Mission Critical

A new article has been proposed for the 2008 National Electrical Code (NEC) covering mission-critical electrical systems installed in vital infrastructures or facilities where, if the infrastructure or facility was either destroyed or incapacitated, disruption of the facility would affect national security, the economy, public health or the safety of our citizens.

The purpose of this article would be to provide direction on enhancements of the structure of the facility or power system to ensure continuity of operation for the electrical system with the ultimate result being the continued operational function of the facility.

The provisions of this article would apply to the electrical safety of the installation, operation, supervision and maintenance of electrical circuits and equipment intended to supply, distribute and control electricity for power and illumination when normal power is interrupted. These systems would be legally designated and required for mission-critical facilities and systems by municipal, state, federal or other governmental agencies based on the facility’s function.

For example, air traffic control and communications centers—as well as telephone exchanges, 911 centers and cellular tower sites—could be designated as mission-critical facilities, because all of these sites are vital to the operation of our country during a national emergency.

Recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast area have caused disruption of service to critical facilities such as chemical, petrochemical, hazardous biohazard handling and natural gas and gasoline fuel supply pumping station—a disruption that seriously affected large areas of our country. Any long-term disruption of power to our financial, banking and business data processing facilities could cripple our economy in untold ways.

Water and sewer treatment facilities must continue to operate during a crisis since disruption of the municipal infrastructure can cause panic or disease and affect the national health and welfare of our nation. Police, fire and civil defense communications is of utmost importance to ensure help can be guaranteed to anyone exposed to danger or hurt during a catastrophe. Airports, rail stations and seaports must have their electrical infrastructure examined and enhanced to ensure power is maintained because transportation is such an important part of reacting to a disaster.

Finally, since hospitals and emergency evacuation centers are such an incredibly important part of any natural or manmade disaster, their electrical systems must be designed and located to minimize exposure to hazards that might cause failure of the electrical system due to flooding, fire, ice, vandalism, terrorism and other adverse conditions.

The article would be similarly arranged to any other article in the NEC with a scope statement outlining the coverage of mission-critical buildings and their electrical systems. Definitions applying to mission-critical facilities and installations would be covered in the second section of the article. Applications of other articles within the NEC to these facilities would be detailed in the third section. A hazard risk assessment for any mission-critical facility is a necessity and should be spelled out in detail in the remainder of the article.

Identification of the hazards and the likelihood of their occurrence will be critical in determining the vulnerability of the electrical system. These hazards could be natural disasters, such as geological, meteorological or biological disasters, or the hazards could be accidental or intentional events caused by humans.

Once a risk assessment has been accomplished, the next step would be to develop and implement a strategy on how to mitigate any hazards that have been identified, unless the effects have already been dealt with by existing codes and standards.

If the facility is an existing facility, then a plan must be developed to reduce the hazard by relocating the electrical equipment, retrofitting the equipment to deal with the hazard threat, or removing the hazard by modifying the building construction or adding to the safety features already existing in the facility to further enhance the features.

For example, if equipment flooding is an issue, then moving the equipment above the anticipated flood plain or adding larger pumps to handle extra water would be part of the plan. To prevent failure of electrical equipment on water pumps or similar necessary hazard equipment, redundancy may need to be built into the systems to ensure enhanced reliability.

To help with this hazard risk assessment and hazard analysis, Section 5.3 of NFPA 1600, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs, provides additional guidance concerning risk assessment and hazard analysis.

Another key issue to be faced by the panel is to establish the physical security requirements for the electrical equipment for mission-critical facilities and to ensure that only qualified personnel maintain and have access to the equipment. EC

ODE is a staff engineering associate at Underwriters Laboratories Inc., in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He can be reached at 919.549.1726 or at mark.c.ode@us.ul.com.



About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and Mark.C.Ode@ul.com.

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