As a protective measure against the fast spreading COVID-19 virus, many facilities across the nation have paused their operations. However, engineering firms and many other service providers can continue operating with remote collaboration. This is part of a strategy called “flattening the curve”: slowing down the infection rate so hospitals have enough personnel, supplies and beds to treat patients. An uncontrolled infection can cause a sharp increase in the number of patients, overwhelming the healthcare system.
Make sure your building has reliable fire protection.
If a facility will be left with no occupants or a limited security staff, checking all automatic systems is important. This includes fire protection systems, since fire can also occur in an empty building:
- Maintenance personnel are normally tasked with monitoring fire alarms and automatic sprinkler systems. When a fire alarm system sends a supervisory signal, someone (on-site or off-site) must respond and verify that the issue is taken care of.
- In addition, a fire alarm trouble signal could be indicating loss of AC power in the building.
- In dry pipe automatic sprinkler systems, the system may charge with water due to the compressor having no power, which can then result in frozen pipes.
Many facility managers shut down the power directly from main breakers to save electrical costs when operations are paused. However, fire protection systems must be left with power to keep the building safe.
Fire Protection Checklist for Closed Facilities
The following steps can help you ensure that fire protection systems will detect and suppress any fire that occurs during a facility shutdown. Recommendations are also provided to avoid frozen pipes and other operational issues.
1) In dry-pipe systems, check air compressors to ensure proper performance
2) Check that all the required valves are in the open position
3) Check and fill the fuel tanks of emergency generation equipment and fire pumps.
4) Make sure the fire alarm system is working properly, and also check if the system is reporting correctly to the remote monitoring station.
5) Verify that any trouble condition or signal from the fire supervising station is solved before closing the facility. Remote monitoring must continue, in case the system sends another supervisory signal during the shutdown.
6) Consider temporary remote supervision for fire protection systems that lack the feature. Many fire alarm manufacturers offer software to simplify this measure.
7) Building managers must be very cautious when choosing which HVAC systems are powered down, especially in areas protected by fire sprinklers and addressable devices. For example, the temperature can drop below the operating range of an addressable device, or it can get cold enough to freeze a sprinkler system.
8) Do not turn off any critical power source that serves air compressors, nitrogen generators, and other fire protection equipment.
9) Scan and monitor the temperature in all areas with fire alarm components, especially power supplies and control panels. Also monitor the temperature in all areas with water supplies for automatic sprinklers.
10) Make sure the temperature sensors are sending proper signals to the remote supervising station. Any low temperature condition that affects fire protection must be fixed ASAP; ask your maintenance personnel to be on standby, in case this happens.
11) The facility shutdown can be used for maintenance activities or repairs that would be disruptive under normal conditions. However, keep in mind that coronavirus lockdowns may or may not allow these activities.
Service contractors can conduct periodic testing and maintenance for fire protection systems while the building is empty. However, this should only be done if local regulations allow it, and implementing safety measures to protect personnel from coronavirus.
Since the coronavirus outbreak forces many facilities to close, building managers must take precautions regarding the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems (MEP). When a facility is left vacant for extended periods, the fire protection and life safety systems should be a top priority. These systems should be inspected carefully before the shutdown, and monitored continuously. Freeze prevention is critical for automatic sprinklers and any fire protection systems that depend on water. Personnel lives should be the first priority for facility managers, and fire protection systems are fundamental for safety.