Four Ways To Ensure Building Safety During a Power Outage

Electricity is something we are so used to having, but can easily be taken away. In fact, according to Agility Recovery, 70 percent of businesses or organizations will face a power outage within the next 12 months. Inclement weather, accidents, unusually high demand, and other unforeseeable events can all disrupt the power we are used to having at our everyday disposal. From a quick momentary flicker to serious damage to power lines and the electrical grid that can causes an outage days or weeks long, it is important to be prepared for anything. With storm season in full swing in North America, it is imperative that you take time to prepare your business for a power outage. Here’s the chief reason: approximately 44% of power outages are caused by storm-related events and weather-related outages have doubled since 2003! These disruptions can be frustrating, troublesome, and in some cases scary. As a business owner, it is your responsibility to make sure employees and patrons feel safe and your business can continue on if a power outage happens under your roof. This can include taking certain measures to minimize disruptions to communications, business systems and offering additional safety measures for those in your business such as egress systems. Below is a list of four ways to ensure the safety of those in your building and also maintaining your business continuity.

  1. Keep Visibility: With traditional lighting gone, you will want to make sure you have several ways to maintain visibility throughout your business. Do not use candles of any kind, as they are a fire hazard and with so many other options available on the market today to provide light without electricity, you shouldn’t have to rely on this outdated choice. Photoluminescent emergency egress systems are an excellent choice to keep visibility throughout a power outage, offering improved luminosity and increased luminance duration. They are also inexpensive to install and require virtually zero maintenance beyond periodic inspections for 25 or more years. Several ways to improve visibility throughout the building with the use of photoluminescent emergency systems include:
    • Egress Path Markings: The IBC and IFC require the application of luminous egress path markings to steps, landings, and handrails to provide building occupants superior visibility of an exit enclosure’s physical dimensions. When applied according to IBC and IFC guidelines, the markings dramatically improve the two most important aspects of an evacuation: timeliness and physical safety. You can apply egress path markings to steps, stair landings, and handrails to help ensure that evacuation or simply moving throughout the building in a power outage goes smoothly.
    • fourways-main-three Exit Signs: These signs and symbols serve as critical guideposts for building occupants as they navigate a building’s emergency egress system. Photoluminescent emergency exit symbols should be applied in accordance with the IBC and IFC. Options like the Glo Brite® PF100 and PM100 Exit Signs are visible at 100 feet, and designed for wall, flag, ceiling or conduit mounting.
    • Demarcation Lines: Demarcation lines establish the perimeter of landing areas and can be wall-mounted, floor-mounted, or both. Even if your building is in a state that has not adopted a version of the IFC, by not applying luminous markings to landing areas, obstacles, and doors it will increase the chance that when a power outage strikes that those in your building could potentially become injured and evacuations will not go as planned. Using a photoluminescent demarcation product you will ensure your building occupants are aware of exit paths and potential trip and fall hazards.
    • Flashlights: Having plenty of flashlights available in an easy to reach location that all employees are aware of is also a great addition to your plan to maintain visibility during a power outage. Ensure you have extra batteries within arm’s reach of your flashlight station should they need them.
  2. Prevent Slips and Falls: It is highly recommended that any aisles, hallways, exits, and entrances are kept clear and unobstructed to avoid tripping and falling during a power outage. The use of non-slip tapes, stair treads, and non-slip adhesives will also provide additional safety during a power outage. Depending on your state regulations, non-slip adhesives and stair treads may be required, but even if not they will dramatically help prevent the risk of slipping and falling in low visibility situations like a power outage. If you have uneven ground, unstable surfaces, or the potential for water to be on the floor make sure you have taken extra precautions to apply a grit tape or anti-slip tape to those areas because in a power outage that area will become extra dangerous if walked upon. With lack of visibility, people generally are at a higher risk to potentially trip or fall because they are not able to see their surroundings as well. By adding stair treads, you can easily help prevent a fall for someone not seeing that last stair or slipping from water spillage in a kitchen or bathroom area.
  3. Communications: Communicating without power might seem like a difficult feat, but if you are prepared in advance you will feel at ease when failure strikes. FEMA recommends:
    • Installing at least one landline telephone and developing a 1-800 phone number for employees to call to receive regular updates.
    • Developing a plan for server or Internet access with backup power outside of the affected area. An option would be to install an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to back up your servers or identifying a partner business in another location to manage your website orders and inquiries depending on your needs.
    • Develop a secondary means of information gathering in addition to cable or other television services. This could be through the NOAA Weather Radio with single area message encoding (SAME) and downloading a severe weather alerts app for your mobile device.
    • Install surge protectors to all important equipment such as conferencing and audiovisual equipment.
    • At least one battery-power radio should be in an area where all employees are aware of its location in case of emergency.
  4. Backup Power: Ensuring backup power sources are in place for items such as security and building and delivery support systems should also be in place. And in order to prevent losses and maintain revenue-generating activities make sure you have created a plan for recovery or continuity of business activity. Depending on your building or place of business, you may consider purchasing a generator to power critical equipment during a blackout. Generally, if you have a place of business in a larger facility, the building will have emergency generators for critical building support systems such as emergency lighting, elevators, fire sprinkler pumps, and fire-life safety systems (be sure to check with your building owner if you are renting a space). If your facility has a permanently-installed generator, ensure it is regularly maintained and serviced, protected from possible flooring, and you have arranged service and multiple fuel vendors. Red Cross explains to make sure it’s rated for the power you think you’ll need and that you know how to operate it safely. If you have a generator, install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your business and outside sleeping areas. Incorrect generator use can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. The detectors will provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.

As a building or business owner, it is up to you to ensure the safety of those visiting your establishment. It is also in your best interest to implement power outage safety best practices to ensure your business is able to continue their operations to the best of their ability should a power outage strike. Due to the constraints on government addressing the needs of the most vulnerable after a disaster, it is your responsibility to be prepared to respond to your business’s needs. It is also worth mentioning that not all power outages are caused by storms – at peak usage times, electricity demand from homes, schools and businesses can overwhelm the system. Follow our tips to be prepared for any type of power outage that may strike your business. Doing so will not only increase the safety of employees and customers, but it will help you remain in business after disasters such as a power outage strike. Maintaining business continuity is important because when you are able to continue operations after a disaster, you also improve your community’s ability to recover.

Additional resources in power outage preparedness planning are:

Department of Energy
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)
Ready Power Outage
Ready Business

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