How to Maintain Security When Electricity Fails

With security systems now running on enterprise network backbones, power protection is becoming critical. Campuses should develop solid power backup and disaster preparedness plans.
Published: October 24, 2010

In today’s world, campuses have become completely reliant on the availability of electrical power. They cannot function without computers, servers, telephone systems, security systems and all of the peripheral devices that support them. All of the devices have one thing in common — they require clean electrical power to operate.

Because electrical power and operations are so tightly interwoven, power problems cut directly into an institution’s ability to keep its mission-critical systems fully functional. Failure of this infrastructure can create operational and financial havoc, not to mention major security issues.

America’s Infrastructure Is Old and Vulnerable

Power failures happen in a variety of ways, ranging from the travails that Mother Nature can bring to bear, to unexpected construction accidents brought on by careless workers. On top of that, rolling brownouts or blackouts strike various parts of the country during high peak demand cycles. No matter the cause of a power failure, schools, universities and hospitals must be ready when disaster strikes. It truly is not a question of if a power failure occurs; it’s merely a question of when.

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Power protection solutions have been around for several decades now, ranging from small, inexpensive surge suppressors to giant uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) designed to support an entire facility. The reason these protection devices were designed is that electricity supplied by power plants is not totally reliable in terms of quality and availability.

Here in the United States we are accustomed to having decent power quality, yet our power delivery infrastructure can be worrisome. Consider that most of the nation’s infrastructure was installed 40 to 50 years ago. A recent article on CNN’s Web site echoed these concerns, stating that power problems cost businesses and consumers more than $119 billion annually. Other estimates have placed those costs even higher.

Let’s go beyond the cost and inconveniences infrastructure failures can bring and think about liability and safety issues. Security systems are installed to make sure assets, employees, faculty, patients and students are protected, but when the power goes out and security systems fail, bad things can happen quickly. Security cameras go down. DVRs are no longer recording. Access control systems can be rendered inoperable. When these things happen, campuses are putting their students, patients and staff at risk.

The Public Assumes Campuses Are Safe

When a student or teacher enters an educational institution, the assumption is the student and faculty are protected. When an employee goes to work every day, the employer has an obligation to provide a secure work environment. When a constituent enters a government office, safety and security is presumed.

All of these institutions are exposed to liability if a security-related incident occurs. When the security system goes down, the exposure and liability is magnified. Power protection must be an integral part of an installation. Adequate power protection  protects the instituion from possible liability and safety issues.

How to Overcome Objections to Back-up Power

When a campus security professional encounters push-back from other stakeholders regarding power protection, there are several strong arguments that can be used to convince them that a UPS is an absolute necessity. Here are a few objections and responses:

OBJECTION: UPSs are too expensive.

RESPONSE: UPS pricing is at an all-time low, and the cost of not having a UPS when a problem occurs far exceeds the expense. In addition, it’s more expensive to replace damaged equipment than to buy UPSs. The cost of power protection can easily provide a positive return on investment (ROI) during the first power outage.

OBJECTION: Our power is good 99 percent of the time.

RESPONSE: That 1 percent represents three days, 15 hours and 36 minutes during the year. Also, one never knows when a power problem will occur, and if Murphy’s Law comes into play, outages will occur at the most inopportune times. 

OBJECTION: Our buildings are backed up by a generator.

RESPONSE: Generators produce dirty power, especially during start-up, and can prevent systems that require a clean signal from operating properly. Another consideration is that many building generators only support emergency lighting and fire alarm systems. In addition, a generator can be a single point of failure. A better solution is to use a generator along with a UPS, so the single point of failure is eliminated.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series