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3 Tips for Confidence in Your Facilitys Air Handling Units

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By Brian Crum, Guest Blogger

Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of Professional Services at Facility Health Inc.

What can you do now to ensure your facility will be able to manage this pandemic or the next one? If Covid-19 has opened our eyes to anything, it is the need to develop flexible plans and out-of-the-box solutions to accommodate a large and highly contagious patient population. This starts with an accurate understanding of what your HVAC system serves, and what capabilities it may have for short-term reconfiguration.

Do you know (with confidence) which air handling units (AHU) serve each space within the hospital? It is not uncommon to see “surgery” written on the side of an AHU with a sharpie, but what does that tell you? Does it serve specific rooms, sterile areas, and outer core? Does the area receive additional air from an adjacent unit that also serves PACU? Which associated exhaust fans serve the space to accommodate pressurization and air exchange requirements? It is simply not possible to develop a strategic emergency plan without having full transparency of the equipment.

Start with Space. Use base floorplans and identify the boundaries of areas served by each air handling unit, taking special care to ensure that you capture renovated areas and other opportunities people have taken with “stealing air”. Color code and hatch each area, matching the color of the AHU to the space it serves. Note how much CFM is available by each AHU, as well as maximum indoor/outdoor air mix capacities. Do the same for each and every exhaust fan. Laminate copies of these plans and place them in each appropriate mechanical space.

Risk It. Do you have access to space risk identified on floorplans? Lay this drawing over the AHU drawings. Use this to determine the highest risk areas served by each air handling unit. You can use these results to “risk rank” each AHU individually. This information can then be used to not only identify areas of opportunity for isolation flex space but also which AHU’s to focus maintenance work and upkeep on during the pandemic. Develop and use an AEM (Alternative Equipment Management) plan, even if temporary, to ensure the right equipment is being addressed with limited staff.

Confidence Creates Solutions. I have heard many ideas from facilities professionals developing plans B and C to resolve the need for temporary isolation space - with each idea unique to the space. If airflow is maxxed on exhaust fans 7 and 9 and supplemented with a temporary fan out through the break room window, how must AHU 12 be adjusted to meet air exchange requirements and still maintain temperature? This level of ingenuity cannot be achieved without absolute faith in the accuracy of understanding all impacting assets. Take the time to document all the necessary asset characteristics that will provide you with the information needed to develop a plan of action, and be comfortable with those plans when the situation requires it.

Having a plan going into the next phase of this pandemic with confidence in your air handling units will be a huge step toward risk mitigation and peace of mind for you and your staff.

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