Is Your Business Prepared For a Power Outage?

Spring has arrived and, with it, unpredictable weather and the power outages that often follow. As recently as April 7th, a snow and wind storm caused a major outage in Ontario that affected 45,000 residents. Meanwhile, the spring melt in BC is seeing higher-than-usual water levels in rivers and streams, which means seasonal flood risk is greater this year.

It’s not just natural disasters that can cause outages. Equipment failure and planned maintenance or upgrades can all threaten productivity — and profits.

Back in 2014, we did some research and found that the Canadian economy suffers $167 billion annually due to electrical power outages, and that large industrial consumers stand to lose up to $17,000 every 30 minutes that the power is out.

Clearly, when faced with a power outage, time is money. And Having the right information on hand when you call for an emergency power solution can save a lot of time. We caught up with Nick Foster and Kurt Guess — two of Trinity’s temporary power specialists — about the common causes of power outages, and the questions they need answered in order to get you back up and running as quickly as possible.

What Causes Power Outages?

According to Foster and Guess, there are three main reasons a company might face an outage: natural disaster (including flooding, storms, and the like), equipment failure (due to aging or poor maintenance) and scheduled maintenance or upgrades.

“Electrical equipment might have a 40-60 year shelf life when it’s in operation,” explains Guess. At the end of that timespan, or earlier, if the equipment has been poorly maintained, that equipment will require a replacement, often prompting a call to a temporary power provider like Trinity to keep things running in the interim.

In addition to the unplanned outages caused by equipment failure and bad weather, situations like BC Hydro’s ongoing infrastructure upgrades can leave businesses with relatively short time frames in which to find other sources of power during planned outages. “BC Hydro is currently upgrading their line system from 12.5 thousand volts to 25 thousand volts,” explains Guess. “So what they’ll do is they’ll upgrade a certain section at a time, and they’ll schedule that for a certain date, and within five days of that shutdown, they’ll go around handing out a paper notice to those companies that are going to be affected.” This could leave a company that has been relying on the utility with five days or fewer to find a temporary power system that can tide them over during the outage.

How Can Businesses Prepare For An Outage?

Luckily, there are things every business can do to prepare for these kinds of outages in advance and ensure minimal loss. Previously, we created an emergency preparedness checklist for business owners and managers, containing information about how to prepare, generally, for an emergency. This list explains how to make an emergency preparedness plan, and then how to communicate and implement that plan.

But when it comes to delivering the temporary power you’ll need if you don’t have a backup system, there is certain information that Guess and Foster need. When property managers or electrical contractors call for help, they don’t always have it. Hunting down information about a site’s power needs can eat up valuable time, and slow down the process of finding an effective solution.

The questions they always ask first are:

  1. What happened?
  2. How much power do you need (voltage and amperage)? What is your critical load?
  3. Where can you fit a generator and how far away is that from the electrical room?
  4. Who is doing the installation? Do you have an electrician on-site?

Being able to answer these questions quickly and accurately is what will get the best results. But finding the answers isn’t necessarily always straightforward.

“Every system is sized for more than the building actually needs,” explains Guess. This is to ensure the system can handle it if the load should increase over time. Says Guess, “If the client actually knows what the building power requirements are [instead of what the maximum load of the system is], we can save a lot of money sizing the generator appropriately.”

To find that information, Foster recommends going to your provider. “You can go and ask BC Hydro, for example, to give you your peak load for the last year,” he says. “We can size a solution to that and you should be able to handle anything that goes on from there.”

Knowing your critical load — the equipment that is essential to your operation — is another key piece of information for Foster and Guess. “Some electrical rooms will have a 600V to 120/208V transformer,” explains Guess. “The client may want to just tie on and hook up to the 120/208V or they might want to hook up to the 600V to keep some air conditioners running or anything along those lines.”

Who Should Have This Information On Hand?

Foster and Guess say that the majority of the calls they get about emergency outages come from electrical contractors and property or site managers.

Property managers, who don’t have the experience or background that an electrician does, are often the main culprits when it comes to not having the necessary information on hand. “You can say ‘generator’ to somebody, but they won’t necessarily have a picture in their head of what that is,” explains Foster. “It can be a challenge to find out what power is required and where a generator is going to fit.”

Electrical contractors are more likely to have the necessary information. But, says Guess, “even an electrician can benefit from having the information written down ahead of time. Even if you’ve dealt with [an emergency outage] a few times, rattling off that stuff off the top of your head at 2am, during an emergency, isn’t easy,” says Guess. “Having a checklist is definitely going to be a benefit.”

This is why we’ve created a quick checklist that can be filled out beforehand and kept somewhere accessible — for example, posted on the electrical room door. The next time you experience an emergency outage, you’ll have the information on hand that we need in order to provide you with a solution quickly.

Take the time to fill it out now, and you’ll save money later.

