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Cooling Contingency Planning: Preparing for Catastrophic Failure.

by: Richard Halley
New York – New Jersey

Being prepared for the unexpected is good business practice. Most manufacturers have in-place contingency plans to help manage the consequences of such business interruptions as a power outage, fire, computer failure, or chemical spills.

For a manufacturer, a sudden, catastrophic HVAC system failure – that could shut down a production line or an entire plant – represents nothing less than a major economic risk for the entity.

A well-crafted, up-to-date HVAC Contingency Plan can protect inventory, minimize downtime, promote employee comfort and safety, and otherwise manage or reduce the safety, financial and other risks resulting from a major HVAC system failure.

What is a Cooling Contingency Plan?

A contingency plan is “a plan for responding to a system emergency. The plan includes performing backups, preparing critical facilities that can be used to facilitate continuity of operations in the event of an emergency, and recovering from a disaster.” This definition, taken from a HIPAA security and electronic signature standards glossary of terms, speaks to the issues involved in information security in health care information systems.

Adapting that definition to the previously mentioned issues involving manufacturing plant HVAC systems, produces a quick and accurate description of what a “Cooling Contingency Plan” is all about; “a plan for responding to a HVAC system emergency. The plan includes reducing risk, adding or improving component redundancy, preparing facilities for rapid deployment of temporary equipment suitable to sustain critical operations in the event of an emergency, and recovering from a disaster.”

Planning the Plan

Start with the consequences of a major HVAC outage and ask the following questions: How dependent are manufacturing operations, information systems and product storage on comfort cooling or process chilled water? What effect would there be on manufacturing (and office operations) if the cooling system failed or needed to be shut down for unplanned service? What would be the cost of not having cooling for a day, or week on production or inventory? Quantify these costs.

In addition, ask: Which individuals understand the consequences of a failure? Who thoroughly comprehends the interplay and dependence between the facility’s critical production, storage operations and the environmental system? Who has in-depth expertise in and experience with the details of the facility’s HVAC systems – and the available alternatives?

The answers to these questions will help create the outline of what’s to be included in the plan and identify the players who need to be involved.

Developing a Cooling Contingency Plan

The critical success factors in the development of a Cooling Contingency Plan are leadership buy-in and support, understanding “critical needs” versus current needs; preparing for a “worst case” scenario; developing, filing and practicing a formal plan, and keeping the plan current.

Realizing the need for a plan, like any initiative, is the first critical step of the process. The second is assembly of the team that will develop the plan. A successful team will have covered all the bases in terms of knowledge and experience – leveraging expertise from both on-staff personnel and outside experts, such as insurance providers, system and control manufacturers and consulting engineers.

Key components of the plan should include provisions to:

 •  Document the current HVAC equipment in use, ranging from critical HVAC system information to component details
 •  Identify potential sources of failure, the probability of failure and document the cooling required to maintain critical areas
 •  Match specific equipment and all required connection components needed to support critical areas.
 •  Determine required response time frame and budget.
 •  Determine the appropriate location for the temporary equipment and the logistics required to set it in place, as well as electrical and water connection points”. Additionally assignments will need to be made for what roles and responsibilities each entity will undertake.
 •  How to adopt the existing system and controls to better prepare the facility for the use of a temporary solution.
 •  File, review, train and update the response plan and system specifics on a regular basis.
 •  Conduct periodic cooling contingency drills.

While examining the HVAC system during contingency plan development, the team may find areas to improve the system’s operation, reliability or energy efficiency. For instance, if the critical components are aged or have become unreliable, it may be prudent to overhaul or repair them. There also may be substantial benefit in upgrading or replacing existing components with reliable, more energy efficient solutions. These opportunities are worth investigating as they could provide significant and immediate gains in efficiency, performance, while providing a strong return on investment.


For manufacturers, the successful implementation a Cooling Contingency Plan when called for is quite simply “mission critical.”

Manufacturers that don’t properly prepare for an HVAC failure – only to later suffer the consequences of one – face the risk of possible substantial economic losses caused by damage or loss of product inventory and/or plant downtime.

In terms of risk management, the advance planning and preparedness involved in developing and providing ongoing support for a Cooling Contingency Plan is clearly a smart investment against the business, economic, health, and safety fallout that a sudden, catastrophic HVAC system failure could bring down upon a manufacturer.

For more information, contact: Kristin Kubicki at TRANE New York – New Jersey at phone 973-434-2136 or email: