Emergency Maintenance

Picture this: it’s 3 am, you and the entirety of your maintenance team are at home, asleep. However, at your facility, a pipe has burst. For the next several hours, the pipe will continue to flood your facility, ruining countless pieces of equipment and damaging the structural integrity of the building. When the first technician arrives the next morning at roughly 7 am, there will already be hours’ worth of damage.

What will you and your team do to solve the problem? Do you have a plan in place? How can you do everything in your power to ensure you never wind up in this situation? Emergency maintenance protocols and plans are the answer to your problem.

What is emergency maintenance?

Emergency maintenance is a type of reactive maintenance that must occur at the soonest possible opportunity due to an asset malfunction. It’s needed when the asset malfunction poses a direct and immediate threat to safety or results in property damage.

When assessing an asset malfunction, it’s important to quickly decide if the repair qualifies as emergency maintenance. Use the workflow below as a template for assessing and responding to emergency maintenance situations.

emergency maintenance workflow diagram

Step 1. Incident occurs

After an incident occurs that requires reactive maintenance, the first step is to determine if the malfunction qualifies for emergency maintenance. If the issue is of high priority but does not directly threaten the property or safety, the issue is not emergency maintenance. Schedule high-priority maintenance at your earliest convenience.

Step 2. Alert assigned technician

If the issue does qualify for emergency maintenance, immediately alert a technician on your team that is trained to handle the issue. In order to make this process as easy as possible, take some time to identify go-to technicians for potential emergencies. Consider asking certain team members if they would be willing to respond to an emergency during non-work hours.

Step 3. Assess emergency maintenance protocol and plan

With your technician, review your emergency maintenance plan and try to solve the issue as quickly as possible.

Step 4. Perform emergency maintenance as soon as possible

Perform maintenance as quickly as you can. This may mean using a temporary fix until you can reach a highly-trained specialist. Anything is better than letting a maintenance emergency continue to go unchecked.

Step 5. Follow up and analyze the condition of the asset

Once you have stopped the initial problem and resolved the emergency maintenance situation, follow up and conduct a thorough analysis of the asset. Try to understand what caused the issue, and search for underlying problems that may cause another emergency. If there are other assets that are similar in age and wear, check in on them to make sure you aren’t on the brink of another maintenance emergency.

Step 6. Perform more maintenance, if needed

If your follow-up shows there is room for improvement, take this opportunity to schedule more reactive and preventive maintenance to keep your assets in tip-top shape.

Step 7. Continue to use the asset as usual

After the emergency maintenance situation is completely resolved, continue to use the asset normally. If your team handled the emergency situation well, take a moment to congratulate yourself and your team for the job well done. If things could have gone better, use this experience as a catalyst to examine your emergency maintenance protocols and plans and set up better systems to deal with future emergencies.

Emergency maintenance vs. high priority maintenance

When a high-priority malfunction occurs, it might feel like an emergency because of the additional stress it puts on you and your team. But not every high-pressure situation should be treated as an emergency.

This chart will help you determine if your malfunction is an emergency or simply high-priority.

Emergency High-Priority
Definition A malfunction that directly threatens health and safety or causes property damage. A malfunction that disrupts primary business functions.
Response time Immediately. This may mean responding to a system failure alert in the middle of the night. Try to “put a bandaid” on the issue if you can’t immediately get a specialist. At your earliest convenience. Maintenance should be scheduled as quickly as possible. If a specialist is required, consider paying a rush fee for a faster response.
Manufacturing A piece of equipment malfunctions and is physically harming plant workers. A piece of equipment that is necessary to the fundamental business functions breaks down and halts all production.
Property management A tree branch falls in a storm and causes significant roof damage to a property, resulting in electrical malfunction and flooding. A property’s air conditioning unit breaks down on a hot day (above 90° F).
Schools A bus full of school children breaks down on the road. The wi-fi network is down due to electrical reasons, locking students and teachers out of online learning resources.
Any facility A pipe bursts and the facility begins to flood. Plumbing issues result in the only bathroom being unusable.

Emergency maintenance best practices

The following best practices will reduce emergencies and ensure your team is prepared to handle emergencies should they arise.

