Hurricane Sandy Shows Why Businesses Need Reliable Backup Power

NEWS ANALYSIS: There are a lot of things that go into an effective business continuity plan that will keep you operational in the midst of a major natural disaster. But the most basic factor is a reliable electric power supply.

Sometimes the lines stretch for miles. People come from far away to get the one precious commodity that they need to make life livable—gasoline. People carry containers for their home generators and they arrive with empty tanks in their cars. On the way, they pass dozens of darkened service stations that have plenty of fuel to sell, but they lack one essential thing—electricity.

In New Jersey, New York and elsewhere in the Northeast, nothing so quickly demonstrates just how much life has changed for the residents who lived through the pounding from Hurricane Sandy and must now live through the recovery. But in the meantime, they must live. These people need to cook their food, refrigerate it and stay in touch with the world. To do this, they need electricity and it’s the one thing they don’t have.

Unfortunately, too many of the essential businesses that could provide fuel, food and necessities, ranging from cash to clothing to cleaning supplies and medications, are closed. While some along the shore were destroyed by the force of the storm, many are undamaged and could open today if only they had electricity. And while commerce existed long before electrical power, today business depends on computers, point-of-sale terminals, lighting, refrigeration and mechanical equipment—such as gas pumps.

While it’s still possible to attach some businesses to temporary mobile power systems, these systems are getting hard to find. What’s needed to maintain your continuity of operations is a plan for emergency backup power. “They need a business continuity plan,” said Terry Dolan, executive vice president of Generac Power Systems. “Power is so important in today’s world.”

But how many businesses realize just how critical electrical power is to the long-term survival of their business? Probably not too many. “I don’t think many businesses try to vet out what their lives are like without the power,” said Andy Gagnon, senior sales support manager for Briggs & Stratton, the company that builds General Electric commercial backup power systems under license from GE. “What does it mean for their business and their customers? What does that mean for my business going forward? A small business especially, I don’t think a lot of those guys think about this,” Gagnon said.

Dolan said many businesses don’t plan for standby power systems because they think they can’t afford it. But in many cases, he said, this is not correct. “It’s not a huge investment,” he said, noting that many small businesses can be set up to run their essential services for around $15,000. “Compare that with the loss of revenue and products,” Dolan said.

Gagnon said that businesses need to look beyond the capital expense of the generator unit itself, and focus on the value of staying operational. “From a structural perspective, what kind of revenue loss would they have?”

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...