When Lightning Strikes Your Office

Michael Molinari

On April 30th In A/V, Audio/Video, Intrusion, Power
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Each day, millions of workers in office buildings around the world use a wide range of electronic equipment to perform their jobs, including alarm systems, A/V systems, laptops, desktop computers, phones, printers, projectors, and more.

Technology has created many benefits for today’s businesses, including faster communication between devices, integrated usage, and optimized operations. It allows end users to accomplish everyday office functions efficiently and effectively while keeping staff connected to suppliers, customers, and their sales team. However, with these benefits come new dangers as well.

While electrical outlets provide power, they are also susceptible to lightning strikes – and there are more than 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the U.S. each year. More common, however, are power surges and spikes that go mostly unnoticed every day. These temporary and instantaneous events exceed “normal” electrical line voltage and can cause serious damage to anything plugged into those outlets, including integrated security or A/V components and sensitive office equipment.

Businesses with electronic systems in hazardous locations, such as potentially explosive atmospheres, obviously are exposed to catastrophic risks. Businesses located in areas with poor local power quality or where weather conditions make lightning strikes more likely also face increased risk of damage from power surges.

The result can be a spike in the supplied power that is well above most device’s normal operating voltage, and that can cause an arc of electrical current within them. When this happens, the heat generated in the arc can cause damage to the circuit boards and other electrical components. Data can be lost, equipment may need to be replaced, and the most costly effect can be downtime that results in lost productivity or lost customers. From the integrator’s side, this will also mean a truck roll to the customer’s site to assess the damage to their systems and repair or replace the affected devices.

Conventional fuses and circuit breakers do not guard against surges. Surge protective devices (SPDs) need to be installed on every electrical pathway to ensure that systems and critical business equipment are guarded against damaging surge events.

Once installed, SPDs protect the connected system from large, externally-generated surge events, as well as smaller, daily surge events.

Yet, what happens when the SPD has reached the end of its useful life? How often can management send someone around to every closet and equipment room to check every single surge protector? The moment that person turns away from an apparently operational SPD, an unnoticed small surge could end the life of the device, leaving the system fully at risk.

Thankfully, the newest SPDs on the market have been designed to remove the guesswork out of the entire process. An SPD that lets you or the end user know when it requires attention virtually eliminates the problem of it becoming non-functional without anyone realizing it.

These surge protectors typically feature dry contacts for external notification, and an LED health status indicator that flashes and sounds an audible alarm when the module needs to be replaced.  Thanks to the use of rapid-replacement modules, it is usually possible to have the unit up and running again in only a few seconds.

You can’t prevent power surges in your customer’s facilities, but you can minimize any damage to the systems and devices you have installed or any of their other critical equipment by using surge protection. This can provide the highest levels of protection against power surges, equipment failure, and costly downtime.