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Charlie discusses how the UK power supply crisis could affect your organisation.

A couple of weeks ago one of the lead stories in the news was the fire at Didcot B Power Station, a gas power station in the South of England. The station, which within the last couple of days has just been brought back on line, now has the power output of about 350MW; roughly half its normal capacity of around 700MW. The issue of power supply to the UK has been in the news for the last couple of days. The spare power capacity within the UK a couple of years ago was 17%, has now been reduced to 5%, and this may lead to the possibility of loss of power or brownouts.
A brownout is an intentional or unintentional drop in voltage in an electrical power supply system intentional brownouts are used for load reduction in an emergency. They can have a number of different effects on electrical systems, which can vary from the lights dimming, to burnouts of electrical motors. Equally worrying is that it can affect digital circuits in unexpected ways, such as make an electric motor run backwards, or it can cause them to produce false readings.
The management of power supply within the UK has been a creeping crisis for many years. The governments have failed to invest in new power supply, lacking the political will power to build new power stations, which are usually controversial. Cracks in a number of nuclear power stations have put some stations out of action leaving the country with limited spare capacity. The further loss of generating capacity coupled with a very cold winter, leading to increase in demand, could cause brownouts to occur or areas to lose power.
So what should we as business continuity people be doing?

1. Perhaps the first action is to ensure you have an up to date inventory of your existing standby generators and any generator contracts you have in place. Once you have identified where you have standby generators, look at when they were last run and how well they are maintained. It is also important to check when the calculation was made on the size of the generator to be purchased and is the generator meant to power the whole building or only parts of it. Often generators were purchased and several years later the power requirement for the building has increased making the generator inadequate to power the whole building. You need to check whether the generator has been tested “on load” powering the whole building with all the normal machinery up and working so you can make sure it can power the whole building. Often generators are tested to see if they will start and run but they are not actually tested “on load”.

2. Once you have made sure that your generator can power the whole building or at least the critical bit, it is worth checking back through your BIA to check the critical services are being hosted in the building, or does the building have a standby generator for historical reasons and no priority activities are being undertaken in the building. There may be an opportunity to move higher priority activities into the building to take advantage of the protection the generator gives.

3. Once you have established which of your sites have standby generators then you can look at the impact off loss of power or a brownout would have on your operations. This may lead to business cases needing to be written and funding granted for the installation of standby generators. The only caveat on generators, I once heard a statistic that up to 50% of standby generators don’t work when they are call to work in an emergency so make sure that yours is well maintained!

4. Earlier in the bulletin we talked about the possibility of having generators on call but hot having a permanent one on site. Trying to hire on the day of the incident may be difficult as, if the incident is widespread, then everyone may be trying to hire them and the number and types you require may not be available. If you think hired in generators are a solution then you may consider several issues; having them “pre-plumbed”, the power requirements of the building before the incident occurs so you know the size of generator and on the day of the incident all is required is the call to be invoked and for the generator to be plugged into a socket and then the building is connected to power.

One of our many roles as business continuity managers is to “horizon scan” and identifies new threats. Possible power issues have been highlighted on the news and it is our role to review the threat for our organisation and suggest appropriate mitigation measures.

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