Environment & Sustainability, Operations & Procedures, Planning & Strategy, Risk & Resiliency, Staffing & Training

COVID-19 preparedness: More organizations move from planning to implementation

Sandra Vail / March 12, 2020

UII Note 50 • Q1 2020

On March 12, 2020, Uptime Institute held its second roundtable about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on data center operations and potential responses to its spread. A Note covering the topics discussed in the first roundtable is available here.

Over 30 organizations were represented at the roundtable, which was open to a global audience of Uptime Institute Network members. Co-host Matt Stansberry (Vice President – North America, Uptime Institute) began with a brief slide presentation (available here) that summarized Uptime’s first (March 5, 2020) roundtable. Co-host Scott Killian (Director, Uptime Institute Network – North America) then opened the floor for questions. This Note covers the interactive portion of the roundtable.

As revealed in the previous roundtable, most organizations have a plan for emergency situations, but few have one specific to a pandemic. As a result, many have been modifying existing plans: creating tiered response levels, identifying events that would trigger the next level of response, researching concerns specific to a pandemic (e.g., what does “deep cleaning” mean in a white space, and what are the implications for different data center environments — raised floors, multi-tenant data centers, mixed-use facilities, etc.?).

For many organizations, the Human Resources and/or Environmental Health & Safety department(s) take the lead in generating an organization-wide response plan, and specific business units, such as data center operations, incorporate that guidance into a plan tailored to their business mission and setting. Because many organizations have data centers in multiple regions, responses may vary by location or facility characteristics. A sample infectious disease business continuity plan is available here.

Several participants mentioned that their facilities now screen all potential visitors with a questionnaire. They do not admit anyone who reports symptoms (personally or in family members) or who has traveled recently to areas with high levels of COVID-19 cases. A sample questionnaire is available here.

An additional measure of security involves prescreening all scheduled visitors: Send the visitor the questionnaire via email 4-8 hours prior to their visit and require completion before the appointment is confirmed. Only permit entry if the questionnaire indicates a low probability of infection (confirm all answers remain unchanged upon arrival) and prohibit unscheduled visitors altogether.

Some facilities – for example, multi-tenant data centers or mixed-use facilities – have a higher volume of visitors, and thus greater potential for COVID-19 spread. To avoid inconvenience and potential client dissatisfaction, be proactive: Inform all affected parties of the COVID-19 preparedness plan in place and its impact on their access to the facility in advance.

Sanitization is a particular challenge, with several participants reporting disinfectant/hand sanitizer shortages. Many had questions specific to deep cleaning the white space environment, given its high rate/volume of air exchange, highly specialized electronic equipment and possible raised floor configuration. Spray techniques are more effective than simply wiping surfaces with disinfectant solutions, as the antiseptic mist coats surfaces for a longer period. Many organizations are hiring specialist cleaning firms and/or following CDC recommendations for disinfection.

As COVID-19 spreads, more organizations are moving from tweaking their response plans to implementing them. In many companies, that decision is made by a business unit, based on site environment, number of COVID-19 cases in the area and government-mandated restrictions. Mission-critical facilities have a particular remit, though, so need to create and implement plans specific to their business mission.

Good preparation simplifies decision-making. Roundtable participants suggest the following:

  • Categorizing essential versus nonessential tasks and calendaring them in advance (makes it easier to identify maintenance items you can postpone, and for how long).
  • Cross-training personnel and maintaining up-to-date skill inventories/certifications (helps ensure core capabilities are always available).
  • Having contingency plans in place (means you’re prepared to manage supply chain disruption and staff shortages).
  • Stress-testing technologies and procedures in advance (gives you confidence that you can accommodate a move to remote work: shifting procedures that are usually performed manually to an automated process, monitoring remotely, interacting virtually with other team members, etc.).

It’s no longer a question of if, but when, most facilities will need to implement their response plan. Prepare now.

Uptime Institute has created an Intelligence Collection of all COVID-19 resources here. Inside Track members can follow the resource or sign up to receive alerts by clicking on the relevant links on the Collection’s landing page.