Small business owners would be wise to be prepared for whatever weather-related emergency unfolds, including what to do before, during, and after a power outage. Blackouts, brownouts, and power outages may be frequent this summer because of the heat. During the summertime, electricity use peaks across most of the Northern Hemisphere as homeowners and businesses crank up their air conditioners.
Whether you have a brick-and-mortar location, are an online business, or both, you need to have a power outage business continuity plan to offset the impact of such events. No power in your shop means no customers walking through your door. Likewise, no power means no internet. While most power outages or blackouts tend to be short-lived, that’s not always the case. A long-term blackout could cost your business thousands of dollars in loss or damage.
Here are eight tips for small business owners to help them prepare for a power outage:
1. Draft a power outage emergency plan
You never want to operate blindly in the dark. Draft an emergency power outage plan and share it with your employees, so they know what to do if the lights go out. That business power outage plan should include a list of emergency contacts and numbers, an evacuation plan and meeting point, and assign tasks to key employees to perform during an outage.
2. Have a first-aid kit and emergency supplies
Have a fully stocked first-aid kit at your place of business, ensure all employees know where it is, and consider taking a first aid and CPR training course and encouraging your employees to do so. Also, have a 72-hour emergency supplies kit containing non-perishable food items, fresh water, blankets, and other necessities if you or your staff need to shelter in place during a vicious storm.
3. Get a backup power generator
Having a backup power generator on-hand to keep some systems in your place of business running can be helpful. For example, if you run a restaurant or grocery store, a backup generator can keep your refrigerators and freezers operating to prevent the loss of perishable goods.
But before using an emergency generator during a power outage, check with dealers, manufacturers, or an electrician regarding power requirements and proper operating procedures. Most generators require adequate ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and should be used outdoors. They also shouldn’t be used in wet conditions.
4. Ensure alarm systems have backup battery power
Double-check your smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide alarm systems to ensure they have backup battery power, test them, and change the batteries frequently (at least annually).
5. Safeguard your equipment from power surges
Think about installing surge protection devices on computers, TVs or flat-panel screens, microwaves, and fax machines to prevent your equipment and electronics from being damaged or destroyed by a power surge, which is common during storms and power outages.
6. Keep a few flashlights and spare batteries in your workspace
Get flashlights and extra batteries, or buy plug-in flashlights that stay fully charged unless the power dies. Ensure all employees know where the flashlights and spare batteries are. If you opt for plug-in flashlights, place them in easy-to-find locations such as a hallway.
7. Have a battery-operated radio
A power outage can affect your internet and cellphone service. Keep a battery-powered radio in your office, store, or warehouse to monitor news and weather updates and keep abreast of what’s happening in your region.
8. Regularly back up mission-critical data
Regardless of severe weather or power outages, you should be encrypting and backing up your company’s data regularly to the cloud and consider hiring a backup service provider to store copies of your data at another location.
How Long Do Power Outages Last?
Power outages can be unpredictable regarding how long one could last. The hydro power provider in your region may provide a power outage map online to see what areas in your municipality or province are experiencing a blackout. For example, Hydro One tracks power outages across Ontario, and Toronto Hydro does the same for that city.
During a power outage, in addition to tracking power service interruptions and monitoring the weather, take these steps to prevent injuries and damages:
- Unplug electronic devices and appliances to protect them from power surges.
- Turn off stoves and ovens.
- Leave one light turned on to know when power is restored.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
- Lock all exterior doors to prevent anyone from entering your business while the power is out.
- Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns and avoid using candles since they are fire hazards.
- Conserve your cellphone battery by switching it to low-power mode and refrain from using it unless you need to make an emergency phone call.
- Avoid driving unless necessary since traffic lights and streetlights may be out and roads congested with people and vehicle traffic.
What to Do After a Power Outage
When power returns and seems stable, here are a few things you should do at your place of business:
- Carefully check the outside of your commercial property for any signs of damage or immediate danger (like a downed power line).
- Report any downed power lines you see to your hydro provider and keep away from them.
- Plug in and turn on the power to appliances, equipment, and electronics in your office gradually and not all at once.
- Restock your emergency supplies kit if required and return it to its usual storage space
- Contact your insurance broker to file an insurance claim if you discover losses or damages to your property, equipment, or merchandise, including perishable food.
- If your business has refrigerators and freezers containing perishable food, check for signs of spoilage. If in doubt, toss it out! But itemize what is spoiled and provide that list to your broker when filing a claim.
How Can Insurance Protect Your Small Business From a Power Outage?
There are many ways a comprehensive business insurance policy can provide you with financial support to deal with an insurable loss, like extreme weather damaging your shop’s roof or triggering a widespread power outage that lasts for hours or longer.
For instance, commercial property insurance is designed to pay for physical damages to your business property and its contents, including the loss of inventory or merchandise caused by extreme weather, flood, fire, vandalism, and theft. Meanwhile, business interruption coverage is designed to pay for the net income you lose following an insurable loss, including rent and employee payroll.
However, be advised every insurance policy contains exclusions and will only cover insurable losses. For example, a brownout (a temporary reduction of power) is not considered an insurable loss, whereas a power outage as a result of a storm may be insured. If you have questions about your policy and its coverages, contact a Zensurance licensed broker.