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Service Highlight: The Blackout Test

Utility power outages – whether from winter ice storms or spring tornadoes – are something seasoned Midwesterners tend to expect and prepare for. That’s why MWA’s Commissioning team offers a Blackout Test as part of our functional testing of a building’s emergency power system. A Blackout Test verifies that in the event of a power outage all systems operate as expected on the backup or emergency generator power.

Conducting a Blackout Test requires a great deal of planning and coordination. Prior to the test, the Commissioning Agent ensures any on-site crews and local authorities that might be affected by the test have been notified. Next, the Commissioning Agent assembles a Blackout Test Team, usually consisting of multiple Commissioning Agents, an Owner’s Representative, the General Contractor, Electrical Contractors, and the Facility Manager and personnel. This is an excellent opportunity for the facilities staff to receive training on their building’s emergency power systems.

The Commissioning Agent provides the team with a Blackout Test Equipment Checklist. The team checks that each system is operating under normal (non-maintenance or test-mode) conditions. Individual team members then station themselves at specified locations throughout the building to observe the emergency response to the simulated loss of power. Once the power upstream of the emergency generator is disconnected, the team members will record the action and time it takes for each system connected to emergency power to kick in. Typically, we expect the transfer of power to happen within 10 seconds of the initial simulated power outage.

As soon as the building is operating on backup or emergency power, the Blackout Test Team verifies that emergency panels and power outlets are active; emergency lighting, including exit lights, are energized; the fire system is energized; and that HVAC and all critical equipment, communications, alarms, and controls are active according to the construction documents. Once the test is complete, the team switches all systems back to normal power and powers down the generator.

For buildings that rely on a backup generator to continue normal operating conditions during power outages, the Blackout Test is an essential tool towards ensuring all the integrated components and systems tied to emergency power will work when needed most. So next time extreme weather is in the forecast, you can grab a hot chocolate and rest assured that your building’s emergency power system will be ready.