Be Prepared

Protecting the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a big enough job in and of itself. Managing emergency response for the rest of Los Alamos County, N.M., as well, calls for a sizable staff in a very special kind of facility. The new emergency operations center (EOC) that opened at LANL last September is said to be the first joint effort of its kind ever between a local government and one ...

By Scott Siddens, Senior Editor February 1, 2004

Protecting the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a big enough job in and of itself. Managing emergency response for the rest of Los Alamos County, N.M., as well, calls for a sizable staff in a very special kind of facility. The new emergency operations center (EOC) that opened at LANL last September is said to be the first joint effort of its kind ever between a local government and one of the national laboratories. Given the critical stand-alone requirements of this facility, the dominant theme in system design was, naturally, extended operation.

The two-story, 38,000-sq.-ft. facility houses the offices of the LANL’s Emergency Management and Response Staff (EMRS) and administrative staff and personnel from the Los Alamos County Police, Fire and 911 Joint Dispatch Center. In the event of a disaster, the EOC becomes a self-sustaining command bunker. The facility has sufficient food, potable water, sanitary sewer capacity, water for fire protection, diesel fuel for backup power and other on-site services to sustain 100 to 120 people for 14 days. There are even kitchen and sleeping facilities.

In fact, Los Alamos’ new EOC is the direct result of a disaster—a man-made one—that occurred in May 2000. A prescribed burn by the National Park Service went out of control, turning into a wildfire that threatened LANL, burned more than 47,000 acres and destroyed 235 structures.

LANL learned many lessons about emergency preparedness from the devastating fire, and lab officials wasted no time in incorporating what they had learned into the new EOC facility. Pre-conceptual design work began in September 2000. The project was completed exactly three years later.

The old EOC had been retrofitted into a basement in the 1980s. It was on a vulnerable site, with limited communications capabilities and space for only 16 people. Because the county did not have its own EOC during the fire of 2000, its emergency managers operated alongside their federal counterparts from LANL’s cramped facility.

The new EOC was designed, engineered and constructed by the Austin Company’s Irvine, Calif. office under a $16 million contract awarded by the Univ. of California—which operates LANL—on behalf of the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

“Austin presented an innovative solution to difficult design parameters. Not only did the project present logistics challenges typical of many EOCs… it [also] had to be designed to facilitate emergency responses associated with the Laboratory, such as chemical and radiological occurrences; and it must be prepared in the event of wildland fires,” says Keith Orr, construction projects manager for LANL’s rehabilitation project to recovery fromthe fire.

Describing all the emergency-preparedness features in this facility is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that architecturally and structurally the building is made to withstand earthquakes, wildfires and the kind of toxic events that one might expect at a national laboratory that manages the nation’s nuclear program. In short, it can handle whatever man or nature can throw at it.

When it comes to engineered systems, it’s obvious that many considerations in how they were designed for this facility were a direct result of the wildfire. Nowhere is this more evident than in building pressurization for smoke control.

Clearing the air

The EOC is as airtight as possible to minimize infiltration of smoke and other hazardous particulates in the event that make-up air to the air conditioning system must be shut down. Special attention was given to sealing windows, doors, structural systems and mechanical penetrations to provide a building that leaks a maximum of only 2,000 cu. ft. per min. (cfm) at a building pressure of +0.01 in. water column (wc). This leakage rate equates to 0.063 cfm per sq. ft. Moreover, the air and vapor barrier applied to the building perimeter enables the facility to maintain airtight construction while maximizing indoor air quality.

The building is pressurized throughout to a minimum +0.02 in. WC. Four pressure sensors—one on each major wall exposure of the building—measure pressure inside the building relative to outdoors and report to the building automation system. The outside-air static-pressure probe provides the BAS with a base pressure to calculate the differential pressure between the inside of the building and the outdoors to determine which side of the building has the highest pressure. The highest reading governs the quantity of outside air introduced into the building to maintain positive building pressure.

