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According to the American Red Cross, "...as many as 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen after a major disaster like a flood, tornado or earthquake. These shuttered businesses were unprepared for a disaster; they had no plan or backup systems."

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Be Prepared If the Lights Go Out in Your Business

Every business should already have an emergency plan in place in case of fire, earthquake, or other disaster. That plan can also be effective in case of the power goes out.

Actual steps you need to take depend on the type of building your business is in. The loss of electricity is far more dramatic for employees in a high-rise building with elevators, for example, than for those working in a single-story retail establishment. In some cases, you may want to evacuate employees, or at least have an area identified to which staff can go that has windows providing light and ventilation. If your office is windowless, flashlights should be made available. In a big facility, it might be a good idea to give each employee a flashlight of his own, in employees they need to leave a darkened building or down darkened staircases.

Your office or business should also have a battery-powered radio or television so you can monitor the news and official announcements during outages.

Install emergency lights that turn on when the power goes out. They are inexpensive and widely available at building supply retailers. Follow local building codes for emergency lighting.

Have at least one phone that can call out or receive calls without a switchboard, PBX or other system that may require power. A simple single line or a dedicated emergency cell phone (kept charged) can make the difference sometimes.

For some businesses, power outages can lead to security risks. Discuss with your local police department any steps you should take to protect yourself for the time that electricity could be off.

Use UL-listed surge protectors and battery backup systems for critical computer systems. They will add protection for sensitive equipment and help prevent a computer crash if the power goes out. Back up computer data frequently throughout the business day.

You will have some advance warning that a rolling blackout will soon affect your area. Remember this type of power outage will last a limited amount of time - don't panic! Make sure people save their work on computers, and turn off computers and other equipment such as copiers, fax machines, coffee makers and printers. Having equipment off lessens the load on the system when power is restored.

Many traffic signals will be out during a power outage. Remind your employees to be especially careful when driving and to consider intersections with unlit traffic lights to be four-way stops, where the car on the right has the right of way. Pedestrians should be doubly careful as well, since many drivers will be distracted by the new traffic patterns. Drivers may be so focused on what other cars are doing that they ignore people on foot.

Keep emergency supplies handy. Make sure you include:

  • Flashlights with extra batteries.
  • First aid kit(s).
  • Tools.
  • Food and water for employees and customers to use during a period of unexpected confinement at your business, such as if a tanker truck overturned nearby and authorities told everyone in the area to stay put for an extended period.