The Case for Proactive Power Shutdowns

By: Nathan Normoyle Vice President – National Operations Access Restoration Services Ltd
As published in Ontario Association of Emergency Managers website

Earlier this year, Toronto mayor, John Tory, announced that a comprehensive series of inspections would be carried out to numerous apartment buildings in Toronto. This work, he said, would be carried out by a team of workers directed by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), Toronto Fire and City of Toronto Bylaw Enforcement Officers.

Tory’s newly established team has taken a defensive approach and have ordered structured ‘power shutdowns’ of certain buildings it believes may be at risk of imminent failure to one or more of its building systems. The power shutdowns are designed to allow for critical inspections and repairs to help ensure public and resident safety.

Of special interest to city officials are high rise rental apartments over forty years old that may have received minimal preventative maintenance to their electrical systems, especially their electrical distribution equipment. Insufficient maintenance to these systems runs the risk of creating significant safety hazards for the building’s residents. Tory emphasized that not only do catastrophic events that occur to buildings as a result of improper maintenance create financial strain on the residents, but on the City itself. There are significant costs related to responding to emergency situations such as fire and floods in high rise buildings.

Access Restoration Services (ARS) is specially equipped to handle all aspects of a power shut down. As a full-service restoration company, we have the experience to handle all aspects of inspections and repairs to electrical systems and all systems found in high-rise buildings. Coordinating electrical disconnections, inspections, and repairs not only requires a team of electricians, it also entails the assistance of more than a dozen other trade specialties to safely complete the work. For example, a Phase Testing/Thermal Imaging company may be needed to complete physical inspections and testing of the electrical distribution. A plumbing professional may be required to drain water from the building to prevent flooding during the power shutdown and then to re-energize the plumbing system at the end of the process.

Other trade specialists include those who inspect and correct fire-stopping deficiencies that function to impede the spread of fire, fire residues and water escape to adjacent suites and floors of the building. 24-hour security guards need to be in place during a power shutdown to maintain fire watch while the fire detection systems are off-line;  elevator technicians must be on hand to safely decommission elevators before the start of a power shut down and recommission once power has been re-established. Temporary power distribution equipment is typically needed to power Life Systems including emergency lighting in stairwells and emergency lighting in the parking garages. Temporary power also serves basic building systems to ensure that residents can safely access their apartment.

Faced with a power shut down order from the ESA, owners or property managers have a very small window of time to comply – sometimes only a week or two. This does not leave much time to plan and execute all of the intricate ‘moving parts’ required to properly plan and execute the power shut down. ARS can plan, coordinate and execute all aspects of a power shut down, from start to finish, with as little as 48 hours’ notice.

The proactive method of inspecting and repairing a building’s electrical system that would serve to reduce the stress of the building’s residents as well as its managers is to start the planning process before the inevitable visit from one of the City’s authorities. There are certain times of the year that would only increase the negative impact for residents such as major holidays and periods of extreme temperatures. There are also certain times of the week that prove to be more disruptive to residents. Routine visual inspections and regular maintenance of electrical distribution equipment by licensed electricians and building systems performed by appropriate licensed technicians is key to reducing likelihood of unwelcome surprises.

The length of a power shut down will depend on the state of the electrical distribution equipment and the age of the building. Most shutdowns require a period of one to two days. While some buildings might only require eight hours to finalize necessary inspections and repairs, other buildings that have received very little maintenance or had mechanical systems’ work carried out by unqualified personnel have required up to four-day shutdowns. Much depends on the level of inspection required, how much maintenance needs to be performed and how much equipment needs to be replaced.

Power shutdowns can be very unsettling and uncomfortable for residents. They could be without power and water for an extended period of time. The situation is worse for tenants who live on higher floors or those with physical limitations since the elevators do not operate during a power shut down. Making matters more stressful, ordered shutdowns usually allow less lead time for residents to make any adjustments they might need to their daily routines ahead of the power shutdown. During this stressful time, Access Restoration Services maintains a safe work site where fire safety and life safety remain in place. The fire department is put on notice and work is done as quickly as possible to minimize the inconvenience of those who live and work in the building.

