Planning Ahead: Emergency Backup Power for Hurricane Season
When natural disasters strike, strong winds, heavy rains, flooding, and possible tornados leave extensive damage in their wake. Hurricanes can be particularly catastrophic and can cause structural damage to buildings and homes, utilities, equipment, and even the loss of life.
The financial loss that hurricanes and other natural disasters bring can be devastating. Between 2019 and 2021, there were 56 weather and climate disasters, including hurricanes, and these losses totaled more than $1 billion. Unfortunately, these disasters are becoming more common than ever: 2020 was the fourth consecutive year that slow-moving tropical cyclones moved through the US, resulting in heavier rainfall and destructive flooding. Plus, 2021 was the third most active year for hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Ida alone caused over $60 billion in damages.
As hurricanes and disasters become more common, it is critical to have a plan in place to know what actions to take and identify the right equipment to ensure a safe and efficient recovery.
How Hurricanes Impact Businesses
Hurricanes can have a devastating impact on businesses. Between evacuations, building damage, limited access to roadways, and widespread outages, many companies or projects become inoperable days and even weeks after a natural disaster.
This operation stoppage devastates many businesses and results in a critical loss of revenue. Many companies cannot afford to shut down for an undetermined amount of time, which has a larger impact on whether an organization or project can reopen or continue. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that 25% of businesses will never reopen again after experiencing a disaster. How your company responds during an unexpected event will dramatically impact the future of your business.
Preparing for disasters ahead of time is a critical step business leaders must take for fast recovery. They will be able to act quickly, improve their decision-making and have the resources they need to ensure operations are down for as little time as possible. In particular, restoring power will be a top priority in protecting business assets and resuming business activities.
How to Prepare for Disaster
No business can afford to neglect its disaster preparation with increased natural disasters and hurricanes. Before a natural disaster becomes an imminent threat, it is critical to assess your business needs to help develop a plan.
A business continuity plan will help you prepare for hurricanes well ahead of time and ensure everything is in place when disaster strikes.
1. Identify business-critical equipment, functions, and services
To be ready to resume critical operations as quickly as possible, you must first understand the minimum resources needed to make it possible. List out everything vital in running your business.
Just a few resources you should consider include:
Minimum number of employees
IT systems, including internet, computers, communication equipment, servers
Office or store space and furniture
Machinery and equipment
Utilities, such as gas, water, sewer, power
Third-party, or vendor, services
Not all resources can be replaced immediately after an emergency. Estimate what you need to be operational in the days and weeks following an incident.
2. Create an action plan
Put together a plan to mitigate the risks to your business-critical systems. For example, businesses often back up their data off-site in a different geographical region to ensure that critical information is not lost in the case of a flood or physical damage.
Power is often an issue in the wake of a hurricane. The damage must be repaired by technicians before power is restored, which can result in days or weeks without it. Business leaders need to account for lost power in their action plan to have operations up and running as quickly as possible. In fact, some parts of the US remained dark for over three weeks in the wake of Hurricane Ida in 2021.
Your action plan should give you alternatives to restore business activities to a minimally acceptable level in the face of disaster.
3. Establish a communication strategy
In this day and age, we rarely consider how vital communication is. We are more connected than ever with widespread internet and phone access in our pockets. However, our connection to the outside world can suddenly disappear. When power and telephone lines are down, communication is vulnerable, and communication needs are immediate. Customers will want to know how businesses are impacted, employees and their families may be concerned and need information, and local officials may be notified. A crisis communication plan is critical to responding quickly and confidently during a hurricane.
A communication strategy should include all potential audiences and how they can be accessed during an incident. For example, directing customer calls to a separate call center or having a voice message that explains the problem to customers will help keep them informed during an emergency.
4. Assign responsibilities
Emergencies make critical thinking difficult, and many people feel lost and unsure of what to do. Form a team in your plan and assign each team member a specific responsibility. For example, one person might be in charge of ensuring communication is restored, while another attends to any physical destruction after a storm. Particular roles are vital to ensuring that all business-critical activities are addressed.
5. Practice and review your plan regularly
It’s challenging to anticipate all the ways that businesses are impacted in the case of a natural disaster. For example, do backup power sources work if the power goes out? Practice enacting it to ensure that yours is at the level you need it to be.
An action plan is not a once-and-done activity. Technology changes, customer expectations shift, and team members come and go. Regularly review your plan once or twice a year, especially in the months leading up to hurricane season, to ensure it is still accurate.
Preparing a Backup Power Solution
In addition to an overall business contingency plan, a backup power solution is critical to most business operations. Gathering information in advance is vital. Here is some of the information to note as well as some questions to ask yourself while compiling information.
Size of generators required
Deciding the size of the generator(s) you need is a delicate balance. Choose too small of a generator, and critical business operations can’t run. However, too large of a generator means investing more money than you need.
Do you need the entire facility at 100% power, or can you get by with less?
Complete power is not always required for a business to run. Consider the business-critical equipment needs and operations you laid out in your disaster plan. For example, you might be able to allow employees to work remotely so that an office area might not need to be powered and instead concentrate on your power resources in a warehouse where operations are still required.
