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Tips on power system protection

This tip will help ensure that you are doing everything possible, within your budget and available facilities, to have the power you need.

No matter how large or small your organization is, you can’t survive without the availability of clean and uninterrupted electrical power. Loss of commercial power is probably the number-one concern of most data center, facilities and IT managers. A program to protect power sources is a key part of any business continuity and disaster recovery program. The following tips will help ensure that you are doing everything possible, within your budget and available facilities, to have the power you need.

Let’s begin by considering the provision of power outside your building. Commercial power lines generally enter your building from the street or from power lines running in the vicinity of your building. Feeder lines bring the power from utility poles or underground conduits to your building. Speak to your local power company representatives to learn how they can ensure that your power remains available following a disruptive incident, such as a severe storm. Some options include building a second power feed into your building, obtaining power from an alternate substation, converting overhead wire feeds to underground service using solid conduits to protect the power lines and, if possible, having power delivered from more than one power grid.

Once you’ve considered how to preserve the availability and delivery of commercial power, you’re ready to examine the options inside your building. Let’s start at the point where commercial power lines enter your building. Typically, there will be large terminals with associated circuit-breakers and other protective devices. Ensure that these devices are located in a secure and locked area to prevent unauthorized access to the power equipment. Have your facilities staff check them regularly, e.g., at least twice a month, to ensure they are operating correctly.

Two key assets that protect your power supplies are lightning arrestors and grounding. Ensure that your building -- whether you own it or are a tenant -- has suitable lightning arrestors and that the grounding bars are buried several feet into the ground to properly dissipate the lightning’s effect. Ensure that the grounding bars and wiring are installed according to local building and electrical codes, and that equipment you use conforms to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards. Check lightning protection and grounding regularly, along with other power supply components.

Since commercial power can vary in terms of voltage and current, be sure to install monitoring devices to identify and track power anomalies, such as surges, sags and spikes. Install surge suppressors, line monitors, line filters and spike arrestors to help flatten the peaks and valleys of power levels, thus ensuring that the power delivered to your data center and office areas is clean and stable.

Internal electrical wiring must be at the correct wire gauge rating for the required applications. This will prevent fires and damage to your equipment.

As power is distributed from the main power supply in a basement to offices and users, the power distribution units (PDUs) must be correct for the applications, and should also conform to all local building and utility codes. Ensure that all power equipment you use is UL listed.

Several options for emergency power are available, ranging from batteries to uninterruptible power systems (UPS) to external diesel and/or natural gas generators. Key points to remember with these specialized systems are:

  1. Have the emergency power equipment properly sized to the expected load (with capability to provide added power in times of greater demand).
  2. Ensure that power lines and connectors to the emergency power systems are properly sized, are UL listed and conform to local building codes.
  3. Regularly test emergency power systems to ensure proper operation.
  4. Provide sufficient primary and alternate supplies of fuel (e.g., diesel fuel or liquid natural gas) to maximize operational time.
  5. Ensure that the switchgear that transfers from commercial power to backup power (and back) is properly configured and regularly tested, and conforms to UL and local specifications.
  6. Train facilities staff on emergency power system operation or have one or more electrical contractors with sufficient expertise on call to handle your power requirements, especially in an emergency.

Additional points for power protection include: 1) ensure that the people responsible for your power supplies are properly trained and certified, and have sufficient hands-on experience with the systems you will be using; 2) obtain documentation (both electronic and hard copy) for all your power systems and have multiple copies available in secure locations; 3) have copies of all wiring diagrams available in electronic and hard-copy formats, with multiple sets in secure locations; and 4) in addition to power monitoring equipment, install alarms that notify facilities staff of a power problem so it can be addressed quickly.

About the author: Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCI, has more than 24 years of experience in business continuity management (BCM) as a consultant, author and educator. He has completed dozens of BCM consulting and audit engagements that address all aspects of a business continuity management system (BCMS) and which are aligned with global standards including BS 25999 and ISO 22301. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter and a member of the BCI Global Membership Council. He can be reached at

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