4 Steps to Avoiding Electrical Disasters

4 Steps to Avoiding Electrical Disasters
10 Apr 2017

By David Brender

Too many businesses lack the proper grounding and bonding systems needed to ensure uptime and reliability, especially emergency response facilities and data centers. For a moment, imagine a world where first responders stopped responding. Frantic phone calls would go unanswered and emergency vehicles would never leave the station. This tragic imagery became reality as summer thunderstorms repeatedly extinguished the communication and response systems of a Denver fire station.

Fire station

Without the proper systems in place, the fire station experienced costly lightning damage and potentially fatal communication system downtime; something an emergency center cannot risk.

Since downtime of equipment can be expensive or disastrous, designing or retrofitting for power quality considerations is often very inexpensive when compared to reoccurring repair costs. Below are a few steps a facility manager or building owner can take to help prevent power quality problems.

1. Contact an Electrical Professional

The best way to safeguard against electrical hazards is to have a professional electrician install, inspect and—if necessary—upgrade your wiring. It’s not worth the risk to rely on wiring materials that can corrode, loosen or fail under pressure.  If you have any doubts about the wiring in your facility, call a licensed electrician.

Keep in mind that every tradesperson or electrician is only as good as their reputation. It’s fair to ask for references to check the contractor’s work. Once an electrician is selected, a thorough preliminary inspection should be conducted in order to determine the problems and to provide an accurate scope of work.

2. Install a Lightning Protection System

Severe thunderstorms may occur only a few days each year in many locales, but if lightning strikes near an unprotected facility, the power surge is likely to be carried throughout the electrical wiring, leaving lost equipment and damaged electronics in its wake, and possibly harming anyone who happens to be touching one of these devices. Lightning protection systems may give buildings the best chance to avoid this unpredictable damage.

Lightning protection systems do not attract lightning to structures, nor do they repel it. Rather, these systems intercept the lightning and channel the energy onto a low-resistance path. The systems provide a low-impedance, easy path for the lightning energy to flow, maximizing current. Conversely, for the equipment to represent a high-impedance path, minimizing current. This safely discharges, or grounds, the electrical current to the earth.

3. Choose Materials Based on Superior Connectability and Reliability

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A total systems approach with copper provides the best support for a facility that operates 24/7 and cannot afford to be taken offline. Copper is a better conductor of electricity and will require less upkeep than aluminum and will incur less replacement costs. It strips easily, bends easily without nicking or breaking, has the pull-through strength that’s important for pulling wire through conduits and other tight places, and it can be connected without special lugs and fittings.

Constant expansion and contraction under “load, no-load” conditions can cause non-copper materials to “creep,” a process which results in the loosening of terminations. In turn, loose connections tend to heat up, and will sometimes arc dangerously. Copper may cost a little more to begin with, but first cost is the least cost when it’s the last cost.

4. Exceed the National Electrical Code

Following the National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, helps to ensure the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment. Equipment downtime for a 9-1-1 center or touch-potential in any facility can certainly be life-threatening. However, for sensitive locations, it is important to go beyond the codes. NEC is intended to ensure safety and it contains few provisions dealing specifically with power quality.

Power quality issues are addressed in the form of recommended practices in publications like the Institute for Electrical and
Electronic Engineering’s familiar “Green Book” (IEEE Std 142) and “Emerald Book” (IEEE Std 1100).

 

So what can you do to protect your business or organization from an electrical disaster? It’s simple, 1) contact a professional; 2) install a lightning protection system; 3) choose materials based on superior connectability; and 4) exceed the National Electrical Code. Since following these steps, the Denver fire station has not experienced any downtime and its 100-percent copper lightning protection system has worked flawlessly.

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