What if Chicken Little was right…would your company be prepared?

By Ed Schlichtenmyer, Business Continuity & Quality Manager,ImpactWeather – A StormGeo Company

On Sept. 1, 1859, a massive solar flare with energy equal to 10 billion atomic bombs rushed towards Earth, resulting in the biggest solar storm ever recorded. Known as the Carrington Event, this solar storm fried telegraph lines resulting in a loss of communication worldwide. Fortunately, people did not rely heavily on electricity during the 19th century.

If the Carrington Event occurred today, it would be a totally different story and could cost the global economy trillions of dollars and nearly a decade to recover. Even though we hope a modern-day Carrington Event never happens, it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.

In recent years, there have already been disruptive solar storms recorded that have knocked out power and communication at home and overseas. In March 1989, a geomagnetic storm left Quebec in the dark for nine hours, and the Bastille Day Event in July 2000, caused satellites to short-circuit and radios to blackout. The solar super storm of July 2012 was even worse and would have knocked Earth back to the dark ages if it made impact with the planet directly. (That event missed Earth by one week.)

Few stories have been reported about the significance of solar storm threats, but that is not stopping corporate America and utility operators from taking action to prevent these types of large-scale blackouts. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a report that will eventually mandate grid operators to prepare for space weather events of all types. While we wait for the government to strengthen the country’s infrastructure, companies can take action now to implement steps to prepare their operations and personnel ahead of the next (unpredictable) space event.

Keeping the lights on

An approach to solar storm preparedness can be likened to other large-scale power outages. The same steps that companies would implement if power was lost due to a hurricane or blizzard would similarly be covered in preparation for a solar storm. Below is an outline to help companies draft their power outage response plan:

SOLAR PLANNING:

·Draft a power outage response plan – This type of plan is critical because it lays out protocols for companies in case operations are shut down for an extended period of time.

·Identify crisis management team – The crisis management team should include individuals from various departments who will be a vital component in helping return the company to full operations, including IT, operations and corporate communications.

·Inventory resources, supplies and products – During a power outage, companies will not be able to purchase or order important supplies. Having a backup of supplies and products will ensure the company and its employees are prepared for an extended blackout.

·Communicate with key stake holders – Key stake holders are employees, board members, suppliers, vendors, contractors and anyone else who will be affected by the company’s outage.

SOLAR PREPARATION:

·Review corporate policies on power outages – Companies need to discuss paying full-time employees, medical and disability leave and the protocol for recovery.

·Exercise an emergency notification system; include all employees and key vendors – Emergency notification systems are a significant tool to communicating with employees once the power is restored, especially when thousands of people are trying to make phone calls at once.

·Conduct a power outage table top exercise – Managers must practice what they preach. Round up the crisis management team to practice the power outage plan.

SOLAR IMPLEMENTATION:

·Monitor updates from NASA and the government – NASA will be monitoring any solar storms that could disrupt the country. Pay close attention to these alerts.

·Determine critical energy needs – Does your company need a generator to stay operational, or is it safer to shut down the facility all together? Now is the time to make that decision.

·Facilitate a walkthrough – Managers should shut down operations, release non-emergency personnel and make any final plans with vendors and suppliers.

·Place vendors on standby – This is important for recovery efforts. Once the lights come back on, what do you need to return to full operations?

·Evacuate personnel – Employees will want to be with their families if a power outage will occur, especially if it’s for an extended period of time. Release all employees to prepare for the storm.

Solar storms may be among the latest and least predictable weather threats to companies, but that shouldn’t deter executives from fighting back with a well thought out preparedness plan.

About: ImpactWeather is a full-time weather department for hundreds of corporations globally, providing site-specific forecasting, monitoring, alerting and business continuity tools that empower clients to make the smartest business decisions when faced with weather-related challenges. For more information, visit www.ImpactWeather.com.

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