Business Continuity Analysis - Communication During Power Failure

As the world gets ever more hungry for power, resources are depleting while the climate is changing and large storms become frequent, power outages and massive problems on the grid all over the world will start to rise. While massive power outages will bring a lot of problems, companies will strive to continue some level of operation. And to achieve it, they need to communicate - both internally and externally. And massive power failures dictate special analysis of the telco backup resources. Here is the analysis and recommendations:

What happens to the telco infrastructure during a massive power failure?

  • Every advanced telco device not on UPS will stop functioning immediately, including: routers and modems, PBX, faxes, cordless phones, ISDN phones
  • The advanced telco devices supported by UPS will fail within 90-180 minutes after the power failure, since the same UPS is also supporting PCs and other equipment
  • The alarm systems which usually have their independent battery pack will stop operating after approximately 24 hours
  • The gsm telephony base stations are mostly supported by UPS, with only the largest ones supported by generators. Therefore, they will fail within 100-200 minutes, after the power failure.
  • The only remaining telco resources after approximately 4 hours of blackout will be
    • The advanced telco devices supported by a diesel generator
    • Public Switched Telephony Network (PSTN) lines - they are powered over the telephone line by the telco PBX, which in turn is powered by a generator
    • Islands of mobile telephony in the cells created by the Large Mobile Telephony base stations
    • Satellite communication devices, like VSAT or IRIDIUM phones - these are a very temporary solution, since they are strongly dependent on battery capacity

Although diesel generators are not expensive, companies avoid them for all except the largest company locations for the following reasons:
  • installation brings a wealth of problems for companies, since they need approval from fire inspectors,
  • the company must adhere to safety and pollution regulations to install the generator
  • maintenance costs cannot be ignored, especially when the normal grid is
  • the diesel generators can become unreliable in very hot or very cold days
  • generators can become dysfunctional due to neglect or external influence, for instance, the other company sealing off the exhaust pipe during remodeling

Recommended Measures
  • Place diesel generators at all locations where it is possible - don't go overboard, just use a small device with 6-8 hours of anatomy and internal tank. After 10 hours of operation, you can create a controlled shutdown for a refill.
  • Have dedicated "red phone" PSTN line at each location or several of them attached to a simple phone device (with no external power requirements) , which can be used during normal operations, but which will become the primary means of communication during a longer period blackout.
  • Include the threat in your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and define proper steps to be taken in case of occurrence
  • Test the BCP with the power failure scenario.

Naturally, the measures are simple and well known, and naturally, few managers will accept the first two until the first power failure event.

But the Business Continuity Manager can do the following: Create a
BCP test scenario in which it will be forbidden to communicate via any advanced telco devices, and present the results of the BCP to Management. The results will not be good, so be prepared to take the fire!

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