Push button in case of emergency: HVAC team ready for volcanic ash fall

  • Published
  • By Airman Jack Sanders
  • 3rd Wing Public Affairs
Volcanic activities from Mount Redoubt in the last two months have provided many planning and training opportunities for Airmen here.

Elmendorf's Heating Ventilation and Air Condition section has its own plan and ideas for dangerous ash fall here. In the case of volcano eruptions, with varying conditions, the average reaction time HVAC specialists have is around two hours. By then, they have to set all their plans and training into motion.

"We have a Direct Digital Control system of our HVAC equipment," said Johnny Perry, the 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron HVAC work leader. The DDC, according to Perry, is connected to approximately 110 buildings on base. The DDC has the ability to shut down all HVAC equipment attached to the building, meaning that all heating or air-conditioning, air ducts, boilers, and etc. will be shut down. Not only will this process shut down the heat and the AC, but it will also stop all air intakes into the buildings. "It's almost a push button operation were we can turn off noncritical facilities as far as air handling facilities are concerned. It'll shut down the ventilation ... so we don't draw in air from the contaminated ash area," he said.

With the DDC active, the HVAC work leaders, as well as the other HVAC members who have the proper authority, may access and shut down specific equipment as needed.

If the condition gets to an even worse state, the DDC also has the ability to shut down critical equipment and facilities too. "We have a secondary shut down and a primary shut down, which shuts down everything, and then we can bring it all back up safely," said Perry.

The DDC is convenient for the HVAC team because, for them, it is easily accessible. "It's a browser-based program that is accessed from any computer around the world, if you have the access level to get into the system," said John Elsholz, a 3rd CES HVAC work leader. "One click gets it quick, that's my motto," he said in reference to the DDC system.

HVAC team members do have access to most equipment and buildings on base, but some of the older buildings have yet to be added to the DDC. Since these buildings are not fitted with the DDC, the team must manually check or shut down necessary systems. "We dispatch crews based on a priority listing that we have in the shop," said Perry.

All of the manual shut downs must be finished within the two-hour window from when the volcano first erupted and an ash cloud is headed toward the base. The HVAC team will first determine if the systems can be run without damage before they shut down the systems. If ash fall is going to be damaging to the systems or is around one-eighth of an inch or one-quarter of an inch the team will begin to shut down the systems.

While there is a lot of work to be accomplished in little time, the HVAC team does have some words of wisdom for those Airmen that would like to help. "We prefer to do it ourselves rather than having our customers go out there and do it," said Perry as he leaned back in his chair. "We don't want them to accidentally turn off equipment that shouldn't be turned off."

The HVAC team said the best thing that any Airmen can do to aid them in their job is to follow the ash fall prevention operations that have already begun around the base. Base members should be doing things like covering electronic equipment with plastic or checking windows for drafts, and covering and reporting broken windows and doors. Also, Airmen can help by turning off circulating fans or any other air flow devices.

The HVAC team has been doing its best to keep Airmen safe and comfortable to get the mission accomplished in these arctic conditions, and uncertainty of the next volcanic eruption.