Should Power Go Out, Are You Prepared? (Conclusion)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“Reading about how bad weather left some businesses without power for days, I’m concerned that our laundry may not be protected from interruption. What sort of contingency plan should the average laundry have in place to maintain service?”

Textile/Uniform Rental: Angelo Crespo, Cintas Corp., Westland, Mich.

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Angelo Crespo

Angelo Crespo

A contingency plan is probably the most important yet least used procedure in your facility. But, how effective is it?

In the laundry/linen world, such a plan is highly important to our customers. To them, a linen supply has become just as important as water in the desert.

It is never enough, so imagine how terrible it would be if we could not supply them during a power outage? How could hospitals respond to patients? How would employers continue their service to the community that is experiencing the same emergency? It is up to the laundry industry to keep things going so that people can be serviced.

We all have dealt with some type of contingency plan in our facility. Usually, it’s when major equipment breaks down, requiring us to truck our linens to another facility so they can be laundered. This is a little inconvenient, but it works, and customers are satisfied.

When the power goes out locally, some facilities have “mini” power stations that operate on diesel fuel and supply enough power to the plant to operate at full capacity. What a luxury! What then will the facilities do if they have no such power station to keep them operational?

My experience includes only an isolated outage of less than 24 hours, so I asked a Cintas maintenance engineer, Bruce Krause, about his experience during a regional, multi-day power outage.

He explained that, during this outage, the company had a plan in place that worked effectively. As his facility had no mini power station, it had multiple vendors in place that could supply it with a power generator (and a mini gas storage tank) to restore the power.

Now that power was restored to the plant, getting water to it was the next hurdle to overcome. This problem was solved, Krause says, by having water trucks with a capacity of 70,000 gallons rolling through every hour to supply the plant. This went on around the clock until the power was restored. Thus, during the 2003 power outage that affected the Midwest and Northeast, the plant operated and customers were serviced. In turn, they were able to service their community.

Along with getting equipment operational again, such contingency plans need to include outlines for personnel scheduling, which will be affected.

Operations with truck routes may find it difficult for their fleets to get gas during such a crisis, but it’s possible with good planning.

During a crisis, we do not want to forget the issue of safety. Equipment may contain linens that could combust without a cool-down cycle.

Remember, anything is possible during a power outage. The only way of getting through it without any added stress is planning well before the emergency happens.

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Scott Delin, Fashion Seal Healthcare, Seminole, Fla.

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Scott Delin

Scott Delin

Recently, while doing some spring cleaning, I had a bunch of stuff to take to our local recycle center. When I hopped into my son’s Jeep that had been sitting idle on the street the last few months, the car would not start. I immediately needed to resort to my contingency or backup plan: a spare car battery we had in our garage. Upon replacing the battery, I loaded the Jeep and off I went.

On my drive to the recycling center, I started to think about how lucky I was that I had a contingency plan to fall back on. If not, I would have had to make other arrangements that would have cost me time and money.

In today’s environment, laundry operators must have contingency plans in place so that a disaster, boiler breakdown or equipment failure will not interrupt or otherwise affect our service to our customers.

In some cases where laundry operators have multiple plants, the plants could be strategically placed so that in the event one plant might go down, production could be shifted to another so as not to miss a beat with production and delivery.

Sure, there will be some minor headaches in logistically moving product from one location to the next, but the bottom line here is that the laundry is still processed and delivered to the end-user on a timely basis like nothing has happened.

Contingency plans within laundries might also entail having a spare boiler on-site that can be instantly fired up in the event the main boiler should go down.
Spare generators also play a role should there be an electrical interruption.

Another contingency could be having extra or “emergency” linen set aside in a warehouse, either on-site or locally, that is accessible to fulfill immediate needs until the problem at hand is resolved.

When it comes to logistics and delivery, some operators may have spare trucks or vans in their fleet that could be used in the event of a breakdown. Or, they may have a relationship with a local vehicle rental service that can be counted upon should a truck be required for emergency service.

If we look around, successful businesses have contingency plans that they can fall back on in the event of a disaster or immediate business interruption. Having these plans readily available gives operators peace of mind knowing that should anything catastrophic happen, there is a backup to ensure timely deliveries.

Thank God I had that extra battery to use for the Jeep. It allowed me to complete my task at hand on time and get out to the golf course, where, unfortunately, I have no contingency plan whatsoever.

Commercial Laundry: Rick Rone, Laundry Plus, Bradenton, Fla.

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Rick Rone

Rick Rone

It would seem to make no difference what segment of the industry you are involved in. Backup plans and the ability to provide continuity of service should be a staple of business rather than an afterthought.

Especially in our segment (outsourced hospitality laundry), it is a daily thought and an integral portion of our business model. We always need to realize that our customers carry a minimum basic inventory (par level) and that they are trusting us to provide a daily professional service and will not accept anything less.

I believe that it starts with the choices we have when spec’ing out new machinery and never actually stops. When reviewing new-machinery acquisitions, one must take into consideration the strength of the company, its backup plans, and how the company is stocked with parts and technicians as well as trained personnel in all facets of business.

As a laundry grows in size as well as daily volume, there gets to be a point where your friends and competitors might not have the ability to “bail you out” in case of an emergency. You need to control your own destiny! If your laundry is designed to run 24 hours a day, and you are at full capacity, it leaves no time for challenges, whether they are from machinery breakdowns or other sources over which you have no control.

The contingency plan should include, if possible, other laundries to take your volume if you go down. That gets to be a real challenge on many levels. If that is not feasible, backup of parts as well as backup of complete machines is a must.

We run our plant on a 50HP air compressor but also maintain 30HP and 20HP machines in case the main goes down. The same thing should pertain to every piece of machinery in your plant.

We designed our new plant to run 12 to 18 hours per day. If one of the larger machines, like a tunnel, goes down, we have the ability to run additional hours to make up for the problem.

If you have the space as well as the budget, an auxiliary generator is a most valuable piece of machinery. It does not need to be big enough to run your complete plant. Due to the fact that you can usually stagger your machinery as well as personnel, you can usually get by with something smaller.

Quite often, you might be able to approach your various utilities and arrange for a program where in exchange for providing them (their emergency response team) with laundry services, they will get you back up and running prior to everybody else.

I am not sure that it is possible to provide for every possible occurrence, but with prudent planning, we can all minimize the negative effects of a service interruption.

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