Since the beginning of the year, businesses have been warned to ensure that they have contingency plans in place; and insurance companies consider the risk real enough to exclude grid failure from their clients' insurance policy coverage.
As a result, the question of what network redundancies are in place should the grid have a widespread failure has emerged as a primary concern for many businesses. If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of having well-established contingency plans for the worst-case scenario rather than scrambling when a crisis strikes.
Being prepared for the worst
With careful planning, it is possible to build network redundancies that would keep networks connected in the aftermath of a total blackout. For example, when considering data centres or data centres of network partners, a decision should be informed by the resilience and reliability of the data centre.
Further, the foundation of redundant data centres should be based on multiple back-ups to the redundant systems around power, and multiple back-ups to the uninterruptable power systems UPS’s, cooling, sustainable security, and environmental monitoring on resilient building management systems (BMS).
Power protection can be achieved through a range of techniques, including static switch protection at multiple redundant power distribution units (PDUs), online UPS support systems, 48 V DC power systems and generators.
A UPS battery autonomy can be used to bridge the time between the utility loss and automatic backup generator start. The times are designed so that single failures would not result in a loss of power. This provides engineers with sufficient time to react in case of single problems.
Other power considerations include having a minimum number of N+1 generators with fuel reserves for at least 24 hours, and fuel re-fill contracts should be in place. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that include the delivery of lower operational risk, increased redundancy in design, increased security, and greater resilience should also be considered.
Of course, should a complete grid failure plunge the country into a total blackout, as with any national failure of that magnitude, there will be uncertainties that cannot be answered ahead of time.
For example, the location, extent, and duration of any potential unplanned power outages will likely be unclear until power networks and the relevant authorities publicly disclose their plan to restore the grid. These factors would be outside of any organisation's control and affect customer impact and network availability.
However, that does not mean that contingency plans are for nought. Having robust plans in place would help maintain the core of fixed and global networks in the event of planned or unplanned power outages, and, at the very least, help minimise disruption to businesses.
Flexibility and adaptability
As organisations look to their business resilience measures, it is important to remember that a business continuity strategy is not cast in stone. Rather, it must be an evolving plan that reflects the changing needs of the organisation and the environment in which it operates. This must involve assessing its current resilience against recognised industry best practices and relevant standards, while at the same time analysing where business continuity measures are successful and where improvements are needed.
By continually re-evaluating the plan and its associated technologies and processes, an organisation can more easily adapt to change. This agility will be critical in the future business environment, whether the next black swan event comes from a global pandemic, national grid shutdown, climate-related event or something we cannot predict.
While we cannot guarantee that the country won’t be faced with the unthinkable of a full blackout in the future, organisations can and should start strengthening their resiliency and business continuity now.
N+1: The 'N' stands for the minimum number of independent modules required for a system to operate. The ‘1’ in this equation refers to the number of additional components that act as an independent backup that allows the system to operate as intended if one of the modules within 'N' fails.
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