provided power to groom their energy output. Unless you have storage batteries on line, the solar energy can’t be used. But even if you do, utilities currently don’t allow solar energy to enter the grid during an outage because it can harm utility crews repairing the system. However, new inverter technology is being used to create small, independent circuits entirely disconnected from the grid.

How can I minimize damage to my computers and data?

First of all, given the sensitive digital technology in use today, every company should be using surge protection devices (SPDs). SPDs can be installed on your building's incoming electrical service to reduce potential damage caused by most externally generated surges, such as lightning or utility operations. You might also want to consider “single-phasing” protection. Most large commercial and industrial customers have three-phase electrical services, which provide greater capacity and can run larger motors. If a fuse blows or a relay contact breaks, the system can begin single phasing, which can damage electrical equipment. Loss-of-phase protection can sense single phasing and protect your equipment.

Even with your surge protection and UPS in place, the sudden loss of electricity can sometimes cause your files to become corrupted or lost. Both external data back-up systems and the auto-save function can help protect your data. You may still lose a few minutes of critical work, but not an entire day’s worth—or worse.

And last but not least, check with management to make sure your company has outage insurance coverage. Known as Utility Services, Service Interruption or Utility Interruption coverage, these contracts can help offset the cost of power-generating equipment, replace damaged equipment or get you into a temporary new location. 

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