How to Prepare, Respond and Recover From a Utility Outage

How to Prepare, Respond and Recover From a Utility Outage

Utility outages can cause significant damages to your business. Learn how to prepare and respond to a loss of service.
Texas faced an unordinary winter storm in February 2021. The unusual winter weather brought frigid temperatures and snow that caused power grid failures and resulted in a state-wide crisis. Because the system wasn’t winterized, it couldn’t generate enough electricity to power homes and businesses.
 
As demand grew, the state implemented rolling blackouts to try and prevent overwhelming the grid. With no power, countless pipes froze in homes and commercial buildings. Many struggled to stay warm in below-freezing temperatures and business owners lost income while also facing property damage. By the time power returned to normal, Texas suffered tens of billions of dollars in damages and economic losses.1
 
This Texas storm may be an extreme case, but planning and preparing for a utility outage can help business owners have an efficient response and reduce losses. We’ve put together tips to help you prepare for a utility outage and manage your business during prolonged outages.
 

Plan for Potential Events

Planning well in advance for a potential shutdown or utility loss can help you minimize damages. Having a restoration and recovery plan for outages is essential. If you don’t have one, it’s not too late to create a plan.
 
Some best practices to include in your plan are:
 
Securing the building to prevent unauthorized access. This includes making sure outdoor lights along the perimeter of your property work and continuously monitoring access systems.
 
Inspecting heating systems before the winter to make sure they’re functioning properly. The indoor temperature should be at least 50 degrees to prevent freezing.
 
Establishing a Water Damage Prevention Plan, which provides equipment and supplies for water or fluid cleanup if a pipe bursts. It’s important that this plan identifies key employees who will respond to the damage.
 
Developing an Alternative Energy Plan in case there’s a power outage. This can include generators or battery energy storage systems to give your business enough power for a period of time.
 
Maintaining fire protection systems to make sure they function properly and can protect your business in the case of a fire.
 
Using IoT to give you real-time monitoring of critical systems and equipment. These devices can let you remotely see temperature and alert you to water detection or power loss.
 
Contracting a security service to monitor your building and property.
 

Preparing for an Impending Event

Sometimes storms or other weather-related events have the potential to disrupt normal power service. This can happen if a storm is forecasted to bring:
 
  • High winds
  • Sub-freezing temperatures
  • Ice and snow conditions
  • Flooding
Knowing how a weather event can potentially impact your business helps you prepare. It’s a good idea to inspect your entire facility for vulnerabilities. If you notice damages, make any necessary repairs. Don’t forget to check the roof, drains and downspouts. Repair roof damage can compromise the interior or structure of the building.
 
Not all of your utilities are critical, so turn off the ones not needed for:
 
  • Fire protection
  • Fire alarms
  • Sump pumps
  • Heating
  • Critical processes or equipment
Power outages during the winter or cold season can lead to frozen or burst pipes. To help prevent this, you can shut off and drain any unnecessary plumbing. This limits the number of pipes that can freeze and potentially cause extensive property damage for your business.
 
If you have alternative energy sources, make sure they work and are arranged properly. If you need fuel for generators, check your storage tanks and top them off. If you have a battery energy storage system, inspect it so it’s ready to provide power to critical equipment and processes.
 
If a winter storm is expected to bring snow, you may have to hire a vendor for snow removal. This is important for safety and to make sure snow accumulation doesn’t lead to property damage.
 

Managing Your Business During a Prolonged Loss of Utility Service

If you find out that your utility services will be out for a longer period of time, make sure your business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan is in progress. For example, you may have to move to another facility or location that can provide make-up capacity or services. This can help your business continue operations, even if it’s in a limited way.
 
Don’t forget to continue inspecting your emergency power supply or heat equipment. It’s critical to check these systems on a regular basis to make sure they’re running safely and properly.
 
You’ll also want to continue monitoring and inspecting your building. During prolonged outages, there’s an increased risk of property and water damage. You or your employees can regularly tour the building to assess and check for damages.
 
If your business stores critical finished goods in the building, moving them to another facility that’s not affected by the power outage can help prevent damages. The same principle applies to critical equipment and machinery. Moving them to a different facility or location can allow for make-up capacity of production for your business.
 
If an event is going to cause utility outages, communication is critical. Your business’ communication plan should include:
 
  • Employees
  • Vendors
  • Customers

Recovering from a Utility Outage

If your business sat idle or was seriously impacted by a utility outage, recovery can take time and hard work. Repairing property damage should be a focus and priority for your business. If you had a business continuity plan in place before and during the outage, it could help you recover and restore services as quickly as possible.
 
Every business’ recovery will be different, but you can start the process by:
 
Cleaning up water damage and taking immediate steps to ensure your employees’ safety. Identify where the damage is, then secure your building and utilities. Begin cleaning up the damage and decontaminate the building and its contents.
 
Getting the electrical systems inspected before services are restored. Hire a qualified electrician to inspect and test your building’s electrical system.
 
Restoring primary power at the facilities that lost power. It can be a good idea to use two- to three-person teams to restore power safely and identify any issues. Failures can occur during power startups.
 
Repowering circuits in a methodical way. This can help you pinpoint any electrical issues in the facility. Before powering on equipment and machinery, make sure you inspect them so they’re in safe condition.
 
Restoring utilities that you turned off before the outage. You’ll want to inspect certain equipment before turning them back on. For example, boilers and furnaces should get inspected, cleaned and purged before they’re put back in service. HVAC systems should also get inspected, cleaned and sanitized. It’s a good idea to check:
 
  • Dampers
  • Ductwork
  • Ventilation openings
  • Fuel or power supply
  • Equipment
Inspecting production and processing equipment before bringing them back online. Be aware that some equipment may need to be recertified or re-commissioned before use.
 
Turning on normal heating in the facility. Ensure there aren’t any frozen pipes in the building because the heat can result in thawing. Increase the heat at a slow rate and use teams of employees around the facility to monitor for any leaks and damages.
 
Inspecting and testing fire protection systems. If your system was damaged, make sure they’re flushed, re-charged and put back in service.
 
Reviewing your business continuity plan. Check to see if you need to make changes to the restoration and recovery procedures you followed. Your plan may also include checklists and processes for restarting operations, such as reaching out to:
 
  • Vendors
  • Employees
  • Suppliers

How The Hartford Can Help Your Business With Utility Outages

We know every business is different. That’s why we work closely with each customer to develop a unique loss control service plan that addresses their needs. Our Risk Engineering team includes:
 
  •  An experienced and highly qualified field consultant team with a national footprint providing local delivery
  • Technical specialists who help businesses operate safely and efficiently
  • Onsite and virtual risk management services
 
 
The Hartford Staff
The Hartford Staff
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