Why You Should Have an HVAC Emergency Preparedness Plan

By ROBERT A. LAKE | 01/04/2013

Every facility depends on a reliable HVAC system.  Preparing and planning for an emergency that can interrupt daily business activities is a vital step in protecting the employees and the assets of your company.  Hazards such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and earthquakes can take down a business from a few hours to an extended period of time.  Having a plan in place will minimize the HVAC systems downtime, and ease the interruption of the occupants operations. 
Below are four steps to follow in establishing an HVAC Emergency Preparedness Plan:
Review of the HVAC Systems  – Survey the complete facility and identify key equipment that would disrupt operations the most.  As part of the survey you must obtain a complete understanding of the HVAC needs of the facility.  Some areas may be office use only while another may be a critical care lab.  Determine if the equipment is specific to a part of the building (like a data room) or if it controls the whole facility.   In doing this you should understand all the heating and cooling load requirements for each area of the facility.  During the survey you also need to identify the availability of power, amperage, and electrical connections.
Risk Assessment  – Based on the information gathered in Step 1, a risk assessment should be prepared for each area of the facility.  This would allow you to create the priority order in which each system(s) would be restored with temporary cooling.  An important consideration in this process is whether one central system serves the complete facility versus multiple systems serving specific areas of the facility.    This risk assessment priority order should be a joint effort between the HVAC contractor and the facility owner.
Develop the Plan –  Using the priority order, recommended temporary equipment solutions should be identified to meet the facilities emergency load requirements.  Next you must determine the location of the temporary equipment.  Ideally, the temporary equipment would be located as close as possible to the current equipment.  This minimizes temporary piping, ducting, cabling, etc. thus saving both cost and mobilization time.  Another important consideration is safety.  With temporary equipment, space limitations often force equipment to be housed outside the building.  Thus you can have issues with automobile or pedestrian traffic, emissions, structural loads, etc.  -- all of which impact normal facility operations.  After gathering this data you will be in position to prepare an estimate of the cost of the temporary rental equipment including set-up, implementation, and ongoing temporary operating costs.  You will also need to provide the detailed roles and responsibilities of both the HVAC contractor and the facilities on-site personnel.
Implement and Sustain -  The final step is to ensure that the HVAC Emergency Preparedness Plan that was developed is always up to date and ready for implementation should a catastrophe occur.  To do this you should make sure all documents, such as rental agreements, are in place and that any building modifications are made.   You should have a preset arrangement with the temporary equipment vendor with agreed upon fees and strategy.  You should have set parameters for what minimum down and temperature parameters are to determine when to mobilize.   You also need to train personnel and have a flow chart with responsibilities and phone contact list.  To sustain this plan the documents should be reviewed once a year and updated when necessary,
When you develop an HVAC Emergency Preparedness Plan before trouble arises, it allows management to respond quickly with the predetermined plan to significantly reduce the time it takes to get your facility back in operations.     
Robert A. Lake is Vice Chairman of EMCOR Services Mesa Energy Systems in Irvine, CA.