Best Practices for Alternative Housing Site Conversions in the Power Gen Industry

James Bierschbach, PE, PMP

Safeguarding power generation assets from COVID-19 and adapting your pandemic response plan is more important than ever.

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our reliance on, and the essential nature of, the power grid through our increased use of computers, cell phones, appliances and utilities in our personal and professional lives while in quarantine. It is crucial that utility companies are agile and resilient to growing challenges while protecting their employees and facilities. Safeguarding power generation assets from COVID-19 and adapting the plan for the next wave of infections is more important than ever. Utilities need to identify core staff, minimize potential interactions, and, in a worst-case scenario, contain and ensure continued operations if an infection does take place. One of the most important strategies to develop is a pandemic response that includes a plan for Alternative Housing Conversion to provide as much operational flexibility.

As a golden rule, proactively planning and preparing in both the short and long term for worst-case scenarios saves time and money and re-enforces the commitment to protect the health and safety of employees working within the power grid. The importance of being proactive is especially critical in this situation. When everyone needs the same items, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), the price usually increases, or compromises need to be made which can cascade down to operations and decreases efficiency.

Alternative Housing Conversions

Utilizing Alternative Housing Site Conversions are a key component in developing an emergency response plan for a power utility facility. Alternative Housing areas are sites within the facility that can be utilized if operations in a particular area need to be shifted. This could be due to an outbreak, or other emergency. These sites cover all aspects to house key operations, maintenance, linemen, or response staff to maintain consistent and safe operations. Potential sites range from an existing building with meeting and conference rooms, cafeterias and temporary offices to bringing in new trailers. As you can imagine, it’s critical these conversions are done correctly and with partnership of the appropriate Authorities Having Jurisdiction.

Engineering considerations when undertaking an Alternative Housing Conversion usually include fire protection and life safety, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and structural engineering. While these are baseline requirements to develop an effective site, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting a further consideration: human behavior.

Fostering appropriate human behavior in Alternative Housing Conversion sites is an extremely important element of their success, especially in during the current global pandemic. Engineers can develop physical barriers, safe workstations and mass notification systems, but if employees are unable or unwilling to adhere to safety precautions, the site will be at risk of an outbreak.

Factors that fall under human behavior include security risk management, sanitization, alternative site spacing and effectively supplying the Alternative Housing Conversion site to maintain exclusion. While this falls outside of the typical engineering requirements one thinks of for these sites, the additional factors are just as important to maintaining business continuity.

While we all continue to make efforts to flatten the curve of infection, essential services like power generation need to make sure they protect their employees and facilities from an outbreak. Prevention and risk mitigation should always be the priority, but an effective emergency action plan should also cover preparation, response and recovery. Utilities need to be prepared for the possibility of a second or third wave of infections. Including an Alternative House Conversion site in their plan will help them to respond quickly and continue to provide an essential service without interruption.

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