Preparing For The Worst

Experts Weigh In On Emergency Preparedness Measures Every Business Should Consider

  • Response Procedures During & After An Emergency
  • Know Your Contacts & Inform Your Staff
  • Preparing For the Worst to Ensure the Best Outcome

Winter Is Coming: Is Your Business Prepared?

Fall has arrived, which means winter is close behind. But while we anticipate the start of hockey season and ski season, there’s another season that business owners need to keep in mind: storm season.

Snowstorms, wind storms and flooding caused by excess rain are some of the things that winter brings, and having an emergency plan in place is the key to avoiding the often heavy losses that these events can incur.

Last November, we put together an eBook detailing exactly how to prepare your business for an emergency, with advice from industry-leading emergency preparedness professionals.

In honour of winter’s imminent arrival, we’re sharing the key points from that report here, along with some new, winter-specific insight from Doug McLeod, primary at Skye Emergency Preparedness, and a founding member of EPICC.

3 Steps For Effective Emergency Planning

  1. Create a Plan

    According to CEMA’s Cara Katterhagen, emergency planning for a business will be twofold: “A situation that arises might first activate an emergency response plan and then move into the business continuity plan,” she explains.

    While an emergency response plan lays out what should be done during and immediately after an emergency, a business continuity plan details the steps that must be taken to ensure the business continues to run as soon as possible after an emergency.

    Creating a plan involves looking at your business’s specific risk factors and needs. “It’s really incumbent upon all businesses to look at what their critical causes are,” explains McLeod. “And whatever the cause of the disruption, [to understand] what the impact of that disruption would be.” If the impact of an emergency would be significant to a business, McLeod emphasizes that business owners or upper management must look for ways to mitigate that situation, or have a backup plan in place if avoiding it is not possible.

    Pacific Coast Terminals offers a good example of such planning. Curtis Rutherford, the assistant manager of operations there, explains, “We look at relevant scenarios that are likely to happen at the terminal.” Scenarios they plan for include everything from a fire on a vessel, to infectious disease, to an armed, disgruntled ex-employee.

  2. Communicate the Plan

    “Communication is absolutely fundamental to any situation,” says Bill Werny, VP of Operations at the Fort McMurray International Airport. “Making sure the right people are informed and reacting appropriately.” These people include both your employees and your emergency contacts. Other contact numbers might include the RCMP, the fire department, or municipal agencies.

  3. Exercise the Plan

    “Every company, every business can improve their plan,” says Werny. “And that’s why you practice and you exercise -to do exactly that.” The experts we spoke to all agreed that training is crucial for an effective emergency preparedness plan.

    Drills might not be the most popular company activity, but they are key in identifying gaps in the plan, getting new staff members on board and ensuring everyone is clear and comfortable in their emergency response role.

Special Considerations for Winter

While an emergency preparedness plan should take any potential disruption into account, there are certain things that businesses should pay close attention to in the winter.

“I think one of the first things [business owners and senior management] need to look at is how to be prepared for a power outage,” says McLeod, who knows a thing or two about power, having led BC Hydro’s emergency planning for 11 years prior to forming Skye.

According to McLeod, to prepare for an outage, businesses should determine what aspects of their power usage are critical. “If there’s anything that they can’t reasonably survive without for longer than about 4 hours, with the power out, then they should have some sort of backup.” That backup might be an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) if the power requirements are low, or a generator with an automatic transfer switch, if more power is required.

Another common winter problem is employee absence, whether from an emergency or a commute interrupted by ice and snow. McLeod emphasizes the importance of identifying critical personnel and ensuring that, should they be unable to access the site, that there is a way for their work to get done.

McLeod suggests that businesses have employees who are trained as a backup. Or, if it’s possible for the critical employee to work remotely, “make sure that those employees have that capability.” For example, “Sometimes they need specific, particular access to the business network.”

Leadership Matters

In the end, McLeod says, it’s all about management. “It’s really senior management’s responsibility to either identify the potential problem or task somebody within their organization to do that,” he says. “If senior management doesn’t take up the ball to do it, then very often the middle and junior management is not going to do it. Their key focus is satisfying their boss. And if it’s not important to the boss, then it may not be important to them. Senior management needs to be the leader.”

Preparing For The Worst

Experts Weigh In On Emergency Preparedness Measures Every Business Should Consider

  • Response Procedures During & After An Emergency
  • Know Your Contacts & Inform Your Staff
  • Preparing For the Worst to Ensure the Best Outcome

4 Reasons Why Your Customers Should Install A Generator Docking Station

In August of 2015, BC’s South Coast experienced its worst storm in a decade. Strong winds toppled trees throughout the Lower Mainland, leading to impassable roads, a compromised transit system and a massive power outage. BC Hydro estimated that 500,000 customers lost power the day of the storm. Several thousands of those customers were still without power two days later.

When the power goes out, it is important that businesses are prepared to stay up and running, and generator docking stations, or tap boxes, can help them do just that. A generator docking station, once installed, provides a single point of connection for a portable generator. If backup power is needed, a business owner or employee can easily connect the generator to the tap box, and switch from utility-generated power to temporary generator power.

