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By now, most people across the United States have heard the term “Polar Vortex”. But for those that have not, the video below explains it pretty well.

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot that facility, asset and maintenance management can do when the temperature is low enough to cause frostbite in 10 minutes. When weather conditions are this cold, most maintenance is reactive as governments and industry facilities managers use the majority of their resources to deal with a constant stream of emergencies.

Why Knowing Asset Conditions is Vital

The immediate impact of the Polar Vortex can be seen by the closing of schools, airports, offices and the plethora of snow and ice images shown on the news. The cold can even be felt here in Florida when the temperature dropped from 75 to 34 in less than a day.

Still, it is difficult for me to imagine the wind chill effects reported in Minnesota (-61) or that driving was banned in Indianapolis this past Monday. I do know the images of ice on bridges around Lake Michigan are very eerie. Assets will be and are going to be damaged as the cold makes it way through the nation.

In addition, the problems and damage that cold, ice, and snow create are not limited to the duration of the Polar Vortex. Asset damages are also caused when the weather starts to warm (and cool) again. Some examples of this include:

After Effects of Severe Cold

  • Melting snow and ice which can cause flooding weeks or months later, facility water damage, and sinkholes.
  • Damage caused by the contraction and expansion of asset parts resulting in cracked seals, valve leaks, brittleness or asset failures.
  • The acceleration of corrosion from both the use of salts to melt ice and as a result of water as the catalyst.
  • Asset or objects that have been crystallized or frozen during the cold are at risk of failure. This includes plastics, rubbers, tin, glues etc.. Every asset needs to be inspected.
  • Wildlife and pests damage. All animals search for a place to stay warm. Insects, rodents and birds can cause building damages and can present safety/health concerns.

It should go without saying that no facility should be allowed back into full operation without proper maintenance inspections. The consequences from a leaking fuel line or failure of a critical asset can be catastrophic. Every asset should undergo inspections before put in use again.

However, if you read the news over the next few weeks/months, you will see a stream of accidents, asset failures and deaths all related back to damage from the Polar Vortex. In many of the situations to come, it will be found that maintenance teams were overwhelmed by a rush of work requests and emergency repairs and that proper inspections were NOT performed.

It is the responsibility of facility and maintenance management to know the conditions of all assets at all times. One of the best ways to obtain continual asset knowledge is record the maintenance work history of every asset. The maintenance history includes the results of all work requests, work orders and inspections results.

CMMS, Inspections and the Polar Vortex

A very effective tool for managing asset knowledge is Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS). CMMSsystems provide tools for organizing assets, the automation of work management and scheduling that are needed to ensure work (including inspections) are taking place so that a balance of reactive and proactive maintenance occurs.

Using CMMS, maintenance management can generate any number or type of inspections checklist that can be used before, during and after any event. The results of all maintenance inspections are recorded by the CMMS and be used for creating new work orders and/or prioritizing work.

As the Polar Vortex shifts back to the Arctic, maintenance teams should be utilizing their CMMS generated inspections checklists to determine the condition of each asset. This asset knowledge will assist in making intelligent decisions and hopefully avoid major repairs later on.

Not every organization has a CMMSsystem. In these situations, inspections checklist can be generated using a spreadsheet or even a hand written chart. The most important aspect is that assets are inspected.

Not trying to be cold about this (pun intended), but we live in an age where computer software is indispensable. Asset intensive organizations that are not willing to invest in CMMS are already at a serious competitive disadvantage. Given the state of the economy, there is simply no excuse for not getting the most out your assets.