Cooling contingency plans can be critical for care facilities

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Published: June 23,2008

With a contingency plan, it’s possible to maintain air conditioning and heating in buildings when natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes or other power outages knock out that important function. Trane Building Services is working with Mississippi hospitals and other organizations to develop customized plans to keep systems operating.

The importance of maintaining air conditioning for hospitals in Mississippi’s muggy heat was brought home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Bonnie Spalding, a contingency cooling engineer with Trane, recently made a presentation to the Mississippi Hospital Association Society for Healthcare Engineers to share a step-by-step process for evaluating, establishing and implementing a contingency plan.

“There is a lot of interest, and small, rural hospitals are keenly interested in making their systems more reliable. Their communities are counting on them being there no matter what happens,” she said. “Not only must patients be kept cool, hospitals must protect equipment and inventory and be available to help the community when disaster strikes.”

Hospitals do have backup energy systems, but the heating/cooling system is a big user of energy of those generators. Spalding sees more hospitals, especially along the Gulf Coast, adding more fuel storage and generator capacity. Trane will bring in rental equipment for heating and cooling, according to the hospital’s (or any facility’s) contingency plan.

“The contingency plan is a multi-document plan for electrical, physical and mechanical systems, their loads and who is responsible,” Spalding said. “We match up critical loads with temporary solutions and prepare buildings to accept those solutions. The plan documents the roles of all responsible and who will get it going, including the owner and any vendors.”

Trane, which has offered contingency plans for approximately 15 years, makes sure all commercial issues are established and documented. Any size building — commercial, institutions and industrial — can benefit from having a plan and bringing in rental equipment when needed. Spalding mentioned schools because they often serve as disaster shelters, museums, data centers and places with high financial risks.

“Many organizations would benefit from it from the standpoint of client and occupancy safety,” she said. “Hospitals fulfill many roles because that’s where people go in emergencies.”

Every building is different as to equipment and mechanical needs, but the process of developing a plan establishes what is required and determines what equipment is needed. Trane is trying to educate organizations about the value of planning.

“We’re looking for electrical and water connections on the exterior of buildings,” Spalding said. “We plan for a temporary system to be placed on the exterior. Costs depend on the building’s design, age and size. It’s less costly when constructing a new building to put in these exterior connections. Older buildings are the most costly.”

When the cooling contingency plan is complete, it requires only a phone call to activate.

The company also takes a detailed look at current systems for ways to increase energy efficiency and make upgrades for immediate benefits. “We can look for improvements when looking at other documents,” she said.

Although hurricane season is now underway, Spalding, who’s a mechanical engineer, says it’s never too late to develop a contingency plan because various disasters can strike any time of year.

“Any plan will make it easier,” she said. “A lot of time, it’s a local issue such as a power outage or lightning strike.”

A well-crafted plan makes it possible for hospitals and other facilities to quickly and easily use temporary cooling when normal indoor comfort systems are disrupted.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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