The 2021 fire season has already begun, and with record-breaking scope and damage. As a protective measure to minimize wildfire risk, utility companies that power the Sierra Nevada are periodically shutting off power to regions and communities experiencing high wind, lightning storms, and other severe weather. NV Energy just announced its first planned outage for the season, starting at 4am on Sunday. Are you ready?
As many business owners know, an hour, afternoon, or even several days without power equates to money lost. For small businesses that rely on busy weekends or being able to make credit card transactions throughout the day, a preventive power outage that happens during peak hours and the resulting loss of income is potentially devastating.
Whether your business is located within territory impacted by PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) events, NV Energy’s Public Safety Outage Managements (PSOM), or another utility company’s upcoming planned power outage, you may be affected by planned power outages during the 2021 fire season, and in the years ahead.
Planned power outages may happen in your business’s neighborhood regardless of imminent threat of fire. Therefore, it is important to have alternative power solutions in place when your business is without power, so it can safely stay open to serve customers or clients. This blog post is intended to serve as a resource for small- to medium-sized retail/service businesses. We will present some solutions that won’t take up storage space, require round-the-clock observation, or need frequent replacement. You don’t have to purchase an emissions-producing, gas-powered generator in the event of a PSOM/PSPS. With careful planning and systematic consideration of your business’s needs, you can implement more carbon-friendly solutions.
If your business requires refrigeration or falls into the food service industry, please see this link for more information.
Before any planned power outages take place, it is imperative that small businesses have external nightly backup of Point of Sales (POS) data and Inventory reports to a secure device (like a USB Flash Drive) or server. This information will be of the utmost importance when making insurance claims or filing for loans if any physical damage should happen to your business, or you experience losses due to evacuation.
When planning for a power outage, it is helpful to decide what your most important services/devices are. Most businesses rely on:
- A device that can run the POS system (maybe more than one, depending on your business demand)
Solutions for these needs are outlined below. Of course, many of these solutions will require funds, some that may exceed a business’s capacity. PG&E Customers may qualify for rebates and incentives (click here for more information). Before implementing these solutions, the business should think about the following questions:
- How much business will I lose if I close for a planned power outage? What if it lasts for four hours, a day, five days? Multiple times a year? Over the course of many years?
- Is it more cost-effective to close during planned power outages? Weekdays versus weekends?
- What is your business’s budget to implement solutions today that will continue to serve the business for 5+ years?
Solutions for Powering POS during Planned Power Outages
Initial Utility Outage Set Up:
Businesses can purchase an uninterrupted power source (UPS) to power the router and main POS device when utility power is initially lost. This system is intended to allow the business to have a graceful closing procedure or choose to switch over to an alternative power supply without data loss or damage to a device caused by a hard shutdown. For more information on how to use a UPS, follow this link. UPS batteries need to be replaced every 5-7 years.
Solution for Loss of Internet/Network Drops: Mobile Hotspot Set Up
You can purchase a mobile hotspot with unlimited data for your business. Costs incurred with this system (and a monthly subscription) are the upfront cost of the hardware. Since the hotspot needs to have unlimited data, we recommend adding the hotspot device to an already existing business plan with AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile, or the like. Once the hardware is purchased and a data plan has been installed, the only necessary step for staff is to plug the business’s router into the mobile hotspot. Now the original network will automatically connect to any devices that were connected before the Internet Service Provider (ISP) network failed. For more information on connecting a hotspot to a wifi router, follow this link. Make sure the mobile hotspot is also plugged into the UPS.
While using the hotspot, any unnecessary devices (phones, watches, unused laptops/tablets) should be disconnected from the network and your business’ wifi should be password protected. Intermittent tests should check if the ISP network has been restored.
Long-Term Utility Outage Set Up:
For multi-day rolling blackouts, businesses can purchase solar powered Portable Power Stations (PPS) that can be charged by a wall plug-in while utility power is connected, solar, or a car 12V outlet. By purchasing two PPS, your business can use one PPS to run operations while the other PPS is charging with solar panel attachments. This ensures that your business always has a charged power source. The PPS is best used to power the POS system, the router (if there is a network outage, the Mobile Hotspot will be engaged), and to charge laptops/tablets. During PSPS or PSOM events, laptops or tablets should be used for all business purposes as they consume less power than monitors and towers.
A collection of battery-powered or solar-charged lanterns and flashlights should be readily available to maintain adequate lighting. Any unnecessary routes or staircases should be closed to the public and to staff out of safety concerns. Businesses may consider altering hours to only be open during daylight hours.
Heating and Cooling
While small battery-powered heaters are available, heating large indoor spaces is difficult during a power outage. Since most planned power outages will happen during the warmer, fire season months, alternative heating options may not be necessary.
During the hot summer months, staff should have access to handheld battery fans, drinking water, and limit physical exertion to maintain a healthy body temperature.
Recommendations for devices mentioned in this blog:
While planned power outages are stressful, they are necessary to help protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our natural world from utility caused wildfires. If your business needs more support during planned power outages, please contact Sierra Small Business Development Center. Good luck & stay safe!