Wheeler on HVAC: Effects of terrorism on HVAC
September 11, 2001, is the day that the world changed for us, possibly forever. The acts of terrorism on the World Trade Center in New York and at the Pentagon in Washington, although they were political and religious actions directed at the U.S. government, will nevertheless affect our industry and the way we do business from now on. And now is the right time to think about what these effects may be and what adjustments we may have to make to compensate for the changes in the world we live in. In addition, we need to design our plans around not only what happened, but around some of the things that could have happened, and which, by the grace of God, didn't.
For example, until now we have been a mobile industry. Many of us have traveled regularly to conventions, trade shows, seminars, and gone to share time and ideas with far-away companies in the same business. That required a lot of air travel, which we once took very much for granted. Don't get me wrong, I'm not discouraging air travel, because I consider it to be quite safe. However, greatly heightened security, a decline in the number of carriers, limits on what we can carry onto planes, and new parking/drop-off/pick-up regulations will surely raise fare prices and make it very inconvenient to travel that way. For example, here in Tampa, there is no longer enough airport parking because they closed down the huge short-term parking garage adjacent to the terminal, probably permanently.
The same is true of our vendors. Until now it was common to have their reps fly in to discuss products, problems and to put on seminars. Time will tell, and I'm not trying to be a prophet of doom, but I do believe that this isn't going to be as common in the future. Oh, I know that many will object to these words, hoping that this too will pass and there's nothing to worry about. But, unless we can get rid of all terrorists or create impenetrable security systems, I don't think so.
What are our options here, and what new steps should we be considering? Well, if we're wanting to keep in touch and wish to know what's going on, all of us should give a lot more consideration to live video conferencing either by high-quality telephone lines or cable. No, it's not as enjoyable as flying, it isn't as real as being there, and I hope we can still fly to some things such as our annual AHR Exhibitions, but we likely won't take air travel as much for granted ever again. And as a result, we as an industry should be taking a hard look at communication alternatives. Besides, the technology is here and we should have been looking at it even before these terrible events.
GERM AND CHEMICAL WARFARE?If the FBI is right, despite all its horror, we didn't actually realize the worst of the planned terrorist attacks. If they were in fact considering the use of rented crop dusters to spread germs or chemicals - and if they still might do so in the future - what effects will that fear have on our industry? Watching the news, I saw both soldiers and civilians wearing gas masks. It reminded me of the days a couple of decades back when we were watching people building bomb shelters. In fact, it all looked surrealistic and silly. Hopefully it is. However, the advice I heard given over a national news program on what to do in case of such an attack started off with the words, "Turn off your air conditioners."
Is that good advice? Well, that depends. If you have a standard central air-conditioning system in your home that has no outside-air makeup (and most are like that, contrary to requested new industry standards), the best advice would be to close all your windows, disable all vent fans, and turn your air conditioner on. At least that would provide some air filtration and it would keep people from dying due to excessive heat. And wouldn't it be a great idea if everyone had HEPA or electronic air cleaners?
So, if such terrorism is a real consideration for the future, maybe we had better stop worrying about meeting air-quality standards and start planning for survival.
What about people who currently have window air conditioners? Most can take in outdoor air with the flip of a button, and the majority of them aren't tight enough to prevent the infiltration of chemicals or bacteria. But could we ever seal up our homes tight enough to be safe in the event of such an attack?
Residential gas furnaces and water heaters, for example, are open passages between the outdoors and our homes through their flues. Most use indoor-air for combustion, which must be made up with outdoor air infiltration. The only safe method here is to use 90+ AFUE systems that take in outdoor air for combustion then blow it back outside.
The commercial market really has problems. Almost all of these systems have outdoor make-up air and all kinds of vent fans (to prevent air-quality lawsuits), and no method for shutting them down in case of an attack. Should we take another look at air-quality litigation standards and start tightening up commercial/industrial/institutional buildings? Then should we be planning for much better air filtration? If this is all just a temporary scare, no. But, if it's a real hazard that we're going to have to contend with from now on, yes. What do you think?
Oh, I'm expecting many of you to call, send e-mail, and write letters to the editor complaining about my negative and defeatist column. However, neither myself nor this column is either of those things. I certainly have no idea of what the future will bring, nor do I know whether the hazards we've read about are real or imagined. I certainly plan to continue flying, I'm not foaming the cracks in my home, and I'm not planning for video conferencing capabilities on my computer. I just know that something has changed. I don't know how much. Do you?
What I've been doing here is asking you to think about what could happen and how we may have to change. Overreaction can be expected, not from us, but from legislation. And if the worst of our fears come true, even the scenarios I've painted above will be much milder that what can really happen. The question is: Are we prepared?