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4 min read

Rolling blackouts – contingency planning

You may have been reading various stories in the media recently concerning the potential for rolling blackouts early in the new year. Although all sources have stressed that this is not expected to happen, we thought it would be worth thinking about what that means for your business should it come to pass.

News about potential blackouts has focussed mainly on residential consumers with very little said about businesses. The suggested timings have also coincided with people returning home in the window of circa 4pm to 7pm, just after it gets dark, and lights are due to go on around the country. The upshot of this is that it would seem businesses should be able to continue as normal for most of the working day, but they still need to be prepared for any shutdown out of hours.

There are several layers to this situation that need to be considered and there are many unknowns. As with all contingency planning, all you can do is plan with the information available. Let’s have a look at what it could mean for your IT.

Considerations

If we assume that most businesses don’t have any backup generator capability, then if the power goes the considerations are likely to be:

  • Environmental issues such as heating, lighting, fridges, etc
  • Connectivity issues such as loss of internet, network & Wi-Fi
  • Security issues such as electrically powered locks, alarms etc.
  • Servers and Desktops that need graceful shutdown or extended runtime
  • Laptops and their battery life
  • Homeworking availability

For most organisations, a blackout really means stopping work and sending the workforce home. Without heat and light, staff cannot be expected to work in the depths of winter.

If rolling blackouts do become a reality, then they will at least be known about in advance giving you time to prepare and have your IT partner (or department) shut down devices in plenty of time to minimise any risk of damage.

Mitigation

There are some mitigation measures that be considered such as purchasing generators to keep your premises running. Higher-end generators can provide a smooth delivery of power but for lower-end generators it is worth putting an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) – basically a big battery – in between to even out power spikes. That would allow you to safely run light, a server, computers, and network equipment. A suitably sized one could even provide some heating and keep the fridge on!

If you can’t afford a generator, then a UPS will at least allow you to ensure that everything is gracefully shut down if you forget to turn every device off before the power goes out. These are relatively affordable and should be installed wherever a server is located. They can also be used with any PC and can run LED emergency lighting too.

Although we are primarily assuming planned power outages, surge protectors should be considered to protect equipment from surges when the power comes on again.

If you only backup your data locally you should consider adding a cloud backup solution. If your backup disks get damaged during a blackout then your data is still safely stored elsewhere, ready to be retrieved on new hardware.

The Internet

If you manage to keep power going at your place of work, it is worth discussing what happens outside of your four walls. You may wonder what happens to infrastructure such as local exchanges when the power goes off? Most will have battery backup which should keep them running even during a power cut of several hours. This means that if you have power then you should be able to connect to the internet.

There have been high-level discussions with ‘The Internet’ (ok, we mean data centres but it’s more fun to call it The Internet) to ensure that they can remain online in the event of power outages using diesel generators. This is helpful because otherwise we would be faced with the scenario where your business has power, but the data centres that effectively run the internet could be down, thus rendering the internet non-existent for the duration of blackouts.

Mobile Communications

Mobile phones may still operate in a blackout too, as the transmitter masts should all have battery backups. Assuming they work, that would allow both voice calls and mobile data to be available to keep your business going. Demand on those networks may increase significantly though so expect restricted quality of service.

Staff Preparation

There are some pieces of advice that you should probably pass along to your staff in advance of any blackout.

  1. Most will be able to work at home if they have power. If they have a laptop and primarily work with cloud services, then it can be business as usual. Just make sure that they have had suitable training in remote working to keep your data safe – it should cover topics such as changing default Wi-Fi passwords, keeping their devices patched and up to date and ensuring they have up-to-date antivirus.
  2. Warn anyone working from home that that they will not be able to access files or services hosted on a server back in your office if it is shut down.
  3. If they don’t have power, they shouldn’t try to keep working on their laptop even though it has a battery. Using the screen in a dark environment can lead to eye strain. Additionally, if several people work on the same document while offline it can cause sync issues when connectivity is restored.

Physical Security

A final thought, it is worth contacting the supplier of any physical security that you have on your premises that relies on a power source to understand how their products function when power is interrupted. For example, do magnetic locks lock shut, or instantly release. These are important factors to be aware of to ensure that opportunistic ne’er-do-wells do not take advantage of an open goal.

Summary

At the end of the day, it is very unlikely that blackouts will occur, but it is always a good idea to plan for eventualities so that you aren’t left scrambling around to find solutions at the last moment. If you’d like help drawing up your business’s contingency plans for rolling blackouts, then get in touch with us today.

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