Industry Update
Opinion Article25 April 2013

Ensuring Guest Safety in Hotels

Best Practice for Handling Utility Outages

By Ranjit Gunewardane

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Gunewardane

Recent severe weather events have resulted in serious hurricanes, tropical storms, heavy snowfalls, strong hurricane-force winds and widespread storm surges and flooding. During many of these events, municipal power supplies have been knocked out, forcing residents and businesses, including hotels, to rely on emergency generators to provide electricity.

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Even more than a sense of comfort and style, the quality of the welcome, or even the level of service, hotel guests want to feel safe and secure in their hotel. It enables them to settle into unfamiliar surroundings and enjoy the experience without anxiety. It is a feeling they should be able to take for granted.

The hotel operator must take this responsibility seriously and understand that this concern knows no international boundaries. It is an important part of a hotel's duty of care. To ensure this sense of security, hotels must observe their local and national regulations, but be ready to go beyond these rules, incorporating the latest and best international practices.

Emergency generators are installed in hotels to prevent hazards associated with loss of municipal electric power supplies. The reliability of electric power supplies for Fire and Life Safety systems is critical.

In a hotel, the automatic power transfer switches that transfer the electricity source to the emergency generator, must be timed to provide electric power to fire and life safety loads within 10 seconds and to standby loads within 60 seconds of loss of municipal power supply. The life safety loads include:

  • Illumination of exits from a hotel building leading to an assembly point
  • Emergency exit signs
  • Alarm and alerting systems such as the fire alarm system
  • Controlled emergency communication systems
  • Emergency generator-set room lighting
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Smoke management systems

An emergency power source cannot perform successfully unless each system component functions properly. While attention is often given to protecting the engine-generator set, components such as the fuel system, the age of the fuel (if using a fossil fuel product) and the emergency power transfer panels may not have the same degree of care. As a result, the emergency power source may fail.

For example if the engine-generator set in a hotel is installed on the roof to avoid being flooded, but the automatic power transfer system and emergency power panels are located in the basement, then in the event of a flood the system is likely to fail, regardless of the reliability of the engine-generator.

Hotel developers spend an enormous amount of money on emergency power supply systems so they are assured that in the event of an emergency, the hotel will have the power required to ensure the safety of their guests and associates.

Very often, the fuel oil storage and supply system, the "life blood" of the entire emergency power system, is neglected. Many hotel operators are unaware of the fuel's condition, and its clarity and purity. Fuel contamination is a major cause of premature shutdown of an engine-driven generator set. The fuel storage tanks must be sized to ensure adequate fuel supplies are available throughout the municipal power outage. The size of these storage tanks could be very significant.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that fuel storage tanks are sized so that the fuel is consumed within its "storage life" of 1.5 to 2 years, or provision should be made to replace stale fuel with fresh fuel.

As hotel electrical distribution systems get more complex, the initial commissioning and startup process becomes high priority. It is important to ensure that the entire emergency electrical power distribution system functions appropriately as a whole.

Finally, the most important maintenance issue for emergency power supply systems is the requirement to regularly test the generators with load. Most often it becomes inconvenient to perform the test due to interruptions to delivering guest services. In order that proper testing of the emergency power distribution system doesn't negatively impact hotel operations, modern technology enables a design engineer to develop an automatic power transfer system that provides a seamless transfer between the municipal utility supply and the generator system.

Proper maintenance includes, but is not limited to, fuel filtration to reduce the possibility of contaminants, battery maintenance and replacement to ensure a successful generator start every time, and periodic load testing to reduce the possibility of failure.

Conclusions

Hotel buildings throughout the world are potentially high-risk buildings because of their design and high concentration of people. In addition to not being familiar with their surroundings, hotel guests vary greatly in physical condition and age. There are children and elderly persons to be considered. To minimize risk to these individuals, a reliable Emergency Power Supply system is extremely important. Make sure your professional services firms understand this and deliver the appropriate latest technologies.

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Ranjit Gunewardane

Ranjit Gunewardane brings unique cross border experience and a broad range of multi-disciplinary skills to play in advising clients on all aspects of M&E but also Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape Architecture of hotels and resorts. Recently, and notably, Ranjit used his creative problem solving skills to redesign an extensive mechanical and electrical engineering system that did not conform to the original design concept and did not function as a whole.

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    Hotel Solutions Partnership offers specialist hotel consultancy services to hotel owners, operators, brands, developers, lenders and investors around the World. Hotel Solutions Partnership is a hand-picked network of experts. Between us, we have expertise in more than 75 disciplines, covering all the elements involved in running a successful hotel or hospitality business in today's globally competitive and evolving environment. Click here to learn more.

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