Weathering a Natural Disaster

While it is impossible to determine when or where the next natural disaster will strike, you may have a good idea of the type of natural disaster your geographical region may encounter. For example, earthquakes near a fault line, tornadoes in the central and southeast United States, hurricanes and storm surge in coastal areas, and wildfires in arid climates. However, there is one natural disaster that can happen anywhere it rains: flooding, which happens to be the most frequent, deadly, and costly natural disaster in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Weather, water, and climate-related events cause an average of approximately 650 deaths and $15 billion in damages per year. (

California, Arkansas and Missouri have already experienced severe flooding in 2017. And, with the Atlantic hurricane season recently underway, there is likely more to come. During a hurricane, coastal areas are at risk for storm surge, extreme winds and flooding from rain. Once the storm makes landfall, inland areas in its path are at risk for high winds, thunderstorms and flooding.

Mitigating the Impact of a Natural Disaster for Mission-Critical Facilities
In 2008, article 708, Critical Operations Power Systems (COPS), was added to the NFPA 70 National Electrical Code (NEC) to provide mission critical facilities with a higher level of protection, so that in the event of an emergency, these facilities will still function. The NEC mandate applies specifically to vital facilities that, if destroyed or incapacitated, would disrupt national security, the economy, public health and/or safety, such as hospitals, police and fire stations, emergency call centers, and government facilities involved in national security. In some cases, the mandate is applied to a specific area within a facility which is the designated critical operations area (DCOA), and in others the entire facility will be designated as a critical operations area.

For these mission critical facilities or designated critical operations areas within a facility, NEC mandates that a risk assessment be performed to:

1)    Identify potential hazards (whether from a natural disaster or human error),

2)  The likelihood of their occurrence, and

3)  The vulnerability of the system.

Based on the risk assessment, an emergency operations plan must be developed and implemented to mitigate potential hazards. An important part of the risk assessment is evaluating the positioning of critical equipment. For instance, are backup generators elevated above ground so that it is safe from water in the event flooding? Are the pumps supplying fuel to the generators also located above ground so that in the event of flooding it is still possible to fuel the generators?

Beyond these mission critical facilities, other organizations such as schools and office buildings, that are affected by or in potential danger of natural disaster, should consider implementing similar measures to prepare their infrastructures. However, implementing some of the protective measures included in the NEC mandate can be very expensive. How can companies that are not required to comply with NEC 708 determine which of these measures are most worthwhile?

Two excellent resources published by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) provide comprehensive information on flood mitigation strategies.

  • Protecting Building Utility Systems from Flood Damage (FEMA P-348, Edition 2 / February 2017)
  • Floodproofing Non-Residential Buildings (FEMA P-936 / July 2013)

Developing an Electrical Emergency Action Plan
The inclusion of electrical disaster recovery in NFPA 70B provides a foundation for the electrical infrastructure recovery. One objective of this article is to provide guidelines on developing an electrical emergency action plan (EEAP) and examples how it saved or could have saved facilities from excessive downtime. The purpose of an EEAP is to understand the electrical assets, critical operational infrastructure, risks, and short- and long-term power restoration execution plans. Some of the benefits include:

  • Reduces time to restore short and long-term power quickly and safely
  • Reduces uncertainties when a disaster occurs
  • Increases understanding of electrical assets, available emergencies services, replacement market availability
  • Being able to know when a disaster occurs, the immediate financial implications

Whether a facility is deemed mission critical or not, having an EEAP in place is critical to safely and efficiently restoring operations. The development of an EEAP may seem overwhelming. Below is a step-by-step guide created by Schneider Electric Services to help customers be prepared in the event of an emergency.

1) Define the criteria of an emergency.
Lighting strikes on service entrance transformers and flooding of backup generators clearly indicate operational "states of emergency." Does nuisance tripping on circuit breakers or power quality issues qualify as emergencies? When productivity is impacted, it can be confusing as to when a state of emergency should be declared. The EEAP should clearly define what constitutes an electrical emergency.

2) Identify electrical equipment that is critical to business operations.
On the single-line diagram, trace the power from the incoming utility source to every piece of electrical equipment feeding critical business operations. Perform an analysis on each of these critical assets to include availability in the market, lead times, and a plan of action when the equipment is no longer functional.

