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Updated 29 Sep 2020

How safe is your business when the power is off?

Protect your business against risk by understanding the three spheres involved in a risk assessment.


Gideon Serfontein, 09 November 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

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South Africa faces a future of erratic power supply. It is important for businesses to draw up a list of priorities and to plan for blackout scenarios.

Good planning includes a detailed list of what systems need to be kept running when the power is off. Some security features will have to be forgone to maintain other, more critical, security points, or to keep their businesses functioning.  

Related: Considerations for buying a generator

When helping a company understand and protect itself against risk, there are three spheres of assessment:

Physical risk

A physical risk assessment focuses on a business’ premises, location and access.  The location of a business, whether it is isolated or in a mall in close proximity to other businesses, will affect its vulnerability when there is no power. Factors such as artificial lighting required to detect threats will vary in different locations.

Entrance and exit points need to be well managed in the event of a loss of power. These points are particularly vulnerable as most businesses, especially in retail, design their entrances to create easy access for customers.

Back-up power supplies keep monitoring tools, such as close- circuit television (CCTV) running during blackouts or you can assign additional personnel to these points to watch for any suspicious activity.

Alarm systems are also designed to assist with after hours access control. Businesses should check that all back-up batteries on alarm equipment, electric fences and gates are tested and in good working order to ensure that alarms go off as intended in an emergency and that armed response is signalled.

If there is a limited back up power supply, business owners need to decide which physical security systems can be decreased or alternated to manual or manned resources.

A more permanent adjustment to mitigate physical risk for retailers in particular is to redesign their store layouts so that high-value items are not in high-risk, low visibility areas in the store. 

Human risk

The human risk for businesses extends to people who intend to commit a crime or who take advantage of a business’ vulnerability during such instances. 

Businesses can mitigate risk by implementing searches and physical signing in and out for staff and suppliers that access the businesses during the blackout period. Alternatively, back-up power can be used to maintain security systems such as CCTV.

However, these solutions can have limited success and a longer term and more effective approach to ensure that staff are well vetted and assessed for their security risk before they are hired.

Related: South Africa joins the top 10 list of solar power countries

Variable risk

There are risk factors that business owners can unintentionally fail to assess properly because they vary significantly and are seemingly intangible outsourced areas of businesses.

  • Insurance - most insurance contracts take into account existing security systems and features. Business owners need to consult their brokers to establish the terms of their insurance if these systems are down due to a power outage, ensuring they are not underinsured and that their premiums are up to date, should anything go wrong, they will be sufficiently covered.
  • Armed response - It is necessary to clarify what the procedures are during a power outage and what the armed response company is able to do or not do, including what services they offer, such as additional security guards, cash handling, and crisis training.
  • Cash risk – load shedding happens at different times, the amount of cash on hand can vary significantly.  Businesses need to clearly address the risks they face around cash. For example, if they keep money in a vault or device, they need to clarify whether that needs power to function correctly. Possible solutions include using a licensed cash collection security company to manage the movement of cash, and keeping as little cash on the premises as possible.

Related: Commercial property development opportunities & risks in Africa

Though there are many different types of risk that businesses face when they are forced to function without power, assessing and addressing these risks in advance and establishing and communicating mitigation strategies to necessary parties can empower businesses to function as securely as possible, even when the lights go out.

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About the author

Gideon Serfontein

Gideon joined SBV Services in February 2015 after serving on the SBV Board as a Non-executive Director for 11 years during which he chaired both the Board and Audit and Risk Committee on separate occasions. His expertise in Risk is underpinned by more than 22 years’ experience in the financial sector, where he has held several key executive roles. For the last seven years Gideon served in various roles for Barclays Africa Group Ltd: GM: Group Credit, Chief Operations Officer: Group Risk and Head Citizenship. From 2000 to 2007 he was the Director of Operational Risk Services at the Standard Bank Group Limited. Gideon holds various postgraduate qualifications including a postgraduate diploma in Management Sciences from Rijks University in Leiden, The Netherlands and a Master in Development Finance from the Stellenbosch University Business School. He is a member of the Institute for Directors (SA), a qualified Chartered Director (SA) and has been a part-time lecturer in compliance risk management at the Law Faculty of the University of Johannesburg since 2001.

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