Consequences of Reactive Maintenance: Cautionary Tales That Will Make You Think Twice

In our last Facility Maintenance article, we discussed how neglect through short-term, reactive thinking can snowball into something big, exposing businesses to significant financial losses, or worse, liabilities that can have catastrophic impact on their brand reputation. To give you a direct window into real-world ramifications of negligent maintenance, we’ve compiled case studies that will reinforce the importance of preventive maintenance.

Plumbing Failure Shuts Down Server-stacked Data Center

On a popular facility and HVAC maintenance online message board, a data center manager recently shared a story that involved the total destruction of his center’s servers. It all went up in flames due to a short caused by an electrical malfunction. The key point of concern wasn’t that this catastrophe could have been easily avoided with minimal investment, it was the fact that some of the managers of the data center were fully aware of faults within their plumbing systems and simply neglected the issue until it was too late.

The investigation following the incident revealed the data center was situated in an older structure with a documented history of minor water leaks. Some in the company’s management had already reported these findings and that the leaks were likely precursors of a major leak in the future. All of the risks involving potentially catastrophic financial and data loss were fully communicated to key leadership in their situation report. All parties understood with clarity that the risk would be significant. Despite understanding the gravity of the situation, they opted to install a monitoring system that could alert data center managers once a leak is detected instead of finding a comprehensive maintenance solution for their faulty plumbing system. 

Making matters worse, even the monitoring system was never implemented due to indecision from the data center’s key leadership, resulting in Murphy’s Law taking full effect. Not long after, with no preventive solutions in place, a severe leak began one weekend that took down millions of dollars worth of servers and customer data that resulted in massive financial losses and damage to the company’s reputation. 

Such a disaster should have never transpired considering what we know today. A simple pipe inspection with camera monitoring or a hydrostatic test would have shown the areas with active leaks or with a high propensity for leaks. As a facilities manager, if you’re concerned about service and operational disruption, plumbing systems maintenance can be conducted without doing so. Sure there will be costs incurred with preventive maintenance, but they are incomparable to the astronomical costs and irreparable damage to your company’s reputation should a similar event such as this occurs at your facility.  

High Voltage Cable Shorts Hospital’s Power

If you’re a patient at a hospital, a power outage with an inoperable backup power system could very well be your worst nightmare because this poses obvious existential ramifications. Simply put, it becomes a life or death situation. 

Such an incident occurred when a ground fault in a high-voltage cable between switchgear units shorted more than two-thirds of an electricity grid at a hospital in Sweden, according to an anonymous message board member. Although the outage only lasted 1.5 hours and no harm was done to patients, it took a considerable length of time for key hospital functions to recover. Patients were unable to call for assistance, medical storage secured with digital combinations were made inaccessible, surgeons were unable to perform, and food distribution was delayed. The hospital’s IT systems too were inoperable long after the outage was fixed. 

So how did this happen? The facility manager of the hospital’s control center was not trained to identify electrical problems or to immediately switch to the hospital’s emergency power system. After extensive investigation, the root cause was determined to be a ground fault. Even the maintenance technicians called to fix the outage were not immediately effective as they didn’t have the expert knowledge or equipment to pinpoint the location of the fault. It was only after emergency power was restored, the fault was located and replaced with a 300+ meter cable. One of the key concerns of this incident post mortem was that the hospital’s maintenance staff working in the control center was not trained to respond correctly based on technical expertise and procedure. They should have been trained to respond to emergency situations and identify potential problems before they occur. 

The common-sense solution to these molehills becoming mountains is quite simple: you need to enact a preventive maintenance timeline and schedule. Planned maintenance mitigates minor issues becoming disasters. Reactive maintenance coupled with under-trained staff is a formula for disaster.

What we can do for you

For as little as $150 per month (up to 3000 Sq ft), we offer a one-stop maintenance and assessment service for all types of facilities. Our comprehensive capabilities in facility management solutions range from ground up construction to minor repairs with a “one call” service center that is ready to dispatch a certified technician to your facility for projects of all scopes.

Our Commercial building maintenance program includes:

  • Monthly property building service visits by a Sierra Group technician
  • Assigned dedicated Project Manager for facility maintenance requests
  • Complete interior & exterior lighting services
  • Hardware service & repairs
  • Minor electrical & plumbing
  • T-Bar ceiling and tile repairs
  • Cable control
  • Touch-up painting & graffiti removal
  • Banner hanging & periodical replacement 
  • Unique and special tasks exclusive to client

Reach out to us and learn more about the Sierra Group difference.


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