Should Power Go Out, Are You Prepared? (Part 1)

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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?”

Equipment Manufacturing: Kelly Outram, Kannegiesser USA, Grand Prairie, Texas

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Kelly Outram

Kelly Outram

I have the good fortune to assist Kannegiesser USA’s customer base throughout the Southeastern area of the United States … from the high plains of Texas and Oklahoma to the coastline of Florida. Included within this region are states that fall into the area commonly known as “Tornado Alley,” and others that are included in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions where hurricanes are an ongoing threat.

(In fact, as I am writing this article at my home here in north-central Texas, the local news is reporting flash flooding, strong wind and hail damage, and multiple reports of tornadoes touching down today throughout this region of the state.)

As a result of these elevated levels of inclement and/or severe weather throughout the region, many laundry operators have discussed with me the comprehensive and documented contingency plans they have in place.

These plans involve multiple layers of external backup for utilities services, and linen supplies redundancy, that have included:

  • Electrical power generators
  • Large propane storage tanks
  • Extra water-storage capacity
  • “Safety” par of new linen
  • Storage of a one-day supply of processed, clean linen
  • A prearranged reciprocal agreement with another laundry(s) to help ensure uninterrupted linen service to their customer base during a catastrophic weather event

However, many times these conversations also involve their internal operational contingency plans as well. Topics here have included:

  • Their ongoing maintenance procedures of existing equipment
  • Ascertaining possible bottlenecks of the linen flow throughout the facility
  • Identifying potential needs for added production capacity or redundancy of capital and mechanical room equipment

In the case that a facility does experience stoppages in production, a truly complete contingency plan includes an improved assurance of sustainable and reliable machine operation, thoughtful plant-design and production-flow efficiencies, and adequate or even reserve production capacity.

These internal aspects of the plan help to ensure their ability to adequately respond to a disruptive event and to quickly get production and deliveries back to their normal schedule in a minimal number of days following said event.

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

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David Barbe

David Barbe

I think the first question a business needs to ask itself is, “How will our customers be impacted by our inability to operate?” Will it be a minor inconvenience to them, as in, “I can’t get my dry cleaning back”? Or, in the case of a healthcare laundry, will your continued operation be critically important to people’s health?

If your customers won’t be needing goods during a disaster, ceasing operations is not a problem.

In the latter case, the next question is, “How can we cope with this problem?” If the problem is strictly a local issue, can arrangements be made with a nearby laundry to help with production? Or, if the problem is of regional size, can enough backup power be economically procured to keep your laundry going?

And, remember, you need water, power and, probably, gas to operate. Some of these resources will be difficult to back up. Identify key production requirements. Perhaps limited operation is an option. In the worst case, use of disposables may be the rational choice. If so, a stock of such items must be available prior to being needed. Note that if transportation isn’t available, this stock should be at the customers’ locations.

With our company located in an active hurricane area, we are acutely aware of the problems of prolonged utility interruptions. Occasionally, we’ve been without power for days at a time. And, our water supply has been interrupted for long periods, too. Sadly, this happens enough that we have plans and options.

Obviously, the time to plan for such situations is before they occur. Generators large enough to actually run a large plant are fabulously expensive. They can be rented, but unless a rental agreement is signed prior to a large outage, they may not be available. If rental is your best option, work with an electrician to install suitable connections ahead of time as part of your contingency plan.

Think about water. If you use a well, great! Otherwise, discuss your supply with the utility company. Based on their level of preparation, you may be able to depend on them. If not, other solutions may have to be considered.

Finally, don’t forget about nuisance outages. Say a bad driver knocks down the power pole down the street. Or, the utility company has a problem for 10 minutes or so. Do you have a UPS—uninterruptible power supply—system on your computers? Is all your equipment properly designed to be restarted gracefully and controllably? Talk to your IT people and electrician.

To summarize, the key things to consider are the operation needs, the possible level of interruption and the practicality of any solutions. But the most important thing is to think, plan and prepare while everything is still operating normally.

Textiles: Cecil B. Lee, Standard Textile, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Cecil B. Lee

Cecil B. Lee

Memories of Y2K came flooding back to me with this question. As you may recall, that was the time of the anticipated computer glitch that did not account for the computer’s internal calendar going past 1999. During that time, there was concern as to whether water, natural gas and electricity supplies would continue to flow. We literally had to make assessment as to whether we could properly back up each.

With downtime a potential situation for all laundries, it is important that you have a backup plan in place. Whether winter snow, spring thunderstorms, tornadoes or hurricanes, things happen. There should be agreements in place with other laundries that would serve to process all or a portion of your volume under certain conditions.

You should have agreements that are local in nature, and agreements that are considered to be “long distance” so that your backup would not be suffering from the same problem of no gas, electricity or water.

Many laundries have backup generators or connection points for portable generators in the event the issue is electrical. This is excellent, in that such an issue can be taken care of almost instantaneously, or within the matter of a few hours.

Downtime situations also illuminate the need to have enough pars of linen in the system, a backup linen inventory, and linen vendor relationships that would allow you to receive linen in emergencies to cover your needs. Pre-laundered linens can also be a great asset in this situation. In many cases, it can be delivered directly to the facility that needs it.

Conservation plans play an important role in these scenarios, too. Your relationship with customers should be such that you would inform them of your inability to service at normal levels and ask that they go into “conservation mode” by way of making only necessary bed changes, keeping the general use of linen to a minimum, and potentially rescheduling high linen-use procedures (such as in the case of a medical facility).

Most emergencies are temporary, and most laundries have the ability to run longer hours and more days to recover from a short-term shutdown.

Having managed plants that ran two shifts per day over five days, I am acutely aware that there are 21 shifts available over a seven-day period. If I have two tunnel washers and were to lose one to downtime, for example, I am losing five shifts over a five-day period. Since I normally use 10 shifts each week, I have the ability to make up the lost time by spreading it over the 11 additional shifts.

I will never forget the time when I had to do this for almost three weeks. I said my prayers every night! Luckily, most situations are not this drastic, but having this plan worked.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion, featuring textile/uniform rental, uniforms/workwear manufacturing and commercial laundry reps.

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