Ingenuity and Technical Knowledge in Emergencies

Case Study:

All engineers have had emergency jobs that need fast thinking and some jury-rigging: I was reminded of this reading about the recent accident at Victoria Station, London, wherein a lack of communication between the civic engineers and the mechanical/site engineers, along with some quite bad luck, resulted in the signals room for the Victoria Underground line being flooded with fast-drying cement.

Photograph Credit: http://usvsth3m.com/

Photograph Credit: http://usvsth3m.com/

The problem was resolved with rather a few spoonfuls of sugar, which acted to slow the chemical reaction down and give them time to shovel it out without it setting too quickly. That quick thinking was most likely key to the line running the next day.

Westway have a large stake in maintaining Business Critical Environments, and we understand the importance of both fixing plant failures but also the minimisation of downtime, sometimes involving creative measures.

One notable example was at a Data Centre site, where our on-call engineer attending a call out to a water leak discovered a crack on the live side of a large chilled water valve. The water and glycol was escaping at considerable pressure giving the effect of it raining on the floor – not ideal for the data racks!

With the arrival of the rest of the team, an idea was hatched to clamp the cracked valve collar and stem the flow of water. However, we were unable to carry out the repair immediately. During a space of ten minutes, the floor’s temperature had gone from 24°C to 38°C and we had to consider our options, both to fix the initial problem but also to ensure the temperature did not affect the data space.

Improvising Cooling to isolate leak and ensure plant up-time

–Improvising Cooling to isolate leak and ensure plant up-time–

We had to cool over 6000 square foot of data space to enable the cooling system to this area to be shut down. The only way to achieve this was to use free cooling from outside aided by 12 large portable air conditioning units. This involved us designing a temporary ventilation system that would run from one end of the data hall to the other, using the emergency staircase as a supply air void.

--Assessing available resources--

–Assessing available resources–

We had to get over 60 metres of ridged ductwork and over 200 metres of flexible duct manufactured within two days. Once manufactured and on site, we had a 6 hour window to assemble and then carry out the work of freezing the 5” pipe work and replacing the faulty valve.

We were able to achieve the goal of cooling the data hall with limited temperature rise and replace the valve all within the time frame. The temporary ventilation system was then dismantled in the same evening and through the night and put in storage on site.

Much like the engineers whose chemistry saved the Victoria line- with a cool head and technical knowledge we were able to ensure the site stayed running.