How to Prepare for Possible PG&E Power Shutdowns

Business Interruption power outage

PG&E has warned California residents and businesses that it may shut down the power grid for as long as five days for large portions of the state when there are high-wind conditions during the dry fire season.

That’s because PG&E’s infrastructure was found to be the cause of several recent California wildfires.

PG&E has sent letters to residents and business in the Central Valley, Bay Area, Sacramento area, Foothills, Northern counties and beyond informing them that “if extreme fire danger conditions threaten a portion of the electric system serving your community, it will be necessary for us to turn off electricity in the interest of public safety.”

With the specter of multiple-day power outages, all businesses need to be prepared for keeping their operations going and preventing losses that may not be covered by insurance. For almost any business today, a loss of power for an extended period of time could destroy its ability to conduct operations.

Just think how difficult it would be if you lost access to your computers, which are the nervous system of any business today. If you have no power, your operations could be shuttered for all intents and purposes.

There a number of steps you can take to make sure your businesses is resilient and can keep functioning during power outages, especially if they last a few days:

Identify business processes that will be significantly affected

Since you have the luxury of knowing in advance that there could be a long-lasting power outage, you can take steps now to identify business processes that will be greatly inconvenienced by the power outage. These processes will differ from business to business, but once you put them all down on paper, it will be easier for you to make a plan to keep those functions going. 

Create a continuity plan

Once you’ve identified those processes, you should brainstorm on how you can keep them going without your typically reliable power supply.

In order to get back to normal operations swiftly, employees should know how to respond to the power outage.

Create a step-by-step list of things, with proper designation to employees in the event of an outage. Set up emergency numbers in sight for employees to call, including your electricity supplier to get an estimate on when power may be restored.

Set up a back-up power system

To make sure you can continue operating, you should consider investing in a back-up generator. With a generator, you can continue to run critical aspects of a small business during a power outage, but they must be operated safely.

Generators need to be used with adequate ventilation to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never plug generators directly into power outlets, as this can injure utility workers. Never use a generator under wet conditions, and always let them cool off before refueling.

Cloud storage and MiFi

If you have not done so, you should secure a means of paperless document and file storage on the cloud. If there is a power outage and an accompanying surge, you could quickly lose your data. Plan ahead with a cloud server.

You should also prepare a system of personal wireless hotspots, or MiFi devices, so that even when the internet goes down, you can finish important tasks requiring web access, such as setting up an e-mail auto-response.

Make a survival kit

Creating an inventory of supplies for times when the power is out can help protect your employees and operations. Consider having on hand:

  • Cash
  • Medical supplies
  • Extra gas
  • Portable phone batteries for devices
  • Water
  • Canned food
  • Flashlights
  • Rope and other basic items.

The kit should be kept in an easy-to-reach place, and employees should be trained on where it is and how to use it.

And invest in business insurance

The best way to minimize the financial blow is to have the proper insurance in place. A multiple-day power outage could really crimp your income stream and, if you lose money due to your inability to operate, the typical business owner’s policy won’t cover lost revenue.

But, a business interruption policy would. These policies will reimburse you for lost revenues due to a number of events, including “service interruption” due to power outages and other utility services interruptions.

The important caveat is that the interruption was not caused by any of your own faulty equipment or wiring. But if the power company is shutting down power, any losses you incur should be a valid claim.

Business Growth Can Lead to Increased Risk

Business Growth

As the economy continues expanding, companies need to be careful about properly managing their risk, according to a report by Advisen Inc., an insurance research and data firm.

Increased activity typically means proportionally additional losses. For example, more trucks driving more miles will inevitably result in more accidents. However, there are other kinds of risk that can actually increase more than the jump in business activity. We look at three such areas here.

Workplace safety

Workplace injuries can increase as firms hire workers that have less experience. Typically, when employers expand their workforce to meet the growing demand for their products and services, the number of workers’ compensation claims tended to rise disproportionately.

New employees with less experience typically are more likely to sustain a workplace injury. At the same time, experienced staff may look for new job opportunities as compensation begins to take priority over job security.

What you can do: One option is to hire a temporary-staffing firm to fill positions. In these relationships, the client company is not responsible for covering temporary workers.