We talked to Evan Morris, a Vancouver-based electrical engineer, about why your customers should consider installing a generator docking station.

  1. Safety

    Keeping employees and site visitors safe should be a top priority for any business. Without a generator docking station, a power cable will have to be run from a generator to the electrical room, which might not be located in a convenient location. This can mean running power cable across the facility, up stairways, or through doorways, which creates tripping and electrocution hazards. Using a docking station is, “a lot cleaner and quicker to restart power, and it’s a lot safer,” explains Morris.

  2. Business as Usual

    Not having a backup power solution in place could cost a business a great deal of money. Morris provides an example: “Let’s say a business has a deadline. They could miss a major milestone due to work stoppages.”

    According to an often-cited report by the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), power outages cost U.S. Businesses an estimated $104 billion to $164 billion per year. Sectors that are particularly vulnerable include the Digital Economy, Continuous Process Manufacturing and Fabrication and Essential Services.

    Having a generator docking station installed means that a business can quickly hook up a temporary generator, and continue to operate as usual; this means milestones met, minimal loss of data or operating hours, and no waiting for BC Hydro to come to the rescue.

  3. When, Not If

    While the Lower Mainland’s mass outage last August was not the norm, it is not a matter of if an outage will occur, but when. Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty (AGCS) predicts that power outages are on the rise, globally, in part due to aging infrastructure.

    In BC, the risk of an outage will vary depending on where a business is located. “A lot of various parts of the province have relatively poor power reliability,” says Morris. For example, “remote areas of the province, particularly mountainous areas, where there are a lot of storm outages and tree falls on the power lines.”

    This sentiment is echoed in a BC Hydro report that found that remote areas of the province, such as Haida Gwaii, go without power for up to 36 hours a year.

    Given this data, having a backup power solution becomes especially important for businesses in remote areas. “Businesses in areas where they suffer from frequent outages, if they don’t have electricity, they can’t do business,” says Morris. “Even some fast food places in the north of the province have backup generator connections.”

  4. A Cost-Effective Solution

    Morris explains that while critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, will generally have a permanent backup, this option can be costly. “You can get expensive systems where there’s a permanent generator, and if you get really fancy, they’ll have a battery backup inverter to ensure the power supply is continuous,” he explains.

    In fact, according to Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine, it can cost roughly $57,000 USD to install a permanent 100kW generator. This represents a huge cost to many business owners.

    In contrast, a temporary generator docking station for a 100kW generator might cost $16,000 USD to purchase and install, leaving only the cost of generator rental and fuel to consider.

    For many businesses, this is a much more reasonable price to pay for the certainty that they’ll be able to keep running when the grid fails them.

Temporary Power Emergency Preparedness

A country as large as Canada can be subject to any number of natural disasters every year – consider Calgary’s 2013 floods – and similar flooding in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 2014. And then there was the major ice storm that knocked out power across central and Eastern Canada during 2013’s brutal winter. In such situations, oil, mining and industrial operations can come to a halt without emergency access to onsite electricity generation.

Such emergencies, by definition, rarely are planned events. Perhaps there’s a day or two notice before severe weather or flooding arrives, but that still might not be enough time to line up the emergency generators and other temporary power equipment your customers need, if you haven’t done your planning first. Developing a relationship with a temporary-power provider before customer calls start hitting your phone lines is really the only way electrical contractors can ensure their ability to keep client facilities up and running after a crisis.

So, what should you be looking for in an emergency-power partner? The following four capabilities should be at the top of your list:

Temporary Power Rentals
  • Access to a broad supply network. When storms or other disasters occur, a high demand for onsite power equipment, such as emergency diesel generators, distribution panels & substations can make inventory critical. In addition to what your temporary-power provider might have on-hand, you also want to know they have access to a broader supply chain when local resources won’t meet your needs.
  • Emergency availability. A voicemail message is the last thing you want to hear when trying to source equipment for a customer in need. You want to be sure you can reach your rental power provider when you need them, and not just during regular business hours.
  • Expert support. The best temporary power providers consider themselves to be an electrical contractor’s partner. In an emergency situation, you want a company with equipment experts who can provide engineering support, including single-line drawings and other documentation, to help keep your installers safe and your customers happy.
  • Freight assistance. The last thing you have time for when time is of the essence is handling the logistics of getting emergency temporary power equipment to the site, especially if it’s a remote energy or industrial facility. Find out if the suppliers you’re interviewing can handle the shipping for you.  

In addition to its own high-quality inventory, Trinity Power Rentals has access to the largest temporary power distribution chain in North America. Our specialists are available 24/7, 365 days every year, to provide quick turnaround on quotes, single-line drawings and other needed documentation, along with start-to-finish freight and logistics management. Give us a call today – we’ll just need some simple customer account documents, and then we’ll be ready to mobilize the equipment your customers need, when they need it.