What are areas critical, in order of importance?
When you’ve decided on business-critical operations that need power, sizing the load in kW, kVA, or amps for each area will help you determine the total required load. Note any special or unusual power requirements for specific areas, such as the HP of large motors and locked rotor amps, voltage requirements, semi-conductor needs, or high harmonic imbalances.
Knowing the total load required will ensure you pick the right size generator to meet your needs.
Your generator’s location must be carefully considered to ensure you can access it when needed.
Will the equipment be in the same location?
Depending on where you need power, it might make sense to have it in separate locations. However, it will help simplify and streamline running the generators to have them in one area.
Will multiple units be run in parallel?
Generators can only put out so much power. Running generators in parallel can increase your capacity and will help you keep business-critical operations in power with redundancy if needed.
Are there any location restrictions that could be affected by the equipment's weight, access, or airflow?
Generators, like most equipment, can overheat when there is poor circulation or overloaded wattage. Also, generators need to be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they are ready for use whenever required. The location you choose should keep factors like these in mind.
How close can the equipment be located to your tie-ins?
Several factors impact your generator location and its proximity to tie-ins. Keep in mind the regulations and requirements from:
The equipment manufacturer
Local code authorities
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Power supply companies
For example, some generators need to be placed at least five feet from a door or window. However, newer standby generators can be as close as 18 inches from the nearest wall, depending on the jurisdiction and local distance rules.
This is where planning ahead of a disaster is critical. Installing a generator takes time and consideration to avoid disrupting business operations in the least amount of time possible.
Will your in-house personnel or outside electrical contractor be installing the equipment?
Using in-house resources is not always the most cost-effective option. An expert can often work more efficiently and ensure everything is at the highest standard. They can also provide valuable advice on the location of the generator and any permits that might be required.
Is any engineering, distribution work, or permits required?
Engineering and distribution work may be required to ensure that generators are powering critical operations most effectively and efficiently. Also, keep in mind the local regulations to ensure everything is permitted correctly to avoid costly fines.
Think through additional equipment you may need to run your operation in the event of a natural disaster. It will be critical to ensure that you will be able to use your generator whenever you need it.
How much cable in feet will you require?
Ensure that you have more than enough cable so that you can power any vital sources when needed.
Will electrical distribution be needed for multiple connections or different voltages?
This is where determining the total required load and special power requirements is critical. Electrical distribution may be required to ensure all necessary equipment is adequately and safely powered.
Emergency Power Contacts and Plant Personnel
Make a list of all plant or facility personnel who must be notified in an emergency. Gather their names, departments, extension or office numbers, and home or cell numbers so the list is ready to go when needed. Also, regularly check the list to ensure all the information is up to date. Once the equipment is installed, you must also take the contact details of anyone involved in the installation.
What to Look for in a Power Rental Company
Your power solutions provider plays a critical role in your emergency preparedness. You will need to have a partner by your side to ensure everything runs safely and smoothly from beginning to end.
Some factors to consider include:
Fast response. Emergencies happen quickly, so look for a company that can respond just as fast. The right provider needs to be quick to ensure you get help when you need it.
Technical expertise. The needs of a commercial business require more technical know-how than home or more straightforward generators. Consider whether the companies have been doing their work for quite some time in the commercial space and relevant sectors.
Experience. Look for a company that has previously handled a business similar to yours. How quickly could they set up? Ensure they have proved themselves in the past for your own peace of mind.
Footprint. Look for a provider within a service area near you. They will be able to respond quickly and better understand the needs that come with business in your area. For example, ERS offers comprehensive rental equipment, services, and support throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast and beyond. ERS can provide relief caused by hurricanes or other natural disasters because we have several technical experts and locations nearby.
Critical load support. The company needs to have the capacity to support essential loads efficiently and with very reliable power generation.
Why Energy Rental Solutions (ERS)
We understand the rigorous demands you face in order to keep your operation up and running. ERS is ready to support you throughout the Gulf Coast with 24/7/365 coverage. Our unmatched product support services include design, engineering, installation, and operation to help solve your temporary utility needs. ERS brings the power of the CAT network, and the expertise and focus of a specialty rental business, to our customers in order to solve their temporary utility needs safely and efficiently.
ERS carries generator rentals from 20kW to 2000kW in single units and can also support larger power projects. In addition to utilizing CAT generators in our fleet, we provide expert service for delivery and installation. ERS also carries a variety of power generation accessories for your project needs.
Our temperature control fleet ranges from chiller rentals and air conditioner rentals to dehumidifier rentals and cooling rentals. We also carry a complete line of temperature control accessories to provide turnkey solutions for your rental project.
As a leading supplier of rental air compressors throughout the Gulf Coast, ERS offers both diesel and electric air compressors as well as a range of compressed air accessories needed for your application.
ERS can design, deliver, and install an efficient and reliable electrical distribution system to meet your facility’s needs. This equipment can be rapidly installed and has great flexibility in configuration.