How to battle a blackout

Written by Deena Waisberg

When a massive blackout killed power to southern Ontario and a wide swath of the U.S. Northeast in August 2003, few had seen it coming. Unfortunately, increasing demand on an ageing power grid means more electricity troubles will come. But it doesn’t take a wide-scale blackout to damage your business. Localized power outages too are common and can bring your operations to a halt — unless you’ve prepared in advance.

Draft an action plan

Long before disaster strikes, you should determine which tasks are priorities and which are not, advises Graeme Jannaway, a Toronto-based business continuity planner and owner of Jannaway & Associates. “Perhaps you need to take orders daily but don’t need to fulfill them immediately,” he says. “Figure out what’s critical to your business.” Then, determine how to function with a skeleton staff and whether tasks can be completed off-site.

Safety first

Your employees’ well-being should come before anything else, says Guy Robertson, senior planner at Vancouver-based Robertson & Associates. One basic but important safety tip: “Employees should keep flashlights in their desk, so they can see if the lights go off.” And, adds Robertson, “there should be emergency lighting in the stairwells.”

Generator or not?

You might think a generator is an essential purchase for power-outage preparedness, but it doesn’t make sense for every business. “A diesel power generator can be quite expensive, anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to a few million,” says Jannaway. Then you’ve got to find the space to store it and pay to maintain it. So the generator might cost more than lost business, especially considering outages rarely last more than half a day.

Get tech-ready

Don’t fall victim to losing data because of a computer crash. Get an uninterruptible power supply (a box that acts like a big battery) for your server. “This will buy you enough time to do a controlled shutdown,” says Jayne Howe, managing partner of Toronto-based business continuity management consultants The Howe Partnership. Also, store data on your server and make a backup disk or CD at least every week. That way you can transfer your work onto a laptop and work on battery power. You should also invest in power bars that protect your PCs from any electricity spikes when power returns.

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© 2004 Deena Waisberg

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com