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 help protect your property and people in the aftermath of a power outage.
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.
For employees who are present in the facility during a power outage, confirm that any hazards and lack of controls are known 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.
Looting is a possibility with a prolonged power outage. Confirm that your facility is properly secured despite the power outage as thieves may take advantage of alarm system failures, over-extended emergency responders and lack of general area lighting.
Security alarm systems with a battery back-up may only provide back-up power for a limited length of time – for example, 24 hours. Also, communications to the central station may be impaired by the outage and response time may be prolonged.
In addition to enhancing physical security, consider providing security personnel in areas of concern by hiring a reputable security service. Be sure the security officers have emergency communication equipment to call law enforcement and appropriate facility management if needed during an outage.
Like security alarm systems, fire alarm systems (e.g., smoke detection, water-flow alarms) with a battery back-up may only provide back-up power for 24 hours after an outage. Communications to the central station may be impaired and response times may be prolonged.
If there is a diesel fire pump on site, it may automatically start when the power fails. If so, consider shuting it off and enabling manual operation 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 the automatic setting 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:
Areas of the facility may contain equipment, stock or other stored materials that are sensitive to temperature or humidity. A power outage may result in damages if prompt action is not taken to maintain the appropriate climate-controlled environment in these areas. Also, 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.
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. Consider disconnecting any sensitive electronic equipment until the power supply is stabilized.
Emergency generators should be used in strict accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and it is best to have a licensed electrician make the connections to building wiring. Emergency generators should be regularly monitored for safe operation, including, but not limited to, for signs of overheating and to confirm that voltage/output is 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 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a Travelers alliance, offers a business continuity planning toolkit, OFB-EZTM (Open For Business-EZ). The program guides users through an easy process to create a recovery plan. See how you can get started today.