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Emergency HVAC Service: Is Your Provider Prepared for a Disaster?

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Last Updated on September 26, 2015

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Does Your HVAC Service Company Have a Disaster Recovery Plan?

Those of us in the New York City are who lived through Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath understand the need for disaster recovery planning.

Chances are, if you own a business in New York City, you’ve done your due diligence and developed a disaster recovery plan for your business. You probably have plans in place for evacuation, communication with employees and customers, power supply and data access. After all, having a disaster recovery plan in place can make the difference between getting back up and running after a catastrophe and losing your business permanently.

If you’ve followed storm-preparedness guidelines from the American Red Cross, or facilities management organizations such as IFMA, you probably feel like you’re well prepared should a major storm strike New York City again.

Yet there is an area you may have overlooked: emergency HVAC service planning. If you experience damage to your HVAC system following a major storm that causes destruction throughout the area, how prepared is your service provider to deal with the aftermath? Will you be waiting weeks for emergency HVAC service and repair before you can get back up and running?

Here’s how to make sure you’re in good hands. Ask for specific details about your HVAC service provider’s emergency HVAC service and disaster recovery plans, especially related to:

  • Communication
  • Logistical planning for managing service requests
  • Access to trucks, parts, supplies and service equipment
  • Access to your equipment and maintenance history records
  • Prior experience and handling of emergencies

Related article: Hurricane Preparedness Tips for Your NYC Business.

Emergency HVAC service planning: COMMUNICATION

How will your service provider communicate with you, and with their own employees, in the event of an emergency? They should provide you with alternate ways to contact them in case phone communication is disrupted, including email and social media contact information.

Both technology and detailed plans should be in place to prevent communication disruption, as well as to compensate if some communication methods are compromised. For example, phone systems should be hosted off-site to prevent service disruption in a local emergency. Redundancy for internet access and phones should be in place. For example, if a provider has T1 lines, cable modems, and wireless communication, ideally hosted in different physical locations, service will still be available even if one access provider goes down.

Employees also need to be properly trained about what to do and whom to contact in the event of an emergency. Phone chains and call-in systems should be in place so everyone can stay in contact.

Emergency HVAC service planning: LOGISTICS

In addition to communication plans and training, your service provider needs to create protocols and train employees about logistical details related to handling emergency HVAC service, including:

  • How to prioritize emergency HVAC service requests and communicate expected response times. (Do they provide priority to their customers with maintenance contracts? Many providers do, and preparing for emergency HVAC service after a storm is just one reason you should have one!).
  • Points of contact within your city for important information including road closures, power availability, and access to affected areas.
  • Alternate routes for getting around the city in the event of flooding or road closures.
  • Protocols for coordinating with law enforcement, fire officials, utility companies and other emergency responders.

Related article: Q&A About HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts.

Emergency HVAC service planning: ACCESS TO TRUCKS AND SUPPLIES

Even if your service provider has all the communication and logistical plans in place, if they can’t access their trucks, supplies, and parts, they won’t be able to provide emergency HVAC service and get you back up and running.

At a minimum, your service provider should not keep trucks all in the same location. Even better, they should plan to place trucks in strategic locations throughout the city so they can provide quick response where it’s needed most.

It’s a great sign if your HVAC service company has its own warehouse with access to many parts and supplies, but even better if they also have relationships with parts suppliers around the area. That way even if certain areas are inaccessible, it’s possible to obtain the needed parts.

Emergency HVAC service planning: ACCESS TO EQUIPMENT RECORDS

Data access is critical in an emergency situation. It can take much longer to provide emergency HVAC service if your HVAC company doesn’t have access to your equipment records and maintenance history.

Make sure your service provider has both generators to provide emergency power, and data backups in case computer equipment goes down. Data must be backed up and stored remotely, using either an online cloud system or using tapes or drives at a secondary location. Your equipment data should be accessible via wireless devices such as smart phones and tablet computers.

Emergency HVAC service planning: EXPERIENCE

If you’re dealing with a company that has been in business for some time, it’s very likely that they have had to handle an emergency situation at some point. Ask about how they prepared, and how they were able to respond as a result. You might even ask to speak to a customer they took care of during an emergency. Look for evidence of smart preparation and good decision making. Is it likely that this company can foresee the likely consequences of an emergency and put the proper plans in place for emergency HVAC service?

As a New York City HVACR service company, obviously we’re concerned with your experience with emergency HVAC service. However, you can use these vetting guidelines for any of your service vendors to verify that they are prepared to serve you well in an emergency. It’s imperative that you ask the right questions and understand the responses to look for from the most qualified companies.

If the unthinkable happens, you want to know how to communicate with the providers that service your mission-critical systems, and be sure that they are set up to get you back up and running as quickly as possible.

Want to learn more about preparing your HVAC equipment for a major storm? Take a look at our helpful HVAC Emergency Preparedness Checklist.

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