Responding to severe summer weather and power outages

Power outages can present a number of potential safety and health issues to companies and their employees, including those associated with water and food contamination, fire hazards, theft, voltage surges to electronic equipment, improper installation and handling of power generators, and heat stress. There are a number of steps you can take to protect your property and people in the aftermath of a power outage.

Business continuity plan and communications

If you have a formal business continuity plan, put it into action. Use various means (landline, cell-phone, text, social media) of communication to try to reach those employees that may be needed to assist with critical functions at the facility or to otherwise keep them informed.

Employee safety

For employees who are present in the facility during a power outage, ensure that any hazards and lack of controls are understood and employee safety is given a top priority.

Considerations may include, but are not limited to heat stress due to lack of adequate ventilation or air conditioning, non-potable water, electrocution due to electrical systems improperly back-fed by emergency power, and inadequate lighting.

Damaged utility-owned electrical service equipment and downed power lines should be safely cordoned off until the utility’s representatives can complete repairs and restoration

Security 

Looting is a possibility with a prolonged power outage. Ensure that your facility is properly secured as thieves may take advantage of alarm system failures, over-extended emergency responders and lack of general area lighting.
Be aware that security alarm systems generally have a battery back-up and will normally only provide back-up power for 24 hours. Communications to the central station may be impaired and response time, if any, may be prolonged. 
In addition to enhancing physical security, provide a security presence in all areas by hiring a reputable security service. Be sure the security officers have emergency communication equipment and are trained to call the police and appropriate facility management.

Fire 

Like security alarm systems, fire alarm systems (e.g., smoke detection, water-flow alarms) generally have a battery back-up but will normally only provide back-up power for 24 hours. Communications to the central station may be impaired, and response time, if any, may be prolonged.

If there is a diesel fire pump on site, it may automatically start when the power fails. If so, shut it off and put it on manual start at the controller to conserve the fuel. A procedure should be in place for a responsible person to manually start the fire pump if a fire occurs and to return it to automatic when full power to the location has been restored.

If the public water supply feeding the automatic fire sprinklers is compromised, or if the sprinkler water supply relies on an electric booster or fire pump, or if the diesel fire pump is in a manual mode, take the following precautions:

Climate controls

Areas of the facility may contain temperature or humidity-sensitive equipment, stock or other stored materials which may be impacted if prompt action is not taken to maintain the appropriate climate controlled environment.  If the weather event includes heavy rains and potential flash flooding, be aware that sump pumps may not be operable to deal with the water exposure and stock and materials may have to be elevated

Power surges

During efforts by the utility crews or others to restore power, there may be surges, brownouts or other instabilities in the power delivered to your facility. Power may be back-fed into the grid by others who have improperly hooked up emergency generators. Disconnect any sensitive electronic equipment until the power supply is stabilized.

Emergency power

Emergency generators should be used in strict accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, including use of licensed electricians to make the connections to building wiring. They should be regularly monitored for safe operation, including but not limited to overheating and voltage/output within safe parameters. Generators should be operated outdoors or permanently exhausted to the outside to help minimize exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning. Fuel should be stored in a safe location with refueling conducted safely and in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.

The following websites offer information to help consumers with a number of potential safety issues related to power outages during severe summer weather:

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