Arc Flash Studies Continue in Extraordinary Times

The global pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of business, but not every impact has to be negative. Having locations across the country is beneficial for some companies, especially when travel is inadvisable and extra precautions are in place. With numerous regional offices, Interstates has been uniquely positioned during the last few months to offer data collection for arc flash studies at facilities across the country.

All kinds of facilities need arc flash or power system studies at least every five years to ensure safety, especially if there have been major equipment changes or if electrical work has been completed. Power system studies include three components: an arc flash study, a breaker coordination study, and a short circuit study. An analysis is run on the facility’s power distribution system to determine what the arc flash hazard is at each piece of electrical equipment.

“It’s important to run these studies because you want to know how dangerous the equipment is going to be for the employees working on it,” says Corey Hoffman, Project Manager at Interstates. The results of power system studies determine what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) employees need to be wearing when working on or troubleshooting energized electrical equipment.

Typically, arc flash studies are conducted by at least two qualified people – an arc flash technician or engineer in coordination with an experienced electrician. “The data collection process involves a site trip to walk down and document the power distribution system while the equipment is energized. We suit up and take safety measures while opening up panels or removing covers to collect the data,” says Hoffman.

With travel being more complicated these days, Interstates has adjusted its process. “We look at where our closest regional office is to decide who will collect the data,” say Dalen Meier, Regional Manager at Interstates’ Manhattan, KS, office. “We were doing some of that before COVID-19 set in, but going forward, we’re having more and more data collection on the books,” he says.

Hoffman explains, “If we have an arc flash study to do in Colorado or Kansas or Nebraska, now we are looking at using our electricians located near those facilities instead of sending in an arc flash technician from somewhere else. Having our regional offices spread throughout the country really helps us get to these facilities without running into any pandemic-related travel issues.” Once the electrician has collected the necessary data, it is sent on to the arc flash technicians for remote analysis.

“Some facilities have closed their doors to outside contractors as a safety precaution because of COVID-19. Looking forward, it’s likely that we will be able to have the client’s electrician or a local electrician collect the data while on a video call or headset so that the arc flash technicians can walk them through the process remotely. The operator will tell the electrician what they need while they are modeling the power distribution system back at their office,” says Hoffman, who adds that this remote solution could be a good fit for companies that need arc flash studies but aren’t sure if it’s safe to conduct them during the pandemic.

Interstates is constantly monitoring different states’ responses and restrictions due to COVID-19 and implementing its own social distancing plans for going to sites. Meier says, “We are making sure we know about statewide restrictions so that we know what Interstates can and cannot do for clients. If we can get to you safely, we will, but looking into remote alternatives for arc flash studies could be key going forward.”