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Asset Management Under Fire

By Dan Miller , December 19, 2017

Things to look for in the aftermath of the California fires.


Our concerns for our clients and their families involved in the California fires live with us every day. Homes and lives ruined, routines disrupted, and businesses closed or relocated. As things begin to return to normal for parts of the state, it is important to make sure that in the aftermath of the fires, more problems don’t develop.


After family, assets are most important. This includes buildings and structures as well as manufacturing equipment. Even seemingly untouched facilities are at risk. Soot from the fires can penetrate every open space, collect on filters and heat exchangers, contaminate clean areas, settle on switchgear buss work and transformers, and adversely affect warehouses and finished goods. And live embers don’t always start fires themselves; sometimes the windblown sparks can land on a fire-retardant roof (membrane) and create a breach in the outer layers. This can lead to leaks and further contamination. Debris from fires impact water basins, outdoor tanks, piping systems, and even cooling towers/structures.

There are simple steps to minimize the impact of the fires on operations. First, consider replacing all air filters immediately. This might be an unexpected expense on top of production lost time, and the impact of dirty filters may not be noticeable right away, but as production returns to normal, more demand is placed on cooling and maintaining pressure differences (clean rooms and cGMP areas). Jeopardized systems won’t be able to keep up.

Second, inspect all roofs and external surfaces for ash build-up and ember damage. The best and quickest way is to put a drone in the air and record video as well as take photos. This may seem like an easy DIY project, but using drones for Asset Management (not just assessing fire damage) is a very involved process. For one thing, flying a drone around industrial areas requires a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Pilot’s License, and someone who is familiar with the hazards and obstacles typically found on a manufacturing campus.  Another factor to consider is reducing the risk of drone failure. Contract with a service provider that is bonded for any site damage or injury resulting from their drone striking something or someone. Finally, ask about post-flight analysis. Many hobby drones have video and photography capability, but firms who specialize in aerial asset inspections/assessments will offer reports that identify potential issues, complete with GPS locations. They can also plan exact flight paths that are repeatable for baseline and trending efforts.

Third, perform electrical surveys that are compliant with NFPA 70E requirements. IR surveys may identify areas of electrical distribution systems where severe ash has built up, but a full Arch-Flash Assessment might be a better indicator of potential problems. Visual inspections by qualified electrical personnel can provide some insight into the how impactful the fire was at your location.

Lastly, consider enlisting the help of Asset Management Professionals. Staffs that are busy with cleaning and focusing on starting up equipment and processes may be spread too thinly to address fire-related activity. This is where firms like CAI can help. The partner the site selects to assist needs to work alongside the facility’s technicians, operators, and utility personnel in returning the plant to full operation. CAI can be this partner. Reach out to our Global Director of Asset Management & Reliability, Dan Miller, at for more information.

Topics: Asset Management and Reliability, Asset Performance Management