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Guest Column - January 2006

Don’t Be Powerless

Emergency Planning

By Eric Johnston


Power outage. These two words can damage the recreation and sports industry on a number of levels. When the lights go out, customers can turn from annoyed to frustrated and finally to scared, while employees struggle to continue operations under an intense amount of confusion. And even major stadiums with seamless emergency plans can be ill-prepared for the "real thing."

Although the 2005 hurricane season churned out several high-powered storms, affecting the recreation industry's productivity, business owners in any part of the country are prone to power loss due to a variety of circumstances. From dangerous weather to the threat of a terrorist attack, the nation's power grid remains fragile and often unreliable for many business owners that depend on uninterruptible power. And since many recreation centers and arenas also serve as storm shelters, the need for dependable backup power is an even more critical issue for facility owners and operators.

Severe damage caused by hurricanes has resulted in significant delays to restore critical infrastructure and power sources to affected regions as communities slowly prepare to rebuild in the wake of the storms. The energy crunch and frequent power outages leave many feeling powerless, but this issue affects recreational businesses in a more severe way. The loss of power can mean the loss of business, productivity, and for many recreational business owners, the safety of thousands of customers and guests.

Major entertainment venues such as football stadiums must plan accordingly and include backup power resources into their business continuity strategies. And now that so much of a stadium's infrastructure is tied to a main computer system, it is even more important to ensure a constant flow of supplemental power throughout the facility, no matter how long the grid is down.

Another vital component of emergency preparedness and response is communications. With the loss of electricity, a large portion of telephone networks stop working. During blackouts, communication efforts are more difficult when trying to maneuver thousands of people from a large venue. Major entertainment venues and recreation facilities run exclusively on computers, and during times of severe power loss, the safety and security of these facilities becomes hindered. Backup power generators can put entertainment venues back in control by providing business owners with the power they need when they need it most.

With reliable backup power generators, business does not need to stop, however emergency preparedness drills should be practiced with city compliance on a quarterly basis in the event of severe weather or other emergencies.

The loss of power at an aquatic center or swimming facility can be the most detrimental. Losing power directly ties to the centers' water filtration systems, which are critical for proper maintenance and water purification and cannot afford to be insufficient. Water filtration systems need to be operational to protect swimmers in the water. More so than any other recreational facility, swimming centers are more susceptible to injuries and subsequent liability claims from individuals using its pools. Facility managers need to spring into action at a moment's notice in most crisis situations and cannot lose momentum even if the power goes out. The need for industrialized backup power is crucial and should be part of your emergency planning.

Backup systems

Emergency backup systems currently available on the market make it possible for recreational business owners to have continued access to electrical service during power outages. As recreation and entertainment venues' power requirements have grown over the years, so have the capabilities of today's backup power generators. Where once generators were used primarily to support emergency systems, today's versions are tasked to power everything from water-treatment facilities, food and beverage operations, security measures, and high-speed Internet systems.

During the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million customers in the Northeast, many sporting facilities completely lost access to a potable water supply, including running water for sanitary facilities. And for an industry based solely on the repeat business of sporting enthusiasts, customers' essential needs must not be compromised despite a major power failure.

Operators of recreation centers and entertainment venues should understand that a successful backup power system is more than just a generator itself. A high-quality transfer switch and enough fuel are just as critical as the generator. Transfer switches are the components that transfer the distribution of power from the traditional source to the generator when the power is interrupted or knocked out entirely. And since today's sporting and recreation centers have operations that are dependent on large computer systems, having a reliable transfer switch that immediately links over to the backup generator is one of the most critical elements to the entire system.

In every part of North America, facility managers face the frequent possibility of power loss. Although the first priority always will be to provide safety to customers, sporting venues that can provide continuous high-quality service will experience the highest satisfaction marks. For this reason alone, facility managers should consider an uninterruptible backup power system that has the capability of providing an adequate level of emergency power.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Johnston is vice president of Americas Generators, a leading supplier of commercial-grade backup power generators, transfer switches and fuel for the hospitality industry. For more information, visit www.gopower.com.