Emergency Power Outage? Don’t Forget Old-School Redundancy

Michele Hope

After a sudden power outage, you tend to have questions and want fast answers. I know I did when faced with an unexpected outage during a windy, Friday evening storm.

Business organizations need answers, too, especially when a power outage occurs during normal business hours or lasts for an extended period. Unfortunately, when called upon to make many post-outage decisions, organizations can find themselves hampered by a prior reliance on technology that either isn’t available or actually requires power in order to access important information.

This is when you may appreciate good pre-planning with a few, old-school methods.

Redundant Communication Methods

An extended power outage may cause you to have to resort to old-school communications: flip phones, since basic text/SMS messages may still get through; backup phone chargers, fully charged; and landlines that don’t require power. If cell towers are down, you can rely on two-way radios/walkie-talkies, satellite phones for key individuals, battery-operated radios with solar or hand-crank capabilities, even bullhorns, if necessary, for larger groups.

Consider signing up in advance for outage auto alerts/updates from your local utility to a flip phone or email address. Likewise, look for similar alert services from your local government about disruptions affecting you.

But what about your VOIP and corporate phone systems? Will they automatically switch to a backup phone number, even one out of the area, or a backup message during an outage? How will your employees get information about what the organization wants them to do? Who will update your social media channels with a status if your primary access is down? If an executive needs to do it, will they have ready access to passwords and steps required to update them?

Redundant Information Storage

It’s been years since we’ve had to memorize even our extended family’s phone numbers. They are so readily available from our phones or online. Unless, of course, the power goes out, your phone battery dies and you have no internet access. Then, you may need to rely on a handy, updated printout of all your important contacts.

For pre-planning, you may want to also copy this type of information to a portable thumb drive. But, again, when the power is out, hard copies still rule. For organizations, this may even mean physical lists of important phone numbers. These are lists that you frequently update as people come and go, or as procedures change:

  • Contact details of emergency services, local utilities, facilities/maintenance, employees, suppliers, vendors, cloud providers, key partners and customers, etc.
  • Paper maps with directions to alternate organization offices or alternate data centers.
  • Secured paper runbooks of IT systems that may need to be “failed over,” restarted or reinstalled somewhere else. (Hint: Such runbooks should include pesky details like login passwords, software license keys, encryption keys, network topology diagrams, recovery steps, etc.)
  • Paper versions of disaster recovery plans, checklists, emergency communications plans, etc.

Just as importantly, think about the existence of cloud-based warm or hot sites and replicated data sets outside of the region. Backup tape should be stored away from your headquarters or general region, in the event the disaster is greater than just a local power outage.

While these methods barely scratch the surface of what you might do to prepare for an outage or disaster, there are other great resources available. FEMA provides an interesting business toolkit based on the concepts of “Staff, Space, Systems and Service.” Ready.gov is another resource about individual/business emergency kits and recommended planning for different types of disasters. Local utilities, federal, county and city agencies can offer more in the way of guidance, especially with basic questions, like the safe use of generators and whether or not refrigerated foods or tap water are still safe to use.

There’s a lot of work to do when you DIY your own disaster recovery plans. Consider asking outside DR experts to help make it easier, especially when learning what other organizations like yours are doing to prepare.

I was ill-prepared for my own outage. I was lucky the outage was short; I had prepared just enough to get by until power was restored. I had questions, but not always ready answers. Next time, I will do better. Will you?

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