Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.
Facilities management professionals should ensure that their facilities are adequately prepared in the event of a power outage, which is usually a sudden loss of power. It is important for them to ensure that employees, vendors, and customers in the building remain calm during the outage and that company assets are protected. When power is restored, facilities management professionals should review the situation and determine what lessons should be learned for next time.
What Causes a Power Outage?
Power outages usually come as the result of:
- Electrical overload: caused due to high demands for power such as during a heat wave or, for a building, when extension cords are overused and a circuit fails.
- Natural disasters: caused by severe weather. It can be caused by strong winds from hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storms which could damage power lines, transformers, and substations. This can also be the result of excessive snow and ice weighing down on power equipment.
- Human causes: caused by people. This can include a variety of reasons such as someone digging in the wrong location and hitting an underground wire or a motor vehicle accident taking out an electrical pole.
The President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) looked at how the nation could recover from a catastrophic power outage that could be caused by natural or human events. Facilities offering critical services, such as energy facilities, fuel pipelines, gas stations, hospitals, grocery stores, retail providers, and schools should consider how they could work with the federal government during power outages.
Before the Outage
Before severe weather strikes, facilities management professionals should consider how a power outage could affect the property’s on-site security department, specifically regarding electronic security equipment which should have a backup power source. Security personnel should have their own plan on how they will secure the property during a power outage.
According to Iowa State University, the most important ways that facilities management professionals can prepare their facilities for a power outage include:
- Developing an emergency plan: Determine what equipment would be affected such as computers, elevators, and HVAC. Make sure electronics and computers are plugged into surge protectors and backed up at an off-site location.
- Obtaining alternative power: Determine how backup power can be provided to the site either through a backup generator or microgrid. For more information on setting up a microgrid and helping supply power to the local community, check out the Facilities Management Advisor article “Planning for No Power: Experts Provide a Look at Microgrid Solutions.” Decide what the facility’s needs are and whether they require backup generation for everything or just essential equipment. If it is just essential equipment, determine how much backup power is needed. Either way, determine how long backup power will last and whether that will be adequate.
- Preparing emergency lighting: Establish emergency battery-powered lighting in or near exits so that the building can be easily evacuated, if necessary. Also, keep flashlights handy.
- Establishing emergency shelter-in-place plans: Have emergency supplies like battery-powered radios, first aid kits, non-perishable food items, water, and blankets for employees, customers, and vendors who must use the facility for shelter.
- Preparing employees: Inform employees of the plan and keep them updated on any changes. Have plans in place in case an emergency happens while customers are in your facility.
To further understand what risks your facility could face in a power outage, check out the Ready Business: Power Outage Tool Kit.
During the Outage
During a power outage, facilities management professionals should determine who should stay in the facility based on the safety of conditions outside of it. In severe storms, have employees, vendors, and customers shelter in place until the storm is over.
Facilities management professionals should also do the following:
- Use the public address system and gather everyone together to ensure that everyone is calm, safe, and accounted for.
- Check for conditions outside the facility.
- Call 911 if there are downed wires, which could pose a hazard to pedestrians and vehicles.
- Contact the utility company to report the outage; some outages only affect small areas due to downed power lines on a nearby street.
- If the utility company estimated time of power restoration is more than a few hours, consider sending home non-essential personnel when it is safe to do so outside.
- Turn on battery-powered radios to keep informed of the situation that caused the outage.
- Turn on backup power sources for emergency power.
- If using a generator, keep it in a well-ventilated area outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Unplug electrical equipment not being powered by the generator to prevent an electrical surge when power is restored.
After a Power Outage
When power is restored, facilities management professionals should ensure that:
- Most essential equipment is turned on first.
- Wait 15 minutes before turning on non-essential equipment.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends throwing away food in refrigerators and freezers where temperatures reached 40 degrees F or higher for two hours or more. Also, food that has an unusual color, odor, or texture should be discarded. Facilities management should note that food could be found in refrigerators and freezers in break rooms, commercial kitchens, and retail sales floors.
- Ensure all occupants are safe and that equipment is working.
- Review the plan by making corrections to it based on how well it served the facility.
Facilities management professionals should work with all departments to ensure that emergency plans are realistic and reflect business needs. Proper planning for a power outage begins before the outage. Facilities management professionals should always determine afterward what could have been done better and change plans accordingly.