The potential costs of a power cut on businesses
The potential costs of a power cut on businesses

There are more than 170,000 km of electricity cables needing maintenance throughout the UK, so power outages will sometimes occur. For example, around 63,000 properties were affected by a power cut across north Lancashire on June 21st 2017. Shortly afterwards, flights had to be delayed at Edinburgh Airport on June 28th 2017 as a result of a power-related issue.

But, just how much do power cuts affect businesses, including their information security systems,  and what can be done to protect your business from going through a similar unplanned disruption?

The causes of a power cut
A power cut can happen due to numerous reasons. Harsh weather conditions are one — in January 2015, one million people across north-east Scotland were left without power as a storm struck the power lines. Similarly, in Florida, following Hurricane Irma's path of destruction, 4.4 million homeowners were left without electricity.
The UK is also witnessing an electricity supply gap which continues to grow. Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, acknowledges that: “under current [government] policy, it is almost impossible for UK electricity demands to be met by 2025”.  Alongside proposals to phase out coal-fired power and a lack of investment in national grid infrastructures, power failures and blackouts are expected to become more common. 

At times, a blackout will occur as a result of uncommon and trivial reasons, too. For instance, a squirrel that bit through power cables in Somerset which left 1,000 homes without electricity. 

Geography can play a crucial part in how many times your firm will be left without power, as well. In fact, research has shown that the southern England suffered the most blackouts in the UK in 2015, with 124 incidents. 
When a power cut does strike, some may only last for a few hours while others can stretch out for days and even weeks. Regardless of their cause and duration, they are inconvenient and can have detrimental effects on businesses. 

Highlighting the cost of a power cut on a business
In the UK, the average power cut will last for 50 minutes. This may not sound a lot, but with a single hour of downtime estimated to cost a small business £800, it could be very damaging.

You will also need to consider the time to reset equipment throughout a facility, as BC Hydro engineer David Rogers has pointed out: "In your home, when the power goes out, you'll see the clocks on your stove and microwave flashing, and you have to reset them. In a factory, there are dozens of clocks and control systems, and even motors that can be turned off or burned out. You wouldn't necessarily know you have these problems. You need to establish a routine to check for them." 

Another potential issue following a blackout that Rogers was keen to acknowledge was how the customised settings on electronic control systems may be lost due to the equipment reverting to their default settings once power has been restored. Be aware that the systems concerned will still function, but perhaps not to the configuration that you will be expecting for your company's operations. It is easy to imagine the consequences of not fixing this issue on your information security control systems. 

There will be higher losses witnessed by larger organisations when their operations are disrupted as a result of a blackout. However, it can also be expected that these firms will have steps in place to be able to recover quicker from the issue. When Google lost its power in 2013, it experienced losses of £100,000 per minute!

The losses which come from a power cut will vary from business to business and industry to industry. 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, as well as being subjected to a potential loss of sales if their server is also impacted by the power outage. There is the risk of losing unsaved material too, which can be costly to small businesses. 

How to take steps to decrease the damage caused by a power cut
Larry Hunter, a risk engineer at Allianz Global Corpo Rate & Specialty facility in Houston, Texas, was keen to point out: “While organisations may feel that the likelihood of power outages is beyond their control, they should still assess the impact that an electrical blackout could have on their operations and important machinery, so that they can review and determine whether they have the right controls in place to help mitigate the risk.”

Another measure that can be taken by businesses to reduce the damage they witness from a blackout is to purchase an uninterruptible power supply. Also referred to as a UPS, this allows a computer to keep running for a short while when the mains electricity has gone off. Often, a warning sign will come up to alert the user that a power cut has occurred — giving them time to save any unfinished work. 

Don't underestimate the benefits of a standalone generator as well. This can be used in emergencies for when power runs out as it does not rely on the working of the grid electricity. If you are considering going off-grid with your power supplies, it is worth considering gas cylinders, too.

Also, encourage staff members to regularly save their work and take the time to put a contingency plan in place across your workplace. For example, a mobile device could be a way to inform customers that your power supply is down and you won't be able to answer queries. 

Contributed by Nicola Bannister,marketing manager at Flogas.

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.