Most organizations have emergency preparedness plans that consider the risks of natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the potential dangers of fires, building contamination, and bio-terrorism. But what some managers may not have considered is an HVAC emergency preparedness plan—what to do if a significant disruption occurs in a facility’s HVAC system, possibly due to an abovementioned scenario, but not necessarily. Without a plan of action in place, companies could lose hours, days or even weeks of production time trying to figure out how to get HVAC systems back up and running.
Here are some tips to developing an HVAC emergency preparedness plan:
MSCA Greenstar advises the first step in developing an HVAC emergency preparedness plan is to perform a risk assessment. This will help determine what temporary equipment is needed to restore HVAC service to all areas of the facility and what priority each area is given. According to Facilities Net, if the disruptions are only in one part of a building, operations may be relocated, or other parts of the HVAC system rerouted to make up for the localized failure. Facilities Net also recommends that managers prepare for HVAC emergencies as part of a comprehensive building usage plan. For building contamination and bio-terrorism, the HAVC system needs adjustment in a timely manner in the case of a release of toxic materials.
It is recommended to test a building to determine its ability to operate without HVAC services and then creating emergency preparedness plans that include the use of alternate or backup HVAC support services. Having an emergency preparedness plan serves to lessen the impact on productivity, mitigate potential costs of repairs and prevent damage to the building and its contents. Qualified HVAC technicians test the building to determine critical loads and the equipment that handles them in order to understand how to utilize temporary HVAC equipment under emergency conditions.
Once the needed temporary equipment is identified and the area priority order is established for installation, the next step is to determine the location for the temporary equipment. Often, this temporary equipment needs to be placed outside due to space limitations. Considerations regarding the equipment’s location involve security issues, safety issues, structural loads, and emissions. Ideally, the temporary equipment is placed as close to the current building equipment as possible to reduce the distances for temporary ducting, piping, and power cable runs. In major emergencies affecting large areas, rental equipment may be unattainable unless reserved in advance. For this reason, buildings located in areas that are prone to natural disasters may benefit greatly from having a backup system already in place, ready for use when necessary.
Depending on what kind of emergency occurs, some of the steps to mitigate damage and danger might include turning off utility connections, shutting outdoor-air dampers, and turning off ventilation systems. Additionally, the HVAC system may be adjusted to isolate the impacted area and used for pressurizing nearby spaces to help minimize the spread of toxins. Both shelter-in-place procedures and building evacuation procedures need to be developed and practiced by having safety drills so everyone knows what to do in the case of an emergency.
For an example of a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, see the guide prepared by the California Hospital Association and note it contains a subsection that specifically addresses HVAC failures.
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