But you should be aware that OSHA requires what is known as the “dual employer doctrine”, under which temps are considered employees of both the agency and the company using them. And you are also not off the hook for providing them with a safe work environment and safety training specific to their job.

And remember: Check to make sure the temp agency has workers’ comp insurance.

Litigation increases

The risk of being sued rises as employees make mistakes due to pressure on existing staff to increase production, and again when less experienced workers are added to the payroll.

Your workers may be putting in extra hours. But fatigued workers make mistakes. For example, some of the worst industrial disasters have been in part the result of tired workers. Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill all involved decisions made late at night or extremely early in the morning by people working long hours.

In addition, inexperienced employees are more like contribute to incidents where outsiders are hurt.

What you can do: Conduct thorough interviews, check references and carry out background investigations when appropriate to avoid hiring people with known problems. You are responsible for the actions of your employees.

Also, make sure that you are not overworking your staff. Provide proper breaks so they can rest, especially in jobs that require attention and strength.

Labor law violations

Trends in litigation and regulation make it more likely that companies will be charged with labor law violations. Employees are braver now about filing complaints, thinking they have a good chance of landing a new job if they are fired.

In addition, the federal and many state governments have cracked down on wage and hour law violations.

As well, some companies may try to add to their worker pool by using more independent contractors, in order to avoid hiring new workers. But the federal government has mounted a serious crackdown on companies that inappropriately classify employees as independent contractors.

What you can do: Pay close attention to your payment systems and audit your systems to make sure you comply with wage and hour laws as well as meal and rest break laws.

The takeaway

The lesson is to increase your vigilance in managing your risk and review your existing risk management strategies for gaps due to business growth.

You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of increased claims:

  • Maintain high standards when hiring new employees, such as conducting thorough interviews, checking references and, where appropriate, investigating backgrounds;
  • Properly train and supervise new employees during a growth phase;
  • Consider your current policies on temporary workers, and weigh the benefits of a flexible workforce against liability issues that temporary workers pose;
  • Revisit your policies about independent contractors, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to ferret out misclassification;
  • Pay attention to overtime rules to ensure compliance with the law; and
  • Keep shareholders informed as much as possible about any mergers or acquisitions, including terms of the transaction.

Property Coverage for Businesses with Changing Needs

Some businesses have very stable property insurance needs as the value of their non-building assets, equipment and inventory doesn’t vary much during the year.

Other types of business experience wide variations in the value of their property. Florists tend to carry more stock around Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day than they do on most days of the year. Many retailers earn most of their profits during the holiday shopping season, so they keep larger amounts of stock on hand during that period.

Warehouses and manufacturers may have variable amounts of product on their premises with vastly different values. Depending on the flow of orders, the value of their stock may change greatly from month to month, or even more frequently.

A traditional property insurance policy will not meet the needs of businesses like these. To secure enough coverage, they would have to buy an amount large enough to cover those times when values are at their peak. But, for much of the year that would leave them paying for more insurance than they need.

Businesses in this situation may want to consider two coverage options:

Peak season coverage – This coverage is appropriate for firms that can predict those periods when their values will increase. Examples are florists, toy, electronics and clothing retailers during the holiday season, school supply stores in late summer, and costume shops in October.

The coverage form states the location and type of the property, the amount of additional insurance, and the period during which the higher amount applies. For example, it might show that insurance on goods for sale will increase by $100,000 from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. This gives the business plenty of coverage for the busy time, but saves it from having to pay for all that coverage the rest of the year.

Value-reporting coverage – This coverage is for those firms with asset and inventory values that fluctuate all year long. It requires the business to buy an amount of insurance large enough to take care of the peak periods.

But, the insurance company will charge a lower initial premium than that amount would ordinarily require. The firm then must make periodic reports of its values to the insurer. Depending on the option chosen, this will mean sending reports monthly, quarterly or once per year.

Again, depending on the chosen option, the reports can show values as of the end of each business day, week, month, quarter or year. After the firm has submitted all of its reports for the policy period, the insurance company determines the business’s average values and calculates the final premium.

