When power utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) shut off the power to millions of customers in October of 2019, the lights went dark not just in homes but across the Northern California economy. In an effort to prevent wildfires sparked by fallen power lines in “red flag” conditions (high winds and extreme dryness), PG&E took the unprecedented step of turning off electricity for days at a time across huge swaths of Northern California, including a large chunk of the Bay Area. The shutdowns may just be the first of many in the years to come.

The crisis has already had a massive impact on California’s economy. Analysts projected that the cost of 8,000 businesses losing power for 12 hours would top $150 million. The unprecedented nature of these rolling blackouts makes the full impact difficult to estimate. “It’s kind of like throwing a pebble in a puddle. There’s all these ripples in terms of indirect impacts to the economy,” a modeling expert told the San Francisco Business Times.

For businesses, these kinds of events are more than unavoidable inconveniences or risks. They’re textbook examples of the need for an effective mass notification system for power outages.

Sustaining Business Continuity When the Power is Out

If you don’t live in California, it may surprise you to know how few of the businesses impacted by the blackouts were adequately prepared for the days ahead. Many customers received conflicting information from PG&E. Some got alerts with only hours to prepare — and some missed the alerts entirely. And despite the preventative blackouts, some fires did break out and threaten the very areas that were without power. To make matters worse, many of these businesses had no way to quickly and easily update employees as the situation evolved from hour to hour. Had they implemented mass notification systems, they and their staff might have been spared some of the panic and confusion.

The California blackouts and wildfires are an extreme example, but outages are a fact of life everywhere, created by storms, heat waves, natural disasters, infrastructure failures and cyber attacks. Few businesses can function without power for long, and blackouts both minor and major can interrupt supply lines, slash productivity and cost you important opportunities. How long can your business afford to be without power?

Blackouts rarely happen with advance warning, and the nature of grid load means they actually usually happen when power demands are at their peak – exactly when businesses need power the most. So what can you do? Make sure you have a plan in place, starting with communications.

Staff Communications During a Power Outage

The first thing you’ll need is a way to contact your team as soon as the outage begins (or as soon as a planned shutdown is announced). Tell them what’s happening with the business and keep them updated on critical developments. Traditional methods like email are slow at best and may not even work if the outage knocks out servers or networks. What you really need is a dedicated emergency notification system (ENS).

Give the command center the ability to quickly and easily reach specific groups, like people who work at impacted sites, or in specific departments. Best-in-class tools like AlertFind enable you to define groups based on role, department, team, location or other criteria. When you need to send an alert, simply can choose the relevant groups with the click. This ensures that people only get messages that are meant for them, and aren’t bombarded by irrelevant communications.

In power outages, you may need to contact staff only in the impacted area. Some emergency communications tools have “geofencing” capabilities that allow you to quickly target your alerts simply by outlining the affected locales on a map. You’ll also need a tool that can send alerts to multiple channels (such as text, voice, email and push notifications) simultaneously, helping to ensure that people get urgent communications no matter where they are and what they’re doing.

The success of your post-outage response and recovery depends on how well you plan. Minutes matter when your teams are in the dark. You should have prewritten messages ready to go to the right groups at the push of a button. In many cases, one-way communications aren’t enough. In addition to getting the word out, you’ll also want to get word back from your people in the field. An emergency notification system with two-way capability will help you get answers to questions like: Is the power on at secondary sites? Are the roads safe? Are key suppliers or customers also crippled by the outage? Who should call them?

Plan to engage your staff in the business recovery. Decide if they should go to work or stay home, and whether they have a way to perform their roles without power. Consider how they would run the business with a backup generator or alternative power and how they should communicate with suppliers and customers. How should they prioritize systems? For example, what is the power-up and power-down best practice for your server room? Can an average office worker do that or does it take a specialist? Some questions can’t be answered until you’re in the thick of things but the more you plan ahead, the better off your business will be during and after a crisis.

Fast, multichannel business communications are what will set you apart when a blackout hits your company. Having a well-coordinated plan will help you avoid disruption, minimize revenue loss, maintain productivity – and keep the lights on, even when the power goes out.

Our experts can show you the power of a mass notification system for your business. Try a free demo of AlertFind.