Out of the Dark: Survival guide for businesses during load-shedding
As Africa’s premier integrator of business continuity services, ContinuitySA’s team spends a lot of time identifying risks and how to mitigate them. One risk that has become very real for South African businesses is load-shedding. An unstable power supply with the potential of extended periods of power outages over the next several years creates a range of risks that have to be integrated into current business plans.
“We know that load-shedding is going to occur and, in order to put mitigation strategies in place, we first need to understand what the implications are,” says Michael Davies, CEO of ContinuitySA. “What are the issues that businesses should be looking at? Now is a good time to update your business continuity plans in order to assess the impact of load-shedding on your business and weigh up what your risk appetite is.”
Davies says that because electricity is now so integral to modern society, load-shedding creates a complex and interdependent set of risks over and above the task of just keeping the business’s lights on. These risks need to be understood within the context of each business's strategic plan: Some of the considerations are:
Impact on employees. Regular and extended outages will disturb family life in all sorts of ways, from spoiled food and appliances that don’t work to transport difficulties and the care of children and elderly relatives. Employers need to understand the impact and be empathetic towards the challenges employees may face during this time.
Impact on vital services. Extended power outages are likely to affect water supplies periodically and also telecommunications. Businesses can solve the water issue relatively easily by installing their own gravity-fed tanks that act as an emergency store replenished by the municipal water supply. More serious, however, extended power outages could be more than battery backups at some telecommunications sub-stations can cope with, leading to interruptions in communications. Davies cautions that the impact of load-shedding on ICT disaster recovery should also not be ignored.
Impact on the supply chain. Power outages in other areas will not only affect your employees’ ability to get to work, but also the operations of suppliers and clients. Today’s businesses generally employ just-in-time inventory order systems and, in addition, supply chains are both long and complex—companies must definitely understand the impact that load-shedding has on its suppliers’ ability to meet their commitments, and what any defaults will have on its operations.
“We would recommend that companies ensure they have visibility of suppliers’ business continuity plans,” Davies says. “Traffic congestion due to power outages will also affect deliveries and the productivity of mobile teams within the organisation and its suppliers.”
Impact on security. Most access control and building management systems rely on power to continue functioning so alternative power plans must include security and access control to avoid the business becoming a soft target during load-shedding.
Impact on society. One might argue that coping with load-shedding could create a kind of nation-building based on the feeling that “We’re all in this together”. More likely, particularly as the crisis drags on and on, is that existing social tensions will be exacerbated. “I have already observed an increase in incidents of road rage when non-functioning traffic lights cause persistent gridlock, and other forms of aggressive behaviour might also increase,” says Davies. “I also think that wildcat strikes and episodes of opportunistic looting could be sparked by load-shedding, particularly when businesses start to lose jobs as they must surely do.”
Once these inter-connecting risks are well understood and integrated in the business continuity plan, companies can put the appropriate backup power plans in place. Davies concludes with some guidelines relating to these measures:
Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs). Make sure that UPSs are correctly sized for the job they have to do and that they cater for potential extended power outages. Furthermore, consider what critical systems will get priority and what may be turned off without negatively impacting the business.
Generators. Most companies will rely to a great extent on generators. They need to be maintained and tested properly, something that is hard to control if they are owned by the landlord. Like UPSs, they need to be correctly specified—a cheap household generator is not going to cope with frequent and prolonged use. Diesel stocks also need to be managed: Diesel cannot be stored indefinitely, and the possibility that diesel will be hard to obtain during a prolonged blackout also has to be faced.
Alternative Power Sources. Businesses will start employing other methods of powering systems such a solar power to reduce the impact of load-shedding. Can you imagine if all the traffic lights were solar powered and the resultant positive effect on traffic during power outages!
“We don’t have an option—we all have to understand what this power crisis means for our individual businesses and take the appropriate action,” says Davies. “Reviewing your business continuity plan is a good way to start.”