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Protecting Your Facilities During Winter Weather

Year-round preparation for winter storm events

Overview

Winter chill and blizzards present direct challenges to facility operations. The most obvious problems these hazards present are frozen pipes and roof collapse from snow overloading/drifting. But there are other dangers as well:

  • Strong winter winds can also damage roof coverings
  • Freezing rain and sleet can cause collapse of power lines and tall structures
  • Improperly installed/used temporary heating equipment can lead to fires or explosions.

Therefore, it is essential that appropriate precautions be taken prior to the onset of winter weather and other natural hazards to minimize the probability and severity of damage resulting from severe winter weather.

WINTER WEATHER EXPOSURES

Winter weather exposures fall into four primary categories: extreme cold, heavy snow, freezing rain and sleet, and high winds. Each of these categories can occur in isolation, but it is very common for high winds to accompany all of them.

The most effective risk management and mitigation steps to minimize damage from these exposures are done prior to the onset of winter. The three major goals of these steps are to:

  • Winterize equipment that will be exposed to freezing temperatures
  • Ensure adequate heat where winterization is not practical
  • Protect structures and utility services

EQUIPMENT WINTERIZATION

Even prior to the onset of winter weather, seasonal preparations can be made to minimize the risks that winter storms and cold weather can cause.

Equipment that will be exposed to freezing temperatures (and cannot be moved to a heated area) needs to be prepared for winter weather. Most such production equipment is designed for outdoor conditions; however, manufacturers of most such equipment recommend specific steps be taken prior to the onset of cold weather to ensure safe operation.

Some equipment is shut down for the winter. All such equipment should be drained of water and prepared for the cold or idle period per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Control valves should be locked or sealed in the shut position.

Dry pipe and pre-action sprinkler systems need special maintenance:

  • The annual trip tests should occur in the spring to ensure maximum drainage of condensate
  • The low point drains of these systems should be drained in the fall, usually at the time of the monthly system inspection
  • In addition, heat for riser rooms (or heat tracing and insulation of wet piping) should be tested
  • The concentration for antifreeze systems should be tested in the fall
  • All valve pits should be pumped dry
  • Make sure the locations of roadway valves are clearly marked or otherwise identified so they can be quickly found under ice and slush that will accumulate on the road

ADEQUATE HEAT PREPARATIONS

All heating equipment should be tested for proper fire protection (including combustion safety controls) in the early fall, including portable and supplemental heating equipment used in extreme events. Construction areas where the building envelope is incomplete or lacking insulation often need supplemental heat. Review the protocols for using this equipment each fall and caution employees against using unauthorized heaters. Only listed temporary heaters with tip-over and other safety interlocks should be authorized. Check areas remodeled in the last 9 months for adequate heat, including above new drop ceilings.

Test the fire water suction tank heating system and heat for the fire pump room (including diesel block heater) in the fall. Also check heat and/or heat tracing in all dry pipe sprinkler riser and valve rooms.

PREPARING YOUR STRUCTURES AND SERVICES

Building structures are subject to overloading with heavy snow and freezing rain during the winter months. To avoid this, ensure that all roof drains are cleared of autumn leaves so melting snow will not be trapped on the roof. Check the flashing on all roofs in the fall (flashing is critical for preventing roof covering peel-back in high winds).

Standby generators should be tested (and winterized as appropriate) prior to the winter months. Review and update power outage protocols in advance, as well as freezing rain and sleet can accumulate on power lines and tall structures. When this is coupled with high winds, power line failure and structural collapse of towers and utility poles can occur. Check the securement and anchorage of roof mounted equipment such as antennas, satellite dishes, and cooling towers. Check project areas to ensure new excavations or depressions have not reduced ground cover over water piping to dangerous levels.

EXPERTISE TO PROTECT YOUR FACILITIES

TÜV SÜD Global Risk Consultants (GRC) experts are on-hand to assist you in identifying your natural hazard risk exposures such as hurricanes, winter storms, seismic events and tornadoes. We assist you in implementing a proactive risk management plan in case of such events.

Contact Us Today


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