Preparing for a National Power Outage

Following Scottish Continuity’s webinar in December 2022, we gathered some of the thinking around how to prepare for a loss of electricity. There are a lot of theories taking place around situations such as a National Power Outage or planned power outages across the grid to cope with a reduction in electricity generation. While these different causes might very well lead to different impacts and consequences, all of us should consider how we as individuals, how our families and how our organisations and colleagues can prepare for a loss of electricity, even without the current focus on particular issues, a loss of power can happen at any time and be massively disruptive.

What is set out below is opinion based on our professional expertise in crisis and continuity planning and is intended as an aide memoir for points to consider.



  • GB power infrastructure is about average amongst more developed European economies.

  • Concerns around malicious actions are increasing e.g. attacks on Nord Stream pipeline and increased cyber-attacks on power generation organisations.

  • The electricity infrastructure is dependent on multiple elements all working in coordination across the network. Regular reporting suggests that things are currently “not good.”

  • provides a current view on demand/supply and sources in the UK.

  • Electricity generation is heavily reliant on gas.  The gas market is in turmoil following the Russian attack on Ukraine.  This has deepened market tensions and uncertainty ahead of the coming winter, not just for Europe but also for all markets that rely on the same supply pool of liquefied natural gas (LNG).  The Rough storage facility has re-opened and is now full, but supply risk is greater than normal.

  • To restore capacity from a cold start will require engineers who can’t be everywhere and, second, may have their own problems to address.


  • In normal times, peak demand requires “surges” (which are supplied in 10% bundles). Outages may occur at peak times as these surges cannot be guaranteed.

  • Adopting a “planned outages” approach (which intentionally remove demand from the national grid) means that the likelihood of unplanned outages decreases.  Apart from not being given any warning, unplanned outages are particularly problematic because they may cause a total GB-wide crash. If that happens, the current estimate is that it would take three days to restore 50% of the power, and that would be the low-hanging fruit, with many areas experiencing 7 days with no power. This is known in GB as a “national power outage” (NPO) and internationally as a “black start”.

  • Planned outages can be conducted with “plenty” of notice and will be done by postcode.

  • This could be up to 20% of demand/rationing (relatively extremely high).

  • Given the unprecedented nature of these outages, teething problems are anticipated – approximately 2-4% may not receive any warning OR may get told they will be in an outage and then not see any impact.

  • Any resumption of power will put electrical infrastructure and electrical items under strain, and at best, resumption plans cannot be guaranteed, and at worst, the restart of a particular area may mean damage to the grid or devices plugged into the grid.

  • Clear and timely communication will be key.


  • No indications of a severe winter, with current colder weather still about average for in the UK.  What about winter 2023/24 – what can we do now to be more resilient for ALL winters?

  • Often in European winters, there can be a band of high pressure which forms over the continent (inc. UK) for 3-to-4 days. This means no wind and increases the likelihood of overnight frost. Even though this wouldn’t necessarily be a cold snap, it would greatly increase pressure on gas.

  • If Europe does experience a severe winter, it will increase gas demand and increase the risk of supply limitations to the UK.


  • Britain has 2MW of coal generation capacity. These were meant to be decommissioned but have been extended. But equipment is “on its last legs”, and further renewal is not an option.


  • By the end of the decade, Britain will only have Sizewell B. All other reactors will have been decommissioned without the option for extension (they’re not able to extend them any further than they already have done).

  • New reactors (Hinkley and Sizewell C) will not be online by that point.

Renewables (Wind, Biomass, Imports, Solar, Hydro)

  • Renewables are vulnerable as they have been built to withstand only “light” resiliency issues.

  • Wind power generation needs to be reconnected for a time before it can provide any generation.

  • Hydro power generation is limited to water availability.  Would be used to jump-start the other turbines but is insufficient to provide national power capacity.

  • Storage of renewable energy is limited.



  • Food – storage and cooking.  If seven days, have you got enough to last 7 days and to cook it on?  If cooking on gas stoves, consider fire and carbon monoxide safety.

  • Water.  Flushing toilets is the priority.  How does your water get into your home/workplace?  Outside water butts or fill a bath now and have it available 24/7?

  • Drinking water.  The local authority may provide it but can’t rely on it immediately.  Do you have sufficient bottled for a few days?  If using tap water may need to boil – look out for public health notices/messages.

  • Heat/light.  Torches (spare batteries), wind-up torches and candles.  Power packs for mobiles and laptops are fully charged.  Hot water bottles.  Warm blankets and clothing are readily available.  Water pipe insulation.

  • Medical.  If on medication, what if the pharmacy is closed?  Do you have seven days’ worth?  If medical equipment requires power, does it have a battery pack?  If the medication requires refrigeration, check that it is safe to use after a period of insufficient cold.