Establish maintenance qualifiers

We’ve outlined a commonly accepted definition and categorization of what falls into emergency maintenance, but this might look a little different for every facility.

Create an established list of qualifiers for emergency maintenance and make sure this information is clearly communicated and easily accessible to all stakeholders. In a manufacturing facility, that means all workers. In a school, that may mean all staff and students. In property management, this is especially important; make sure your tenants know when to notify the maintenance team of an emergency and how to do so.

Implement a system to flag emergencies

Oftentimes, the worst damage occurs when a maintenance emergency goes unnoticed for several hours. In the example given at the beginning of this article, the real damage came from several hours of flooding because a pipe burst in the middle of the night with no fail-safe alert system. Find a reliable system to quickly alert the maintenance team if an emergency has occurred.

Stakeholder prompted: This type of alert system is best for property management. Since tenants are often on the property, they will likely be the first to identify an emergency. In this scenario, they would be able to notify the property management team promptly. From there, the property management team can dispatch a maintenance technician.

Staff member prompted: This type of alert system is most appropriate for manufacturing facilities that are constantly operating. Since there are always staff members at work, you can rely on them to alert the maintenance team of an emergency at the facility.

Machine prompted: This system is the best option because it doesn’t require a person to alert the maintenance team. Machine prompted emergency alerts rely on sensor technology to identify an issue and digitally notify the team. These sensors often sync with a software system to dispatch a work order in real-time.

Create an emergency maintenance plan response

No matter the scale of your facility or your maintenance team’s capabilities, it is important to have an emergency maintenance plan in place. If possible, note down technicians on your team that would be able to respond to an emergency during non-work hours and how you’ll go about contacting them.

Think about potential worst-case scenarios in your facility and brainstorm action plans in advance. Consider making a list of contracted specialty maintenance teams that might help have on hand in different types of emergencies. And whatever your plan, make sure it is well communicated to your team.

4 strategies to reduce emergency maintenance occurrences

There will always be some amount of risk that comes with managing a facility. Still, there are also sure-fire ways you can reduce the chance of experiencing an emergency maintenance situation.

Routine maintenance

Routine maintenance is any maintenance task performed at regular, time-based intervals that keep facilities operating smoothly. Routine maintenance tasks create opportunities to regularly check in on equipment, and your facility in general, which allows your team to make sure operations are operating as planned.

When an effective routine maintenance plan is in place, a team member should notice faulty equipment performance early on. This will give you an opportunity to perform preventive maintenance and hopefully intervene before a maintenance emergency occurs.

Preventive maintenance

Rolling right off of routine maintenance, preventive maintenance is the star player in preventing emergency maintenance. Preventive maintenance is regular, scheduled inspections and tasks performed on assets and equipment to ensure they are working the way the manufacturer intended. Simple tasks like lubrication, chain/belt adjustments, and regular inspections can go a long way in reducing the risk of an emergency maintenance situation.

However, one thing to consider when implementing preventive maintenance is the optimal ratio of preventive maintenance to reactive maintenance and—in this case—emergency maintenance. At a certain point, performing more preventive maintenance adds additional costs without necessarily reducing the associated cost of reactive and emergency maintenance. The graph below visualizes this phenomenon:

cost of maintenance diagram: reactive/emergency vs. preventive maintenance

At first, the additional spending on preventive maintenance directly translates to decreased emergency maintenance costs. But at a certain point, emergency maintenance costs flatten out as preventive maintenance costs continue to climb.

Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is like the more advanced, more mature older brother to preventive maintenance. Predictive maintenance is a strategy that uses software to analyze data and anticipate when maintenance should be performed on your equipment.

Predictive maintenance software constantly monitors your equipment’s performance and machine health using sensors. The software then alerts you when equipment is nearing a breakdown so that you can perform maintenance before an emergency maintenance situation occurs.

Predictive maintenance is a high-tech, high-cost strategy targeted at manufacturing facilities with expensive and invaluable equipment.

CMMS software

No matter which strategy seems best suited for your facility—routine, preventive, or predictive—a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) might be a great tool to help you manage your maintenance operations. CMMS software will help you track assets and plan maintenance in advance so you’re less likely to find yourself in an emergency maintenance situation.

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