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.