  • Money (cash) for essential shopping in case the contactless option fails.

  • Transport.  Garage pumps likely to be closed, trains cancelled.  No traffic lights or streetlights.  Limited emergency services and recovery trucks.  Recommend keeping fuel tank relatively full and essential travel only.

  • Communications. Mobile networks may work, but more likely won’t after a few days.  Cordless phones require power to work.  You will be able to use an Analogue phone if the phone network is still available. This is because your telephone line takes its power from the local telephone exchange, which has backup power available.  Mobile or battery-powered radio may be able to receive Radio news for updates (currently, Radio 2 and 4 provide emergency information on FM).

  • Wi-Fi.  Routers will fail without power.  An option is a Router UPS – multiple options online from £50 – £150.

  • Essential information – hard copies?  Anything that might be needed and is currently on the cloud (telephone numbers through to electronic diary). Do you need a hard copy?

  • Home safety.

  • Fire risk if naked flames.  Consider a bucket of water to hand.

  • Slips, trips, and falls risk increased if limited vision.  Tidy everything up now to reduce hazards.

  • Priority Services Register by SPEnergy Network available for the more vulnerable.  Details at: Priority Services Register – SP Energy Networks

  • Leave a light on to know when power is restored, but unplug sensitive equipment, e.g., televisions, to avoid damage from a power surge.

  • How many of your essential kitchen items are electric?  Kettle to the tin opener?  Can you manage if they aren’t available?

  • If safe to do so, check on your neighbours. Check on elderly or vulnerable friends, family and neighbours. Do they have sufficient supplies?


  • Horizon scanning? Make sure you are tracking the situation.

  • Staff availability.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies.  Won’t be able to rely on staff availability if they prioritise looking after loved ones.

  • Leadership team – how do you keep contact during a power outage? List the options in priority order.

  • Who are your key stakeholders, and how do you contact them?

  • Contingency Plans for power outages (limited) and national power outages, and how do you access them?

  • Generator power.  Does your office have an alternative power source?  If it does, does it cover every area indefinitely?  Consider fuel re-supply – who, how if fuel pumps aren’t working?

  • Undertake regular inspections of emergency lighting throughout the building and in the stairwells.

  • Sensitive equipment.  Unplug any sensitive equipment that may be vulnerable to a power surge when power is restored.

  • Comms: internal and external.  Who needs to know what, when and how often.  If comms are difficult, can you establish a “reception number” for staff to call and get a daily updated recorded message or an intranet webpage that those with power can access each morning or evening?

  • Priority processes.  Does your BCP establish which processes MUST continue and at what level?  Would these still apply if UK plc is shut down?

  • If power fails suddenly, can you evacuate the building safely, e.g. emergency lighting, lifts stuck between floors?

  • Identification of essential staff – save power by moving essential staff into one area of the office, only powering essential infrastructure.

  • Will your supply chain function?  Do you have sufficient essential stock/spares etc?

  • Server power – how long will they last?  If your backup is overseas, how resilient is it?

  • Work in progress.  Can a project be completed in time, and if not, are staff aware that they should focus on safety and doing it right ahead of rushing and not delivering a quality solution?

  • Security.  Do security systems work if there is no power, e.g. CCTV, alarms? Do automatic doors fail open in a power outage?  What impact will this have?  Does the Security Plan include Power Outage considerations?

  • Run regular exercises on power outages, so teams are familiar with roles and responsibilities – muscle memory.

  • After power outage – essential exercise on what went well and what could be improved and track actions to completion.

Use of Backup Generators – Things to Think About

  • How often is the generator tested? Is the test simply to show that it will start, or does the test include supplying your building with power from the generator for a period of time? (This latter point might help give greater assurance that the generator is fit for purpose but might also give some indication as to what rate the generator will consume its fuel).

  • Consider when you will switch over to using the generator. They should automatically fail over after about 90 seconds, but that still means some disruption – can you choose to switch over to the generator at a different time in order to manage disruption to your site?

  • Also consider when you switch back from generator use to the mains – do you run on generator power until the planned outages are concluded to provide certainty? Do you have enough fuel to support that usage?

  • What is the backup to your generator if you are using that for a sustained period?

And whether you have a generator or not:

  • What is the process for switching off at your site? Which systems, appliances, and fixtures are switched off and in what order? Does your site need 24-hour staff for security or other reason – how will their welfare needs be met?

  • What is the process for start-up – not just in terms of systems, appliances, and fixtures, but what support do you need from suppliers if things don’t restart as expected?

Useful links


Power Outage – Loss Prevention Standards (

2701 (

Featured photo credit: Matthew Henry (Unsplash)

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