Firms that choose value-reporting coverage must take care to submit the required reports on time and accurately. The form gives the insurance company the right to reduce claim payments for losses to the property when reports are late.

The insurer can also reduce a loss payment if it finds that the policyholder underreported its values. The limit of insurance does not automatically increase if the reports show values higher than the limit; the firm must request an increase in coverage.

The takeaway

Any company with variable property values would be wise to consider purchasing one of these types of coverage. With some careful planning, a business can limit its insurance costs while still getting the coverage it needs. Call us if you have questions about this type of coverage or to discuss whether it’s appropriate for your operations.

The Risks of Staff Using Personal Devices for Work

Bring your own device

As more employees use their personal mobile devices for work companies are being forced to confront the resulting security implications as well as how the devices are changing behaviors in the workplace.

That’s according to a report by Littler Mendelson, an international law firm specializing in employment and labor law. The report highlights the dangers and benefits of allowing employees to use their personal devices at work.

As more people buy smart phones and tablet computers and bring them to work to use to perform company tasks, businesses have responded by implementing policies that allow employees to use their personal mobile devices to create, store, and transmit work-related data.

This trend is generally referred to as “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD. Some companies even allow employees to replace their work laptop computer with their own personal PC, which is sometimes referred to as BYOC.

The report highlights two broad categories of risks personal devices in the workplace pose: data risks and behavioral risks.

Data Risks

The report looked at five information security threats posed by BYODs:

Lost or stolen devices – According to study by the Ponemon Institute, 39% of respondents reported that their organizations had sustained a data security breach in 2011 as a result of lost or stolen equipment. Put simply, if your employees use their personal mobile devices for work, your company data is at risk if they lose their gadget.

Malware – In February 2012, Juniper Networks reported a 155% increase from 2010 to 2011 in the volume of malicious software created for mobile devices, and malware targeting the Android platform rose 3,325%.

Friends and family – A report by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network found that in 27.5% of suspicious activity reports filed by depository institutions between 2003 and 2009, the identity theft victim knew the suspected thief, who was usually a family member, friend, acquaintance, or an employee working in the victim’s home.

Links to the cloud – A number of apps for mobile devices allow users to store their documents and data using cloud-based storage, the report states. Employers must evaluate whether the sites provide sufficient security if the employee plans to store company information using the apps.

Security breach – If you have a breach in security, it could expose your company to government enforcement actions, civil penalties and litigation. There are both federal and state-level statutes and regulations on the books that govern storage of personal information in addition to contractual obligations, which increasingly are including responsibilities to safeguard against data breaches and the consequences for failing to do so.

Behavior issues

There is another downside that has not been much discussed. In the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, the Ethics Resource Center reported that active social networkers (employees who spend 30% or more of their work day participating on various social network sites) are more likely to believe that certain questionable behaviors are acceptable, such as:

  • “Friending” a client or customer.
  • Blogging or tweeting negatively about your company or colleagues.
  • Keeping a copy of confidential work documents in case they need them in their next jobs.
  • Taking a copy of work software home for use on their personal computers.

In addition:

  • Wage and hour implications can arise from using a mobile device to conduct work while off the clock.
  • Both state and federal laws require employers to reimburse employees for expenses that arise in the course of doing their jobs. Once employees are using their own devices it raises questions of whether the employer is required to reimburse for the cost of the device, the data plan and monthly phone bill.

Littler Mendelson includes in its report a slew of recommendations for employers. When drawing up policies on BYODs, the employer should:

  • Decide which employees should be permitted to participate in a BYOD program. You may want to exclude senior executives whose data is more likely to be relevant in litigation, research and development employees and sales staff, who may store client information on their devices.
  • Create policies that address off-the-clock work.
  • Staff should know that if they BYODs the company must be authorized to access their devices for record retention or litigation holds or investigations.
  • Before allowing employees to use dual-use devices to perform work, companies should obtain their written consent to monitor the device, remotely wipe the device, install security software and copy data if necessary.
  • Follow good security practices.
  • Create policy barring friends or family from using the device.
  • Create a policy limiting the use of cloud-based storage.
  • Address safety issues, including a prohibition using the device while driving.
  • Your policy should include consequences for non-compliance.