HOUSTON — Having a plan to guide a business and its employees through an emergency –– like the massive blackout that occurred in the U.S. in August –– can really pay off, according to a survey conducted by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).

Among facility professionals surveyed in cities affected by the Aug. 14 blackout, 93 percent reported that they put their emergency plans into effect. Of those, 18 percent said their plans were initially developed in anticipation of Y2K-related power interruptions; 35 percent said their plans were developed after Sept. 11, 2001; and the remaining 47 percent said their plans were drafted before either of those events.

Seventy-eight percent of facility managers surveyed said they had and made good use of backup generators and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. However, some of the write-in comments indicated that it takes more than just owning a generator to save the day. Building managers also need to have a supply of fuel on hand to run generators and preventive maintenance is critical, which includes starting generators periodically to ensure they will work in an emergency.

Power outages caused by weather and other natural disasters are one of the most common emergencies faced by businesses. Having a backup generator or UPS system can be very important to ensure the appropriate temperature is maintained in the company’s data center or to maintain the phone system.

IFMA’s survey also asked, “What was the smartest thing you did to prepare for or recover from the blackout?” and “What lesson(s) did you learn as a result of this latest blackout?” One facility manager in New York City reported, “All of our staff had canvas backpacks with two bottles of water, a power bar, flashlight, small first aid kit, and tissues. The band-aids were very useful, many said.”

In Farmingdale, N.Y., one manager reported that the company maintains a “black box” in the lobby that contains building diagrams, emergency contact sheets, a radio, and flashlights.

It was also smart to disconnect all computers, servers, phone systems, printers, copiers, air conditioning systems, and appliances in an organized, systematic way so that the surge associated with the restoration of power would not cause damage, a professional in New York City said.

Among the responses in the “lessons learned” category, many extolled the virtues of having at least one analog phone on the premises, and many reported that cellular phone service was not reliable.

Publication date: 09/29/2003