06 Apr 2018

Will Your Critical Utilities Survive a Natural Disaster?

Employees at depot with van

If Disaster Strikes Your Facility, Will Your Critical Utilities Survive?


Download the Contingency Planning Checklist


Harvey. Irma. Jose. Katia. Lee. Maria. Nate. Ophelia. Arlene. Rina.
No, we’re not reeling off potential baby names; these are just some of the tropical storms and hurricanes that struck during the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season. And whether we’re talking weather-related outages, equipment failures or scheduled maintenance, anything that threatens productivity means planning for serious disruptions – planning that facility managers can’t afford to put off.
In fact, the majority of emergency situations aren’t caused by a dramatic weather event. In most cases, it’s much more mundane than that. Perhaps they haven’t got around to investing in the facility, letting equipment get old, skipping maintenance tasks or leaving it too late to replace a part. Perhaps they simply haven’t figured out how to keep things running during a maintenance shutdown.
These are the kind of things that keep getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list… but if something suddenly gives, facilities can wind up with massive production delays, and much bigger costs than they would have racked up from advance maintenance and repairs.
When it comes to the risk of emergency situations, whether from internal breakdowns, weather crises, fires, flooding or anything else, it’s incredibly important to have a contingency plan.
This includes figuring out in advance how critical facilities will cope with everything from earthquakes and external power outages, to high ambient temperatures and increased demand. It also means getting a reliable remote monitoring system in place, to track things like generator performance, fuel levels and so on - and prevent them hitting problems.  No facility manager wants to be stuck trying to figure out how to protect vital operations once chaos is already underway! 
While this sounds like a mammoth task, there are some utility planning principles that can help factories shield themselves against the worst, wherever in the world they are or what the future might throw at them.
In this article, we’ll talk through the 7 key steps to surviving just about any disaster.

The Seven Steps


1. Ask “What If?”

The first thing to do is find the weak spots.
Take a map of the whole site and go through each section, asking what would happen if an emergency situation interfered with the power supply. For example: “What would happen to equipment or critical backups kept here if it floods?” “What if the motor control center loses power?” “What if equipment backed up by uninterruptible power supply isn’t sized right?”
Very quickly, you’ll start to see which systems need to be backed up (and how) – and which critical areas would be most threatened if there was a power failure.

2. Narrow it Down to Specific Utility Needs

Next, get a sense of how the whole thing fits together.
Pick through process trains from start to finish, figuring out where and how things will need to be backed up. This will include looking at voltage, peak power loads and configurations, as well as connection points. Remember that problems could strike, potentially, at any connection in the train, even if the entire facility has backup power coming from elsewhere.
It’s not just about power, though – depending on the setup, you might also need temporary utilities like dehumidifiers, chillers or compressed air to hand to cope with an emergency.

3. Give Yourself a Dry Run

At some point, the facility will have some kind of planned downtime, whether it’s an outage, a turnaround, or scheduled maintenance. Don’t waste it!
Instead of twiddling your thumbs and waiting to get up and running, use this time to try out contingency efforts. Test what happens when power is switched to the substation. Assess current equipment and installations to see if it’s all working as it should. Take the opportunity to strike up a conversation with colleagues about resource planning and back-up plans. Bring it top of mind.

4. Drill Down to Details

The devil is in the detail, my friends! You’d be amazed at how many perfectly good contingency plans fall due to something daft like cables not being long enough, or because you’ve got the wrong kind of plug, or because some equipment has specific needs.
Walk through – literally walk through – the plans on the ground, as if actually putting them into action, checking every single element to make sure nothing’s been missed. Remember, too, to take into account things like transformer configurations, ground fault requirements, and the physical footprint of temporary utility equipment.
It’s also important to formalize these plans and share them with external partners, equipment providers and others in your team. Everyone who needs to know should be clear exactly what will happen in an emergency, and who is responsible for which part of it.

5. Figure Out the “How”

It’s also essential to look out for any logistical issues that could trip people up when the contingency plan is put into action.
For example, if there are temporary generators, they’ll need to be fueled and refueled. Is everyone clear on exactly how that will happen? Do they need any other materials or spare parts to hand to get things going or to fix anything that goes wrong? Can the floor take the weight of any machinery that will be brought in? Will everything work in the space that’s allocated – is the temperature right, for example? The airflow?

Also - how will you track this stuff in the moment? If you’re bringing in outside equipment, does the vendor have a remote monitoring system in place to keep an eye on how it’s doing, whether it needs refuelling, and so on? Will they take responsibility for making sure it works as planned - and how quickly can they be available or on site if any problems arise?
I can’t overstate how important it is to visualize exactly how all this stuff will come together, so that everything is accounted for in advance.

6. Stay Safe!

Just because it’s an emergency, that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. It’s necessary to address safety risks – especially when it comes to equipment brought in from outside to deal with an emergency. The planning process should involve working through any site-specific safety requirements and assessments of this temporary utility equipment, too.

7. Document Everything

Whatever happens, make sure that whoever is entrusted to develop the contingency plan doesn’t just keep all this stuff stored away in their head. It needs to be documented and kept somewhere where all colleagues, or whoever is responsible for the facility when the time comes, can get to it.
That also goes for the things the team learns along the way. If something is tried out and it doesn’t work, or issues are spotted and fixed during walkarounds, make a note of this in all documentation. Don’t leave it for someone else to repeat the same work or make the same mistakes later on!
And Finally…
Remember that working with an experienced partner that knows exactly what to look for can really take the pressure off your shoulders. If you’d like to talk through your contingency plan with a pro, don’t hesitate to give our team a call!

Besides those seven steps, you can download our Contingency Planning Checklist, to make sure you are prepared to any crisis. 


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