Don’t let the vortex freeze your maintenance operations

The freezing conditions across the U.S. should spark your maintenance personnel to prepare for possible outages and reinforce plant safety measures.


The punishing Arctic freeze may have loosened its grip on the states east of the Mississippi River as temperatures return to seasonal norms (for now), but power outages from damaged electric transmission lines and hospitals crammed with patients suffering from hypothermia have had maintenance teams scrambling to make repairs and restore safety to public infrastructures.

As these weather events become the new normal and breaks between natural disasters are inching closer together, how should maintenance teams prepare for threats to daily services and disruptions to business? This simple fact is that even back-up generators can fail, leaving residents without power and businesses without customers.

What can maintenance organizations do to “weatherproof” asset maintenance before the next storm strikes? Perhaps your team could take a page from the maintenance department at a state prison in Alaska, where extreme winters approach -50 to -100 F and 30-ft-high snow banks bury houses and cars, and make roads impassable. Surprises from a 1,000-lb moose to oncoming vehicles can be a regular occurrence in this area—a surprise in which most of the U.S. will probably never have to face.

Goose Creek Correctional Center, in South Central Alaska, has a robust maintenance crew of 11 and a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to schedule 7,638 in 2013, not counting snow removal, construction projects, or site and grounds preventive maintenance (PM). Much of Goose Creek’s PM list covers long-term prevention, as well as multiple emergency and contingency plans and task assignments. A well-stocked inventory of spare parts is also top priority for the facility. The correctional center is as ready as a medical trauma team responding to a 12-car pile-up.

Are these PM items on your weather list?

 - As soon as winter advisories hit, test generators, snow equipment, and fuel levels.
 - Schedule building inspections twice daily.
 - Review all emergency preparedness plans annually, or more often, if needed.
 - Pre-arrange emergency responder schedules for 24-hr coverage during extreme periods.
 - Brief non-essential and emergency staff on their responsibilities during emergencies.
 - Develop contingency plans for frozen water pipes; have extra plumbing supplies on hand.
 - Review fire alarm operations and controls with staff prior to weather events.
 - Train staff to turn off water or sprinkler systems in the event of broken or frozen pipes.
 - Train staff to do fire watches if a fire suppression system isn’t available or functioning properly.
 - Switch to light-weight lubricants when temperatures fall dramatically.
 - Regularly inspect, test, and repair emergency lighting fixtures and systems.
 - Invite fire departments, emergency service responders, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to tour facilities. Incorporate their expertise to develop sound emergency plans.
 - Provide triage medical training for frost bite and hypothermia.

Just as important as PM is a well-stocked inventory of spare parts, from gloves, hats, and facemasks to plywood and visqueen. Goose Creek stocks up on belts, hoses, ice melters, snow shovels, sand for snow storms, and plumbing fittings for frozen pipes. Same goes for duct tape for emergency insulation or window coverings when high winds damage window seals or misalign doors. Extra glycol, gasoline, drinking water, and flashlights are also in place and in sufficient supply prior to emergencies.

In addition to assisting your team in handling weather-related precautions, a good CMMS can also help justify new hires or new equipment impacted by severe weather. It can show the time involved in repairing a snow plow, as well as driving time. A CMMS can provide the documentation necessary to convince management that it’s time to replace equipment.

Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group, producer of Bigfoot CMMS.

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