Planning, technologies key for emergency preparedness

Wisconsin State Farmer


With September designated as “National Preparedness Month” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, the Diesel Technology Forum is working to promote awareness and encouraging governments, businesses and individuals to take the necessary steps to prepare for emergencies.

Preparation key to success

In any phase of an emergency or disaster — preparing in advance, responding during the event or recovering afterwards — we must be able to count on proven technologies to get the job done no matter the conditions or circumstances. From portable light towers and mobile pumps, to powering backup generators that give hospitals and operating rooms electricity within seconds of a blackout, to debris-moving construction machines, diesel technology is the foundation of readiness, response and recovery efforts. This is due to diesel’s proven reliability, durability, efficiency, safety and performance.

Emergency power needed

Access to continuous reliable electricity is key to protecting public health and safety and to minimize economic losses, and provide basic services.  Power outages mean not only darkness, but also lack of refrigeration, water, and constraints on mobility. Being able to pump gasoline and diesel fuel during times of loss of electrical power requires backup generators.

States along the eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast offer programs that offset the purchase of an emergency standby generator or the necessary electrical switchgear to accept a mobile generator.  Most recently, Maryland, New York and New Jersey adopted programs to help retail fuel locations and emergency shelters to purchase this necessary equipment to keep motorists on evacuation routes fueled, allow first responders to refuel and keep the lights on at shelters.

A large back-up generator will kick in should power go out.

Being unprepared is devastating

For businesses, interruptions in electrical power can be devastating - even in the short term.  Ensuring reliable backup power systems are in place now will save time, money and minimize economic losses when emergencies do occur.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, weather related blackouts cost the economy billions every year.  In 2012 alone, the U.S. suffered 11 separate $1 billion disasters.  According to a Washington Post report, grid reliability in the U.S. is deteriorating, and in the past five years, the number of power outages that effect 50,000 or more people has doubled.

Portable generators are widely available in many sizes and fuel types including gasoline, diesel, natural gas and propane.  No matter the fuel type, all need to be used with safety as the top priority.

Tips and advice

To help businesses and cities protect critical facilities during a power outage, the Diesel Technology Forum has outlined several considerations for using backup electrical power:

  • Safety first:  Electricity is dangerous.  Always follow manufacturer manuals and heed safety warnings.  Connections, installation and servicing of generatorsshould be left to licensed professionals.
  • Assess the needs:  Identifying a facility's critical loads to protect is an important first design step that determines generator size and fuel options.  Make smart fuel and technology choices, considering things such as if natural gas pipeline service were to be disrupted in your community.
    • Consider response time for standby generator:  Frequent outages of a few seconds, a few minutes or more can have significant cost implications to businesses.  While some other generators take up to two minutes to engage, diesel-powered generators are uniquely able to provide full load power within 10 seconds of a grid outage.
    • Have sufficient fuel storage:  Diesel fuel's energy density and the engine's high efficiency allow for smaller fuel storage facilities compared to other fuels, which provides a cost savings to owners.  Make sure that you have sufficient fuel storage capacity onsite for an extended outage.
    • Maintain your equipment:  Proper maintenance through service contracts ensures maximum reliability and uptime.  As required by electrical and safety codes, standby generators should be "exercised" periodically to ensure they will operate as designed in the event of an outage.
    • Recheck your system and set up:  One of the great lessons of Superstorm Sandy was that even the best generators won't work underwater when subjected to extreme flooding.  Check unit location for protection from flooding and ensure you use the proper gauge extension cord. 
    • Never operate a generator in an enclosed area:  Never use generators or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices such as grills or heaters inside a home, in a garage, in an enclosed area or outside near an open window.  Carbon monoxide fumes can build up and poison people. 
    • Check your load:  Have you added any new demands or critical circuits to protect?  If you’ve added new computers or other power-hungry devices, consider updating switchgear. 
    • Follow the rules:  If you’re a business operating a stationary unit, make sure you have the proper permits and records on operations.
      • Contract rental power:  If installing your own standby generation is not feasible, consider a rental generator power for use in the event of an extended outage.