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‘Prevention is better than cure’: An expert guide to minimising business risk in a blackout

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With surging numbers and unpredictability of power outages across Australia and the world, the need for proactive measures have never been more relevant as a facility manager.

In extreme cases, downtime is caused by powerful storms, fires and floods. Whilst these major disasters are the common disruptors to businesses, minor causes are equally harmful if unprepared, in the case of human error or ageing infrastructure.

According to power management company Eaton’s annual blackout Tracker Report, more than 1.7 million people were affected by power outages in 2017 across Australia and New Zealand. Queensland fronting NSW as the most prone to blackouts after Cyclone Debbie.

Underestimated power outages can set you back more than just dollars and cents, totalling around AUD $70 billion annually in data loss and downtime. Almost two-thirds of 125 Australian companies surveyed as part of the EMC Global Data Protection Index found the average organisation experiences approximately three days of unexpected downtime per year, and 78 percent of Australian organisations are still not fully confident in their ability to recover after a disruption.

Gordon Makryllos, Managing Director Australia and New Zealand at Eaton Industries says, “In the current era of digital connectivity and data dependency, the cost of power outages can be significant for any business – in particular those that have data collection technology in locations where recovery processes are complex and hard to reach. To reduce the risk of data loss, downtime and increased costs, it is important to have uninterruptible power systems (UPSs), generators and power management software solutions that can deliver backup power during outages”.

Handling risky business: Case studies from a panel

Power outages are certain to occur and the consequences to an end-user can be extraordinary, particularly when applied to priority sectors such as; healthcare, aviation, transportation and public data centres.

Certain high-impact facilities lead the way in preparing for blackouts, whilst others could do with immediate improvements.

Healthcare:

Despite the odds some are on the forefront to ensuring their facilities are geared to take action in unforeseen outages. A pristine example of such experienced by Macquarie University Hospital back in 2016, lasting a sum of 45 minutes “It impacted the hospital minimally, all the internal systems of the hospital operated correctly. We have an uninterruptible power supply system (UPS) to back up all patient monitoring systems and a generator that backs up the (UPS) system - a double redundancy system. We were able to carry out operations in our theatre complex and on a clinic standpoint at 100 percent. Only the ancillary services around admission support,

catering and the coffee machine did not have essential power supply”. Says Ken Gomez, Facility Manager of the Macquarie University Hospital.

Theatre and Performing Art Centres:

Sydney’s Opera House Facility Manager, Simon Dwyer says “Although outages there do not often occur, the impact is a minority. When it does, it’s quite procedural, we started working through a 75-page checklist that normally takes a year to do, but we managed to do it in four hours”.

The last major outage experienced by the iconic venue dates back seven years ago and fortunately a non-recurring concern, and if it does sweep unexpectedly they are prepared for what may come thanks to careful planning and their distribution system.

The consequences of a small problem can lead to greater ones

Airports:

Whilst airports have strict requirements in terms of (UPS) backup capabilities not all outages are caused by large incidents.

A classic case being the major outage experienced at Sydney’s airport T2 terminal back in 2014 causing quite the stir. “It seemed like it shouldn’t have been a major outage, it was only a single switchboard that had failed, whilst there was supply to the security cameras, T2 was completely out of service lasting 12 hours”, says Kevin Friesen, Airport specialist at Beca.

Transport and rail stations:

When honing into the impact of an outage to a transport facility, Risk and Asset Management specialist, Nick Birbara explains the impact is not so much the power itself, but rather the consequence as a result.

“Some outages could last as less than a minute, but getting back on track is what causes the most disruption to the facility”. Birbara pointed out a practical example when an outage occurred at the Heathrow underground tube station- leaving travellers stranded for up to one hour in a lift. It naturally caused the public tremendous anxiety, spilling further consequential losses with airlines on missed flights and insurance companies footing the bill”.

“Stations need to become more robust, people in charge did a great job as far as railways operations are concerned. But it is about the experience, the total journey not a trip of its own”, says Birbara.

Practical tips to minimising costs and the risk of an outage

Getting a checklist in place and being strategic can be the difference to saving time and minimising the risk of an outage. Some key tips shared by facility panel experts include; load shedding in peak periods, for example in a high foot traffic shopping centre in the middle of a blazing summer. Turning off air-conditioners in conferences that aren’t being used and reconsidering the best system to address power for your facility. Central systems versus distribution systems are important, in the case of the Opera House case study, a distribution system is used due to their limited space onsite.

Stability, security, accessibility and reliability are the primary must haves to consider when managing an outage according to a panel of experts.

Rinse and repeat your checklist

So how do you best prepare for an outage? Here’s what the FM experts recommend:

·  Plan thoroughly by having procedures in place

· Test regularly to help with unforeseen complexities

· Upgrade the condition of your power and manage the order in which it gets brought      back on

· Monitor your infrastructure- A (UPS) or condition monitoring system around your    building to minimise impact

· Document everything thoroughly

· Communicate to stakeholders and get everyone involved from the outset

· Safeguard against sabotage outages; airports, railway underground stations, shopping

  centres and highly visible facilities are the most prone.

In case the thought crossed your mind, local versus international outage procedures aren’t hugely different.

No matter the solution that's right for you, preventing an outage, is far better than curing it.

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