With the increase of catastrophic events occurring to Toronto’s aging buildings caused by poor or irregular maintenance to its building systems, there is an increased commitment from Toronto’s Authorities to review building owner’s and property manager’s maintenance programs. While some of these buildings that have been properly maintained will not require a shutdown and only minimal maintenance, others will almost certainly require extensive shutdowns and maintenance undertaking.

Property managers, building owners and facility managers responsible for buildings forty years and older could opt for a proactive approach before an order comes through from the City.  Access Restoration Services utilizes a tested process driven by a team of highly skilled project managers, production coordinators and administrative professionals that can help building management plan and execute necessary inspections and repairs with a view to reduce the impact to the people who live and work in the building as much as possible.

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What is the Protocol for a Typical Building Shutdown and Restore?

This is the typical order of operations in a typical building power shutdown and re-energize protocol.

Preparation for Power Shut Down

1 | Building Management Staff – Contacts Fire Dept to have Building put on ‘Test’; regularly confirms status with Fire Dept until Fire Suppression Systems are fully functional. Coordinates all communication with leaseholders and occupants including proper notifications and pertinent instructions. Notice to leaseholders/occupants will be distributed 5 Days in advance of the scheduled shutdown.
2 | ARS Project Management – Coordinate with ownership, building superintendent/property management, tenants, city officials, Toronto Fire and ESA.
3 | Ensure necessary arrangements are made with any businesses that may be impacted including temporary power to adjacent spaces to maintain functionality during power disconnect
4 | Complete fire stopping work to Electrical Room and any other adjacent/proximate mechanical rooms where conduit penetrate walls/ceilings and risers as required by Fire Services.
5 | Site Plan required from Electrical company regarding placement of equipment.
6 | Order/arrange delivery of appropriate Generator(s), temporary distribution panels and switchgear to run emergency lighting, exit lighting, and temporary lighting in stairwells and common areas. Specifications for generator(s) based on Electrical contractor’s requirements.
7 | Temporary Exterior Lighting set up on all sides of the Building, close to underground parking Entrances/Exits. 8 | Arrange appropriate Security coverage for Fire Watch (proper protocols to be followed), unsecured building access points, exterior equipment, mechanical rooms and other areas where work is underway.
9 | Request Vulnerable Occupants list from Building Management. Ensure vulnerable occupants receive snacks and water at least twice a day.
10 | ARS personnel to Lock/bar Corridor Garbage Chute Doors so that chute is not operational during Power Shut Down. Place Notice on Chute Doors requesting occupants to leave garbage bags near the door which will be regularly removed by ARS staff. Advise Building Management to de-activate Garbage Compactor once chute doors are locked. ARS crew required to constantly collect garbage and carry to garbage bin until power has been re-established and the Chute Compactor is online. This will have to be done regularly to ensure corridor carpet/wall finishes are not damaged (elevators will not be in service).
11 | ARS personnel in place to receive generators/temporary panels/switchgear and install fencing as required.
12 | Electrical contractor runs cabling from Electrical Room to Temporary Distribution Panels, installs temporary lighting, completes pre-connection to Emergency and Exit Lighting.
13 | Underground Parking Doors to be fixed in the open position before power shut down (if applicable).
14 | Arrange for hot and cold beverages and snacks in the lobby for the duration of the shut down at 7:00 AM each morning and 6:30 pm each evening.

Power Shut Down

1 | Electrical contractor Foreman signals Start.
2 | Elevator company Tech brings elevators to the sub-basement level.
3 | HVAC Company makes sure the controller is online and completely operational. Switches Heat Controls to manual and shut down all heating panels to all floors. Ensures the controller database is backed up and tests all digital outputs and relay switch points.
4 | Fire Suppression company: a) Alarm tech puts the entire system on bypass) b) Sprinkler tech required to monitor system and to ensure pump valves have adequate air pressure; shuts down pumps if needed. Both techs remain on-site for as long as needed. Depending on the situation techs can leave site providing they can return with one hour’s notice.
5 | Plumber – Shuts down pumps to the Domestic/Boiler System if required. In some cases, water lines may need to be drained (e.g. potential for freezing during winter months). Plumber remains on-site during the process.
6 | Electrical contractor powers down Electrical System.
7 | Toronto Hydro opens switches (Disconnects city power).
8 | Third-party Electrical Testing company conducts di-electric testing of main distribution components.
9 | Electrical contractor does the necessary inspection, maintenance, repair/replacements to Electrical System including Suites.
10 | Electrical contractor foreman gives at least one-hour notice before the electrical system will be re-energized so that all mechanical partners will be in position for Reinstatement of the Electrical System.

