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Utilities takes sensible precautions for staff during pandemic

By District Energy posted 04-22-2020 07:50


Notre Dame Weekly


As part of the University’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s anything but business as usual at the Power Plant. To protect the health of the vital few experts who know how to operate the facility that provides electricity, heating, cooling, hot and cold water and emergency power to campus, Utilities directors have been taking extra precautions.   

Since mid-March, the Power Plant has only been open to plant personnel, with the exception of critical repair contractors. On a daily basis, when staff members enter the building at the beginning of their shifts, they use hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and take their body temperature before getting to work. “I don't think we’ve ever wiped our door handles as much as we have the last four weeks,” says Joe Herman, power plant manager. “I’m doing everything I can to protect those people.”

Herman and other Utilities directors have thought carefully about how to limit exposure to operators. In addition to having disinfecting sprays and wipes strategically located throughout the building, they stagger the start and stop times of staff and ensure that they are apart from each other at shift change. The teams are separated from each other and communicate via telephone, radio and Zoom. Each team has taken on the responsibility of cleaning their restrooms, sweeping and emptying trash. “We can’t afford for the virus to affect our staff,” he explains.

For a department that continually stresses the value of communication and teamwork, this time has been particularly challenging. “We encourage and teach everyone to communicate effectively with each other to build strong relationships and now must enforce social separation,” he says. “You begin to miss the non-verbal communication.” In times like these, one realizes how much information gestures and facial expressions convey. So, when they need to talk in person, the operators keep their distance and talk from six to eight feet away from each other.

As many of the University’s 200 buildings remain nearly vacant during the shelter-in-place directives from the state, the Utilities’ Building Controls group is able to reduce the University’s energy consumption of some of those unoccupied buildings by reducing the operating hours of equipment and adjusting the temperature range. 

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