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Hurricanes verse Brownouts: Which provides the biggest threat?

Written by  Bob Birdsong Tuesday, 13 September 2011 17:59

At the start of the Atlantic hurricane season each year, the media and weather forecasters consistently jump on the importance of disaster preparedness and recovery. Considering the trend of the last decade – it's not shocking that they focus on hurricanes and the damage they can cause to both homes and businesses. And the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season is no exception. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 12 to 18 named storms are predicted, of which six to 10 can become hurricanes, sometime between now and the end of hurricane season, November 30, 2011.

While the media and forecasters are focusing on hurricanes and tropical storms, however, there is another threat just as dangerous – yet less sexy and therefore ignored by the media – for businesses during the hot summer months: brownouts. Rolling brownouts – or partial, temporary reductions in system voltage when a utility provider cannot supply electricity due to high demand – should be an ongoing concern during the summer – especially on the U.S. Atlantic coast. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Florida is among the states with the highest per capita energy usage in the country. This is largely due to the state's consistent need for air conditioning the majority of the year. However, the risk of brownouts is strong along the coast.

Businesses unfortunately have a tendency to focus on just hurricane preparedness during the summer months, but it is just as important to be aware of the possibility of rolling brownouts. As a result, generators are therefore imperative for businesses of all sizes to protect against hurricanes and potential power outages – especially during the summer months.

According to state recommendations – particularly in Florida, buildings 55-feet or higher, data centers and any company housing information or employees all need to have a generator in place. A business analysis can help companies determine what it would cost them to be without power or closed for a day, two days, a week or more. This number should be compared to the cost of purchasing a generator to prevent the loss of power and business closures. Dollar for dollar, a generator is one of the best investments a building or business can make to increase its value and to protect its worth. And between the Atlantic storm season and potential for brownouts, the generator will probably pay for itself very quickly.

Unfortunately, as of late, complacency in the minds of business owners has become a major issue and is extremely dangerous. It usually takes a hurricane to hit a market hard for people to understand the importance of having a generator and maintaining it correctly.

At my generator company, which is based in Florida, after a hurricane or big storm hits, the company typically receives upwards of 200 calls from businesses requesting a generator. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, our business continued to be strong for approximately 10 years. We expected the same result following Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but the run was cut short by a challenged economy. The problem is that it can take two to four months to get a new generator installed because of order time, construction and project design. This timeframe is only lengthened when there is a mass rush of calls.

Time is money and with the doors closed, your business is not making money. Similarly, if you are the only business in town with power, you can do very well.

Bob Birdsong is president of OK Generators, a leading provider of emergency power generation systems and service to customers throughout Florida. Prior to joining OK Generators, Birdsong spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy as a Nuclear Power Plant Electrician. Birdsong is a considered an expert in his field, having authored and taught the "From Sizing to Service" module as well as advanced curricula for the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA) Power Generation Schools. Birdsong is a graduate of the University of New York, Regents College, with a B.S. degree in Electrical Technologies.