Taking the Heat and Surviving Power Outages in Small Businesses

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“With heat waves forecast from coast-to-coast, small businesses must prepare for the consequences of extreme heat and humidity,” says Donna Childs, who co-authored the book “Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: a Small Business Guide”, with Stefan Dietrich, Ph.D.

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“Small businesses should also anticipate blackouts and outages, as extensive use of air conditioning will put strain on the power grids,” Dietrich adds. “There are steps small businesses can take to mitigate their risks.”

In the event of a heat wave, small businesses should encourage telecommuting or give employees the day off, Childs and Dietrich advise. Although work facilities may be air-conditioned, employees still have to commute to and from work. Vulnerable employees may be put at risk if their cars break down on the way to work or by a delayed or overcrowded subway train or bus. Encourage workers to carry water as a precaution during commutes. Staff should also be educated about, told to look out for, signs of heat related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. First aid kits should have a abundant supply of treatments for heat related injuries, including sunburn.

After attending to human safety, small businesses need to consider their information technology (IT) assets. Verify that computer fans are operating properly when confronted with heat and inadequate air conditioning by “quarantining” them. If the air conditioning is only functioning in a limited number of rooms, computers may need to be moved to those rooms or turned off if there is no space available.

Excessive demand for electricity often means that even when power is available there is a risk of voltage peaks and micro-outages. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units, which are similar to surge protectors but also include a small buffer battery, should be used whenever possible. The battery will usually supply energy for about 10 minutes after the electrical supply is terminated, which will give workers enough time to save important work and shut down the system properly. Most units support an automatic shutdown before the battery is completely depleted. In the event that the building supplies self-generated backup power, the UPS is also designed to smooth out an erratic electrical supply.

Certain buildings and facilities have back-up generators that provide low levels of power for up to 14 hours after the electrical power supply is terminated. Working with power from such back-up generators, without a UPS, risks damage to computers and other electrical appliances. All appliances and equipment should be shut down during a power outage, as the power supply may be erratic even when restored.

Small businesses should also be sure to have precautionary supplies, including battery-operated radios, extra batteries, non-perishable foods, flashlights, bottled water, etc. on hand. Remember that in the event of a power outage cordless phones will not function, be sure to have a corded phone or fully charged cell phone available. In addition, a communication plan for contacting employees, and/or their families, should be drawn up so that everyone affected knows what is happening.

Simple steps, such as those just outlined, can significantly mitigate the risks and protect small businesses.

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