For most critical assets, it is necessary to understand cost of temporary rentals, logistics, contacts, and testing requirements for both temporary and permanent power restoration. For example, a special transformer's spare parts may not be available in the primary market, i.e., the local electric municipality. Therefore, it is a good practice to determine available suppliers, acquire budgetary pricing, and lead times on the secondary market.

3) Select outside vendors early and pre-negotiate commercial terms and conditions.
In the aftermath of a disaster, it may be too late to negotiate pricing or lead times for the required resources to restore electrical power. Without pre-negotiated emergency service contracts, companies may suffer from overpricing and insufficient support. In addition to pre-negotiated normal and emergency rates, due diligence should include estimated response time and procedures for large-scale project coordination (see Step 4). The selected vendor(s) should have the depth and experience to handle major disasters.

4) Define internal and external responsibilities.
he EEAP should clearly define "who has responsibility for what" in restoring power to the facility. They also have details on customer’s responsibility such as providing electrical one line diagrams, energization procedures, and coordination and communication activities between multiple vendors through a central contact. Third-party vendor(s) should also provide a clear procedure on how they will approach an emergency at a facility including assessing damage, mobilizing resources, appointing a project manager, and establishing a command center. All parties involved should fully understand the safety plan that is put in place.

5) Define the equipment and service scope.
This section will further define the equipment and associated work scope. For example, an electrical distribution service company can define the equipment scope to be from the utility service entrance (13.8 kV) to low voltage switchgear (480 V). The associated work scopes include equipment installation and commissioning in both temporary and permanent scenarios.

6) Specify the emergency contract terms.
Emergency contracts should be written for a specific time period, with an expiration date. It is also recommended to add expiration dates to the EEAP plan for self-auditing purposes.

7) Include the latest contact information.
This section of the EEAP should include the latest contact information for anyone (internal or external) who has a defined responsibility in restoring power due to an emergency.  

After the Flood: Safety is Priority #1
Water and electricity don't mix. Attempting to restore power to water-damaged equipment can be deadly. In addition to developing (or updating) an EEAP, it is recommended that you:

  • Be aware of the most current industry codes and standards as well as those of authorities having jurisdiction. NFPA 1600 is the overarching standard and primary document on disaster recovery, emergency management, and business continuity. NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, includes a specific chapter on disaster recovery and emergency response. In addition, the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) has published "Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment" and has published a guide for "Evaluating Fire- and Heat-Damaged Electrical Equipment."
  • Know the effects of water damage to electrical equipment. In the event of flooding or water damage, understand which equipment must be replaced and that which can be reconditioned. In accordance with OSHA/NFPA 70E, all services should be performed by qualified personnel who are familiar with the equipment’s operation and construction. NEMA has published the "NEMA Policy on Reconditioned Electrical Equipment," which provides valuable guidance on reconditioning electrical equipment.

While natural disasters cannot be avoided, their impact may be somewhat lessened if businesses are better prepared. Flooding is the most frequently occurring natural disaster in the United States and the impact of a flood on individuals, communities and businesses can be devastating. Restoring electrical power is a crucial part of the recovery process. Regardless of the industry or facility type, having a detailed Electrical Emergency Action Plan is critical to enable efficient recovery efforts. Businesses should look to the multiple standards and recommendations from NFPA, NEC, OSHA, and NEMA to serve as a guide to help them understand and develop an effective contingency plan in the event of a natural disaster.

Chad Kennedy is the director of Industry Standards for Power Equipment at Schneider Electric. With more than 26 years of experience, he is responsible for managing company activities relating to product and application standards for power equipment, renewable energies, energy storage, and microgrids. As a member of NFPA who serves on several committees with NEC and NFPA, including Code Panel 13, he possesses an understanding of customer needs for NEC-compliant installations in health care, critical power, data center, and redundant control system design.

1. NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace
2. NFPA 1600: Standard on Disaster / Emergency Management and Business Continuity / Continuity of Operations Programs
3. FEMA P-348, Protecting Building Utility Systems from Flood Damage (2017)
4. FEMA P-936, Floodproofing Non-Residential Buildings (2013)
5. NEMA Guide to Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment

Posted on May 17, 2017

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