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February 18, 2020

Monitoring Perishables and Medications During a Power Outage

Written by SmartSense | Pharmacy Safety, Food Safety, Connected Facility, Supply Chain

California has experienced unusual weather throughout its 169 year history, but more recently the most populous U.S. state has seen widespread droughts and severe wind. This has caused utility companies to take proactive measures to prevent wildfires - another issue this state is no stranger to. Drought and wind contribute to starting wildfires, leading to the difficult decision of cutting off power for customers.


The utility companies are turning off power because of aging infrastructure that can cause wildfires in peak-demand conditions. Despite warnings from the utility companies, organizations will have to take precautions to ensure that the power outage won’t negatively impact their business. This is particularly damaging to businesses that have stock of perishable foods, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.


Watch our webinar to learn about 3 applications of IoT and analytics that we  have developed to address customer needs falling at different points along the  custom-to-standard feature spectrum.


What does this mean for organizations who store perishables and other temperature sensitive products? Let's first take a look at the history of blackouts and how California’s troubled past is indicative of power cuts in the future.


Major California Blackouts

California Electricity Scandal of 2000 and 2001

California experienced severe energy shortages across the entire state in the beginning of the 21st century. These energy shortages lead to state-wide rolling blackouts, and were largely a result of a “demand-supply gap” to create artificial shortages of energy. Put simply, energy companies (particularly Enron) would take power plants offline during peak hours to increase the price of energy. This was great for Enron’s bottomline, but illegal and highly immoral for consumers. Enron has become infamous for market manipulation. The energy giant previously reported over $100B in annual revenue, but has since been cited as one of the biggest fallouts of any corporation in the world.


This scandal is highly unlikely to ever occur again. Despite this, it's important to highlight the different ways in which energy can be subject to man-made events, not just naturally occurring disasters.


2019 California Power Shut Offs

Almost two decades after the Enron scandal, California experienced another significant lapse in power coverage. This time, the climate was the driving force behind power shut offs across more than 30 counties in Northern and Southern California, impacting more than 2.5 million people. Due to severe and particularly dry winds, the chance of a wildfire was greater than usual. This led to extensive public safety power shutoffs (PSPS). A PSPS is initiated in order to uphold public safety, in this case preventing wildfires resulting from aging electrical equipment.


A satirical map meant to highlight the problems of potential power outages in California. Source: https://www.facebook.com/PleasantonPoliceCA/photos/a.527788747267127/2579577655421549/ 

Despite the best efforts of utility companies, access to electrical power may prove problematic due to malpractice, or in this case, natural events. Another Enron scandal is unlikely to occur, but adverse weather conditions will be a reality for the years to come. 6 of the 10 most devastating wildfires started from electrical equipment. This is clearly an issue that is unlikely to be resolved in our lifetimes. California utility company PG&E has made public statements informing their customers to expect planned outages over the next decade while upgrades are made to their systems. California has had significant energy-related problems in the past, and this was yet another example of a time where access to electricity was not guaranteed.


The Risk to Perishables and Medications

These incidents affect consumers far and wide, whether the power outages impact their homes directly, or if it touches the stores they depend their livelihoods on. Between grocery stores and pharmacies, most consumers around the country need regular access to food and their medications. These two events are foreshadowing a dark future, one in which California is always susceptible to power outages, whether they are shut down for natural disasters or for greed. Thankfully, greed seems to be a less likely motivation for power cuts. Naturally occurring events, however, not only seem likely, but seem inevitable.


So how can businesses prepare for the worst when their products are reliant on refrigerators and freezers?


Monitoring Temperature without Power

Power outages can lead to spoiled food or ineffective medicine. Without a confident understanding of how long a power outage has lasted, it is nearly impossible to identify if food or medicine needs to be discarded. It is critical to understand the ramifications of a power outage and how serious of an issue an individual outage may be. In order to do so, you need to know fridge and freezer temperatures throughout the duration of the outage.


Battery Backup Solution

In order to understand how a power outage has impacted temperature sensitive products, temperature monitoring solution with a battery backup is necessary. Many solutions today depend on wired power, making it susceptible to losing power during an outage. In the unfortunate event of a power outage, a battery-backed solution will guarantee that temperature monitoring is upheld throughout the duration of the power lapse.


Identifying Power Outages

Not all monitoring solutions are created equal. With SmartSense, you can take your capabilities further. Let’s say that you are unaware of a power outage. With a comprehensive IoT network implemented throughout stores, and leveraging advanced analytics, managers are able to make accurate assessments of whether or not an individual store was subject to a power outage. This comprehensive monitoring enables both a micro and macro-view into specific pieces of equipment, as well as individual and regional store power statuses.


Whether you turn to SmartSense or another company for your temperature monitoring needs, make sure that there are features and capabilities to protect your goods against a power outage. Foodborne illness and ineffective medication is not an inevitability from power outages. It's time to implement a solution to keep your customers or patients safe!


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