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Property damage risks and how thermography surveys can help

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    The risk of property damage is real

    Electrical equipment failure and breakdown are the leading causes of fires, and the resulting property damage can be severe. Below, are just a few examples of electrical equipment problems causing significant losses.

    Rockefeller Center electrical fire sends NBC out on the sidewalk

    At 3:59 a.m. on an October morning, a report of a fire in midtown Manhattan was called in. The address was 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the 70-story home of NBC television.

    The impact 

    • 320 firefighters took four hours to bring the fire under control
    • Five civilians and 12 firefighters injured
    • 2,000 NBC workers and hundreds of others displaced
    • The “Today Show” moved out of the studio, onto the sidewalk
    • 15 floors occupied by NBC closed for the entire day
    • Floors 16 through 70 closed for part of the day
    • Extensive damage to electrical equipment due to smoke and water throughout the building
    • Total loss: over $20 million

    The cause

    The fire’s origin was in an electrical distribution room on the 5th floor. The cabling was in open supports. Over the years, as additional cabling was added to meet growing demand, it was jammed into these cable supports, compromising ventilation. Over time the insulation deteriorated, leading to electrical arcing and the fire.  

    An electrical problem in an Oklahoma high school resulted in a fire

    An electrical problem in an Oklahoma high school resulted in a fire. It began burning on a Sunday and was spotted around 11 p.m., and when it was extinguished all that remained were parts of the exterior walls.

    The impact 

    • 60 firefighters from six communities
    • Over six hours to bring the fire under control
    • All that was left standing were portions of some exterior brick walls

    The cause

    The fire was apparently started by an electrical short circuit, which smoldered for over two hours before it burst into flames.

    An overloaded dimmer switch caused almost $1,000,000 in damage

    At 7 a.m., an employee at a hotel and conference center heard a crackling noise in a light dimmer switch, but they ignored it and continued to work. Several minutes later, they smelled smoke, called the security guard and tried to extinguish the fire.

    The impact 

    • $900,000 in losses
    • Risk to the lives of guests sleeping nearby
    • Loss of business due to building damage

    The cause

    Investigators determined that the fire began in a 1,000-watt electrical wall dimmer switch that was drawing close to 2,000 watts when it failed. The building was worth $4.5 million and many guests were sleeping in nearby rooms.

    Thermography success stories

    Infrared thermography surveys can offer valuable insight into the condition of an electrical system. Below are examples of how infrared surveys revealed problems that could have gone undetected and electrical system breakdown or failure could have resulted - possibly leading to property damage, business interruption, and costly losses.  

    Sugar cane mill

    An annual thermography survey of the electrical switch gear revealed a hot connection within an electrical breaker that supplied a critical motor on the mill processing line. At first, our thermographer learned that the line could not be taken down to replace the faulty breaker even though a spare was on the premises. However, the mechanical crew was planning to shut down the line for half a shift in several days. This scheduled shutdown allowed the electrical crew to replace the faulty electrical breaker during the outage, thus avoiding a second shutdown, which would have resulted in thousands of dollars of lost production and wages.

    High-rise office building

    Several hot spots were found during an annual thermography survey and identified as potentially resulting in subsequent damage to adjoining components, which could shut down 25 percent of the building, including at least one elevator. An entire business day would have been needed to complete the repairs, but by making the repairs during the evening hours when the building was nearly empty, there was no service interruption and minimal repair cost.

    Manufacturing plant

    While conducting an infrared survey of a manufacturing plant's electrical equipment, a thermographer scanned a utility-owned transformer that was the sole source of electrical power to the location. The "C" phase bushing showed an extremely high temperature reading. The plant's facilities management immediately notified the utility company of the situation. The power company was able to respond and make the needed repair without causing a power interruption to the plant.

    Had the loose connection gone undetected, the loss of electrical power to the plant would have resulted in a plant shutdown for several days, even though the replacement or repair of the transformer may have taken only a day. The interruption of a sudden power outage would have resulted in thousands of dollars in spoiled product and hundreds of labor hours of clean-up before production could have been restored.

    Further infrared thermography information

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