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Business electricity: surviving a cyberattack energy blackout

In the face of cyber threats to the National Grid, how can your business prepare for an unexpected blackout?

The UK must be prepared for terrorists’ cyber-attacks, including on the National Grid, the Chancellor George Osborne has warned. The impact of even a short blackout could be severe: a major blackout hit New York City in 1977 resulted in widespread looting, vandalism and violence (although the 2003 US blackout was less traumatic).

While sceptics might claim that such remarks are scaremongering to justify a spending hike on cyber security (an increase to £1.9 billion is envisaged by 2020), the rise of ‘hybrid conflicts’ played out in cyberspace as well as on the battlefield is inevitable. As Osborne remarked, businesses must play their part in countering the growing cyber attack threat.

Business energy tips for a blackout

While the current threat is apparently posed by Islamic State (aka ISIS, IS, ISIL and several other monikers), a range of disasters could befall our business electricity infrastructure. A blackout or a power surge is very unlikely but a few simple and cheap strategies can reduce the impact.

Remember that the risk to equipment is actually greater when the electricity comes back on after a blackout as varying voltage as the system stabilises can damage unprotected electronics. A free and effective strategy is to unplug all electronics and wait until the power has been back on for a while before plugging them back in.

Minimum business electricity blackout preparations

It might feel overly dramatic to prepare an emergency kit but this modest investment could pay dividends should the worst happen. The basics include

  • Water – one gallon (4.5 litres) per day per person.
  • Food – canned or preserved food
  • Radio – preferably windup/clockwork but can be an old battery-powered model, provided you include spare batteries.
  • A flashlight – again, windupmay be preferable but there are a wealth of cheap, efficient LED options available (don’t forget the spare batteries). More costly emergency versions can be kept plugged in to ensure they are always charged and can automatically light up if the power cuts out. Head torches can be useful to keep hands free for other tasks. Candles are best avoided because of the fire risk.
  • A first aid kit – focus on the types of injuries that may result from stumbling around in the dark. Remember that any blackout will likely result in lots of accidents, meaning extended waits for medical treatment.
  • Tools – A wrench and pliers will be useful for turning off utilities.
  • Maps – of your city or local area to ensure you can find your way home.
  • Cash – Neither cashpoints nor cash registers will work in a blackout, and card payments are unlikely at best. Keeping the petty cash topped up is always best practice but can really pay off during a blackout.


SME energy surge/blackout advice

Once you have the emergency basics covered, consider other items that might limit the impact of a blackout or power surge.

  • An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) – can buy some time to save work on a computer if the power goes down, as well as offering some protection from surges.
  • A surge protector – is an expense but could more than pay for itself by protecting expensive equipment such as servers, cookers, fridge and hair-dryers.
  • Robust telecoms – Despite ever cheaper and better mobile technology, a land line could offer an important insurance policy, especially if you need to reach the emergency services. If you do decide to take the risk of going mobile-only, ensure you can charge your phone – clockwork chargers or other non-mains options might be a sensible precaution.
  • A portable generator – is expensive but could offer a way to keep your business running while your competitors are out. Customers will remember that yours was the only company left standing during a period of chaos. But remember that generators can be a tempting target for thieves so ensure that yours doesn’t go missing.

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