ESKOM POWER CRISIS: HAVE YOU CONSIDERED A NATIONAL GRID FAILURE?
May 29, 2015
Renier van Vuuren
Load shedding has become an everyday reality for South African businesses, but of greater and more recent concern is the increasing possibility of a national grid failure.
Although this possibility seems inconceivable, the recent media coverage on rolling blackouts combined with press statements made by Eskom have businesses countrywide contemplating the potential impact of such a national outage.
Many businesses are struggling to deal with the business disruptions caused by the current small power outages due to load shedding.
With a total failure of the grid potentially becoming a reality for everyone in South Africa, many companies are looking at what precautionary measures, if any, can be taken to sustain their businesses during a crisis like this.
What a national grid failure would look like
The duration of such a catastrophic failure is largely unknown, with very few case studies to refer to. The utility service provider is also not releasing useful data on potential scenarios and timeframes.
The time to restart the grid after a national failure is also debatable, with no clear definition, could take up to 2 weeks to re-establish full capacity.
The impact of such a grid failure is largely unknown and therefore also the extent to which any business will be in a position to bridge that failure.
Renier Van Vuuren, MD Disaster Recovery South Africa adds: “Based on our interactions with clients and industry professionals, we believe businesses are making for provision for an average of 3 days of full production processing during an outage.
After three days, they will scale down to a limited processing model to prolong essential services utilising the remaining resources.
They are ensuring resources including diesel, water and cash are sufficient for this time period.
The general view is any longer outage would basically place the economy on hold, business to business and business to client transactions would cease until power is restored.
Organisations left to make their own plans
Although there are many organizations preparing to mitigate the effects of power disruptions, this happens in isolation.
There is no consolidated, regional or national plan to address the crisis across government, local council and private sector.
Resources are not pooled and there is no economies of scale in stock piled resources as it is all collected in isolation.
There is very little data available on the plans of most businesses providing critical services to government and private sector clients.
Each organisation is “doing their own thing”. Most don’t publicise their strategies and plans which makes collective planning extremely complicated.
This will always result in “the weakest link rendering the chain useless.”
Looking at an example:
An organization’s data centre may have sufficient diesel to last for months on end.
However if the local telecommunications exchange fails after a few hours, the services from the data centre become unreachable.
This example is also true for all national or regional essential type services, water, sanitation, telecommunications, power and transport.
It is very important to note that it is also incumbent on all businesses and service providers to consider their contingency planning in the face of such an Incident.
Whilst it is easy to throw ones hands up in such a situation and down tools there are measures that can be taken.
Steps you can take
Issues that need to be considered vary from business to business but could include:
Set up a crisis management plan to cover as many scenarios as possible.
Implementing and clearly communicating to staff , the company policy and associated expectations of them should a grid failure occur. This could include a work from home or “hot desking” policy.
A clear communication strategy, including multiple communication methods of contacting staff members, specifically designed not to rely on national carriers. Communication before, during and after the crisis would be vital to all staff.
Defining the scope of “limited processing” i.e. identifying the critical business processes that should continue if limited processing capacity is available at this time.
Businesses that have generators should have a clear strategy in terms of what can be done to limit the load on their existing generators, namely which systems can be shut down, what unnecessary resources can be limited in their use.
Creating a well formulated plan to ensure access to diesel, water and other supplies that would be in limited supply at this time.
What would or can the business do in the event of a total “non-trade” or Idle situation?.
Communication to all the businesses stakeholders from shareholders to clients and staff should be a regular and consistent as to the status of the Crisis Management.
Lastly, but equally important – each business must carefully determine their recovery plan in the case of a national grid outage. What will your strategy be in terms of getting your business back on track, accounting for and processing any events that have been missed in this period, for example the payment of annuities, salaries, debtors etc.
Every business should engage a provider of disaster recovery and business continuity (“DR/BC”) services that understands business continuity planning and crisis management, and assists companies in the formulation of their own individualised business continuity plans.
In addition, the provider of such DR/BC services, being equipped with full disaster recovery and business continuity facilities, should continually conduct scheduled recovery tests to evaluate its recovery procedures and processes.
A good provider of these services will be well equipped to deal with ad-hoc power interruptions (load-shedding) and should continue to provision services and backups without any significant or adverse implications.
It should also be a given that such a provider is equipped with a redundant power supply to avoid any down time and should employ contingency plans that are continually reviewed, tested and updated.
Renier concludes: “we are now approaching winter months which will drastically increase the power demands on an already frail network.
“This in conjunction with the aging power generation infrastructure, is likely to expedite prolonged outages, far worse than we are currently accustomed to. Organisations need to plan now!”