Reinstatement of Electrical System

1 | Electrical contractor Foreman signals the ‘start of reinstatement of power’ process.
2 | Toronto Hydro Closes Switches (turns on power).
3 | Plumber – if water was previously drained, city water is reintroduced.
4 | Fire Suppression company does any necessary preparation/monitoring work.
5 | Electrical contractor re-instates Power (coordinates with ESA)
6 | Security personnel listen at each apartment door for sounds of potential water escape due to faucets mistakenly left open (average 10 incidents per building). In cases where there is a suspected water escape, security guard knocks on the door. If an occupant does not open the door, a security guard is to call the Security Supervisor who will forward the information to the Building Superintendent and an ARS Representative to open the door and investigate possible water escape.
7 | Clean up crew on Standby to clean up possible water release.
8 | Plumber – Reinstates water pumps and monitors system (may need to turn off water system temporarily if there is the danger of electrical system being impacted by water escape).
9 | Sprinkler techs make any necessary changes to the fire suppression system and monitor the system’s re-activation; alarm tech re-activates fire suppression alarm system.
10 | HVAC company ensures the controller is back online, rechecks all points and turns on heating to all floors and tests digital outputs and relay switches again.

Post Reinstatement of Electrical System

1 | Unlock or Remove barriers from Garbage Chute doors/hatches; advise Building Management Garbage Compactor can be reactivated.
2 | Procure Verification Report from Fire Suppression company as soon as possible and deliver it to the Fire Department.
3 | Once Verification Report is approved by the Fire Department, reduce/eliminate fire watch per Fire Department’s specifications.
4 | Removal of Generators and Temporary Power/Distribution Equipment, Temporary Exterior lighting, Fencing, etc.

For more information, please download our brochure or contact us.

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Business Interruption is a Huge Challenge Many Businesses Still Overlook

On April 27th, Nathan Normoyle was interviewed by Bethan Moorcraft  for Insurance Business Magazine

Here is her article:

The first things that spring to mind when commercial organisations think flood are: damage and destruction. They don’t necessarily think about the possible flow of ongoing disruption, displaced staff and supply chain woes.

When flood strikes, business interruption losses can quite literally come raining down. Getting back up and running is hard because of the mass inundation of water, which is why the expertise of restoration companies like Access Restoration Services (ARS) are so vital.  

“The number one challenge for commercial clients after a loss event like a flood is normally business interruption, which unfortunately is a topic that’s overlooked by many,” said Nathan Normoyle, vice president of National Operations at ARS Canada.

“Large commercial organizations might have 500-1,000 employees in one location,” he added. “If the whole workforce or a majority of staff are misplaced because of a flood event, or unable to work under their normal conditions, it creates a huge logistical challenge for business continuity. Business interruption losses can cost the company and the insurer multiples of what the actual physical damage to the property might cost.”

In January, business interruption was flagged up as by far the most significant concern among risk managers in Canada, according to the Allianz Risk Barometer 2018. Experts partly attribute this to the fact that post-loss restoration operations (from fire, flood, windstorm etc.) are becoming more and more challenging. 

Insurers, claims adjusters and post-loss restorers are coming up against new things like highly technical machines, complex supply chains, and even environmentally-friendly building products that can be difficult to repair after a loss.  That’s where the management skills and technical expertise of restoration companies really take centre stage.

“At ARS, we manage the business interruption process for our clients and customers,” Normoyle told Insurance Business. “When we visit an impacted property, we assess three key things: the extent of the damage, whether damage can be contained and commercial operations can continue, and the most rational step to avoid business interruption and minimize cost to both the business and the insurance company.  

“We will do everything in our power to keep a company operating. That might include shutting off a damaged area and moving operations to another section. If a site is completely demolished or critically damaged making it impossible and unsafe to maintain business operations, we will suggest alternatives and even construct temporary facilities on or off-site to get commercial organizations back up and running as quickly as possible.”