by Brian Lewis
Today’s businesses face an existential threat: how to reopen safely as COVID-19 flares continue to emerge across the country. The safety of customers, employees and staff is the top priority as businesses adapt operations to reopen gradually. In the absence of strong nation-wide guidelines, business leaders – especially large commercial or industrial facilities – are turning to electrical contractors to find the right solutions for their needs.
Businesses moving quickly to reopen are taking advantage of outdoor accommodations during the warmer summer and fall months to accommodate higher foot traffic and more indoor activity as the country collectively approaches a “new normal.” But as summer wanes and colder weather approaches, operating outdoors may not be a viable option. Electrical contractors are ready to provide solutions to help businesses navigate these transitions safely. Let’s review promising technologies and necessary processes to make the process of reopening go smoothly.
One approach under discussion is germicidal UV light. This decades-old technology has proven benefits, yet unknowns remain in large applications. Nonetheless the right UV light offers promising ways to quickly and effectively eliminate bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. JetBlue, for example, recently installed UV light-emitting robots to clean plane cabins between trips. Hospitals and other health care facilities have installed special ultraviolet-c lights near ceilings, and New York’s MTA has installed UV lights inside its vehicles and in some employee areas.
It should be noted that several applications of UV light require the room to be unoccupied. For UV light to work as a germicide, the lamp needs to have a direct line of sight to all surfaces requiring disinfection, which can be challenging in some facilities. One solution high-traffic buildings have employed with success is a system of UV-C lights positioned near the top of a wall just below the ceiling, paired with an air circulation system (or even a ceiling fan) that continuously brings the air up to be disinfected by the lights. This doesn’t kill viruses in the whole room instantly, but can significantly decrease airborne particles such as viruses in the air. UV lights also can be installed inside updated, modern HVAC systems to disinfect air as it moves through the building. Your electrical contractor can work with your HVAC team to determine the best options, applications, and maintenance plans for you.
Maintenance and Safety
An often overlooked, but critical piece of keeping your building safe is regular maintenance: ensuring emergency equipment, alarm systems, heat and smoke detectors, intercom systems if applicable, and other components of building infrastructure are up-to-date and properly cared for, even when the building is closed for business. These vital components should be inspected regularly and repaired to ensure they are working as designed. Regular maintenance also ensures your electrical contractor will have up-to-date records of the entire electrical system and will be ready to act in the event of an emergency.
As air circulation and filtration systems become a more vital component of keeping your building safe and its occupants healthy, you must have a contingency plan in the event of a power disruption. Whether it is installing a permanent backup power generator for your building, or securing a rental in an emergency, it is important to plan for an emergency before it happens. If your safety plan relies on systems like HVAC and UV lighting (or any other powered system), having a plan to avoid power disruption is key to saving time and money while preventing a total shutdown.
As you take steps to safely reopen your facility, here are key questions to ask your electrical contractor how to help make your building a healthier interior environment:
- Which antibacterial and antiviral solutions do you recommend for my specific building(s)?
- Do you recommend I upgrade my existing infrastructure or install all-new equipment?
- What regular maintenance do you suggest? Which services will be required, how often, and why do you perform each service?
Reopening the country successfully depends on thorough planning and careful execution. Electrical systems will play a bigger role in building safety as we move forward – even after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available – and electrical contractors will be in the forefront, providing the knowledge, equipment and services to reopen and run facilities smoothly and safely.
Brian Lewis is regional vice president at Interstate Electrical Services Corp. (IESC)