Once the initial shock following a disaster wears off and immediate safety concerns give way to thoughts of returning to day-to-day normalcy, owners of small and mid-sized businesses may be in for quite a shock. If you haven’t prepared properly for a disaster or an extended power outage, it won’t be long before you realize that your livelihood depends on access to electricity (even in emergency) and Internet connectivity.
The time to prepare for a disaster is before it strikes. To help small business owners do just that, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) recently announced its plentiful tips at its disaster preparedness website. The IBHS also offers a free, easy to use online toolkit to help create an overall business continuity plan.
Citing one prevalent example, the IBHS reminds us that power outages “can disrupt your business operations and even cause significant damage to your business’ competitiveness. Statistics show that one in four small businesses forced to close due to a disaster never reopens.” Installing a proper power back up generator ahead of time can lessen much of the negative impact. To assist small businesses, the IBHS has created a free guide to help select, buy, install, maintain and safely use back up power generators.
As an example, the IBHS recommends consulting with a licensed electrician not only for the installation, but also to select the best type of backup generator for your specific business continuity need. They note that you should consider the following:
- What electrical equipment must be operated when normal power is interrupted;
- How often your business is likely to lose power and for how long;
- What are the most likely sources of power outages; and
- Whether you need a portable or permanent (stand-by) generator.
A licensed electrician can advise you as to the appropriate wattage and voltage ratings required. When it comes to generators, bigger is not always better. Purchase a generator just powerful enough to do the job, but no larger; with higher wattage the efficiency of a generator decreases while fuel consumption increases. As an example, you may find it challenging to buy a steady supply of gasoline in an area affected by a disaster, so efficiency is key. On the other hand, buying a generator that is not powerful enough for the sustained draw required to power everything you plan to operate can not only damage the generator, but also the equipment that is attached.
Once you have purchased the generator, schedule the installation in advance of a disaster and ensure that a licensed professional does the installation. The IBHS warns that “using a generator poses certain risks that must be addressed for safe operation, including fire, damage to electrical equipment, and even injury or death to those operating or working in the building where it is being used.” Be sure to follow the testing and maintenance instructions of your generator, as the only thing more frustrating than not having a generator when it is needed is having one that isn’t functioning due to poor maintenance.
In addition to a generator, you may also want to invest in uninterruptable power supplies, available at most office supply or consumer electronics stores. As generator-supplied power isn’t always stable or “clean,” especially during heavy loads, you may experience frequent power surges, which can be particularly harmful to sensitive electronics.
Lastly, when the power fails, usually your Internet source will also be unavailable. Depending on your business size, packing up and heading to a nearby coffee shop for free WiFi may not be a suitable answer. Speak to your cell phone service provider, as most offer portable WiFi devices that use cellular data to provide Internet access in most locations. It’s prudent to test these prior to a disaster, however, so you will know whether you can draw sufficient bandwidth in your home or office, if your small business requires access to email, online data or cloud-based applications, etc.
No one can control disasters or avoid power interruptions without absolute certainty. However, with a little forethought and armed with knowledge, small businesses should have a contingency plan in place to minimize any negative impact.
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