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Staying Cool in an Emergency

Key Points
  • Cooling system failure can threaten critical processes and damage equipment.
  • An effective cooling emergency plan can help to protect your facility.
  • Permanent and temporary backup cooling strategies are available, depending on your needs.

Rooftop air conditionerPreparing for the unexpected makes good business sense. Air conditioning is essential to facility operations, especially in hot weather. Cooling system failure can reduce occupant comfort and productivity and threaten critical equipment. If you don't plan ahead for a cooling emergency, bad things can happen:

  • Local demand of portable cooling equipment exceeds supply, resulting in delivery and installation delays.
  • Temporary units aren't sized correctly, leading to inefficient operation or insufficient cooling.
  • Your facility lacks the correct electric connections or adequate backup power.
  • You get the wrong type of unit for your needs or the climate conditions.

Developing a cooling emergency plan

Keeping your facility cool in an emergency requires forethought and preparation. The most important question to ask in developing an emergency plan is, what are the risks of cooling system failure? For health care facilities, the greatest concern is the health and comfort of patients. For data centers, dissipating heat in server rooms is essential for business continuity. All facilities must plan for the protection of critical assets, such as electronic and communications equipment.

While every facility is different, a number of key steps are involved in developing an effective backup cooling plan:

  • Assemble a team that includes onsite maintenance personnel and outside experts, such as system suppliers and a consulting engineer.
  • Determine the critical areas, operations or equipment affected the most during a cooling system failure.
  • Estimate the total cooling capacity needed to meet emergency demand.
  • Document all cooling system equipment in use, including size, age, maintenance records and so on.
  • Identify potential sources of system failure. These might include aging equipment or temporary outages.
  • Determine proper locations for backup cooling equipment, as well as potential electrical connections and water access points.
  • Examine existing system components and controls and determine how to adapt those to a backup solution.

Choosing a strategy

Should your backup cooling solution be permanent or temporary? The answer depends on the type of facility and your cooling needs. Options include portable cooling, as well as partial redundancy or 100 percent redundancy. 

Redundancy is permanent standby capacity to meet cooling needs in case of equipment failure. For example, a data center using four 12-ton cooling units to meet its 48-ton capacity requirements can maintain an extra 12-ton unit on standby to provide 100 percent capacity in case one of the main units fails. A permanent redundancy solution is typically built into the system or added during an expansion.

For temporary cooling, service providers specialize in renting portable and spot cooling units for emergency backup. Maintain an updated list of suppliers in your area, detailing their service, technical support and product offerings. Establish a permanent account with an individual supplier if cooling is a critical part of operations.

In devising a strategy, it's important to carefully evaluate your facility and system design, as well as your current and future needs.

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