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Power cuts and keeping your business active

The UK has been through a spate of power cuts over this year. In July, Thorpe Park was hit by a series of power outages that left some visitors stranded on rides due to the sweltering temperatures of the region’s heatwave, while more than 15 power cuts were reported in 24 hours in Cambridgeshire at the end of the month, which were partly blamed on lightning strikes.

At home, power cuts are often just a nuisance. But at work, they can prove costly. With lost productivity and wasted running costs to consider, it’s vital for business owners to be prepared and ensure their operations keep functioning as effectively as possible during power cuts.

The UK’s current power cut situation

There have been multiple power outages in the UK in 2018, which has left many people wondering why. However, power cuts aren’t a new thing. In 1972, the miners’ strike caused major power issues and even a state of emergency to be declared, while Storm Frank in 2015 caused the loss of power to around 40,000 properties. Considering the UK has more than 17,000km of electricity cables, there’s a great deal of maintenance to keep on top of, which means a sudden storm or unexpected heatwave can cause significant issues.

Interestingly, there are variations of power outages, including:

  • Transient fault: a temporary fault that lasts a few seconds, but power is automatically restored.
  • Brownout: a lowering in mains power supply that can last for a few days (e.g. lowered light levels). Can cause machinery malfunction.
  • Blackout: the most severe case of power outage that causes complete power loss. These are usually the most expensive and tricky to recover from.

The weather caused around eight out of ten of all power cuts between 2003 and 2012, according to Climate Central. Considering the randomness of power outages, you should prepare your company for future power cuts now.

How having no power impacts your business

All companies rely on energy to some degree — but how do power outages interrupt and harm a company?

Due to the importance of data in today’s corporate world, sudden power cuts can heighten the risk of losing quality, essential information. This may affect your company’s ability to achieve client deadlines on projects, if work and information is irretrievable, and so, force your staff to start again. Blackouts and brownouts that last one or more days can mean your production lines simply cease to exist in practice. Of course, your staff are there and willing to work, which means they need paying regardless. However, your business won’t be able to create the products it needs to make a profit that day or even break-even. Similarly, if your business relies on a sales department, think of how much revenue you could lose if your team can’t contact people via phone or email to clinch new customer accounts.

A small business will lose £800 following only 60 minutes of downtime. When Google lost their power in 2013, they experienced losses of £100,000 per minute! The reasons behind the losses vary. Not having access to electricity can mean that employees cannot communicate with customers and are therefore losing out on potential sales. For an ecommerce company, they do not have access to their website to monitor sales and client requests. There is also the risk of losing unsaved material, which can be costly to small businesses.

Nearly a quarter of IT professionals surveyed said that an IT outage racked up a price of between £10,000 and £1 million every 60 minutes! In fact, IT downtime in the UK costs around £3.6 million and 545 productivity hours a year. To work out the average cost of downtime an hour, this is the general formula:

Employee cost per hour x fraction of employees affected by the power cut x average revenue for each hour x fraction of the revenue that was affected by the outage

Few of us in business can afford to lose so much, so what can you do?

Reducing the negative impact of power cuts

Every business is different, and managers will need to plan in a certain way to minimise the effects of a power cut. For example, a business that operates off-grid will likely have an LPG gas tank that will help them stay up and running if the mains grid is affected. If your brand relies on computers and data, install a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) for all your computers. This will let the device run via its battery and will give the staff enough time, if a blackout happens, to save crucial documents and properly shut down the computer to ensure data is not damaged and can be recovered to keep projects on track. Saving on a cloud is also a great way to keep critical files safe.

A major issue is web connectivity in the event of a power outage. By setting up a MiFi — a device that can operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot — your employees’ devices can connect to an ‘ad-hoc’ network to help you stay online and working in the event of a power cut.

Surge protectors will also safeguard electronic devices and machinery hardware from a sudden rush of energy following an outage that can harm data. Industrial generators are good, too — they’re robust and designed to comply with legal obligations for optimum efficiency in times of need. If your brand relies on the continuous operating of equipment and machinery, it’s vital that you invest in a generator to protect from major productivity and revenue loss as a result of power outages.

All workers and management executives should know what to do in a power cut — so draw up a continuity plan that details how to react. Do this by creating a team or committee that will determine the specific risks to your business — a small IT company will have different points to consider compared to a large factory — and then draw up a detailed process for mitigating these risks.

Don’t forget to unplug devices when your business has an interruption of power. Also, make sure you only use electrical equipment that adheres to regulations detailed by the British Standards Institution.

We can’t control when power cuts occur, but we can put measures in place to help reduce the impact of them. Follow these steps and prepare your company for a blackout situation.

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