Ventilation is also carefully controlled. Outside air is introduced into the supply-air ventilation system to maintain IAQ levels in accordance with ASHRAE Standard 62. The ventilation rate provides outside air for more than 500 occupants—even though maximum occupancy is only 120 people.

A related feature is that areas of the building with high occupancy are equipped with CO 2 sensors capable of overriding the zone temperature sensor by increasing the amount of airflow to the space to meet the CO2 set point.In the event that the outside air’s CO 2 or CO level is greater than the set point, the BAS signals the outside-air damper for the main air-handling unit to fully close and start the dedicated filtered make-up air unit. This make-up air unit operates only while the outside air is above the CO 2 or CO set point or when it has been determined by the facility operator that outside conditions require all outside air to be circulated through the make-up air filtration system.

One central air-handling system is provided for the facility, consisting of a variable-air-volume AHU and a return/relief fan, both with variable-frequency drives. The AHU is capable of a 100% outside air economizer cycle for energy conservation. The quality of the return air is monitored with a CO 2 sensor located in the main return-air duct.

A make-up air filtration unit provides outside air to the central AHU when outside air conditions are unacceptable. This unit operates only when the outside air is above the CO 2 or CO set point, or when the facility user determines that the outside conditions require all outside air to be supplied through the make-up air filtration unit. Facility users also have the option to shut down both sources of outside air if they determine that the make-up air filtration unit cannot satisfactorily filter it. When both sources of outside air are shut off, exhaust systems shut down to prevent the building from becoming negatively pressurized.

The make-up air unit consists of an air intake plenum with return damper and a tight-closing outside air damper, 2-in. thick stainless steel fire screen on the outside air intake, 60% efficiency filter, hot water pre-heating coil, 95% efficiency filter, gas filter media to control acids, gas filter media to control oxides, 30% efficiency filter to collect dusts from gas media filters, 90% efficiency filter and VFD fan. The preheat coil is provided with a circulating pump to maintain a minimum coil water velocity of 4 ft. per second for freeze protection. A complete set of replacement filters was provided as spares to keep the unit operating during a 14-day event.

Critical occupancies such as telecom and electrical rooms, an uninterruptible power supply room, a radio transmitter room and a battery room have dedicated computer-room type chilled-water air-conditioning.

The projection room (shown on p. 35) has a dedicated chilled-water custom fan coil unit located in an adjacent space. The computer room and dispatch server room have dedicated floor-mounted chilled water computer-room-type air conditioning units. These rooms have dedicated cooling available 24/7. The units include humidifiers to maintain the space at 35% to 50% relative humidity. Each room has primary and backup dedicated units. An additional 25% capacity was provided in each cooling unit for future equipment loads. In the event the lead unit fails to maintain cooling in the space, the BAS starts the lag unit and triggers a system alarm.

A ventilation system is provided for the chiller room. If a refrigerant leak is detected, the BAS automatically alarms and activates the emergency ventilation system. Break-glass switches are provided adjacent to and outside of each chiller room exit. These switches activate the emergency ventilation system and shut down all other equipment in the room.

The HVAC control system is direct digital control. All control valve actuators, control dampers, sensors and thermostats are electronic. The operator workstation uses a graphical user interface. This operator workstation monitors all control devices, boilers, chillers, pumps and temperature set points and temperatures throughout the facility. If room temperatures rise or drop below set points, the system alarms.

There is, of course, much more to the HVAC system than is described here. All of the equipment—chillers, boilers and pumps—are designed to 100% capacity, with fully redundant standby. If any component fails, the BAS is ready to automatically switch to the unit’s backup.

And all other engineered building systems are packed with backup, as well. This is especially true of electrical distribution and power generation, on which all the other building systems depend.

Power aplenty

Power is one thing that this facility is not short of in an emergency. Remote, above-grade mounted fuel oil storage tanks with a capacity of approximately 50,000 gallons are sized to provide fuel for the standby generator and the dual-fuel hot water heating boilers to support continuous facility operation up to 14 days.

For environmental protection, fuel oil is distributed from tanks via double-wall steel pipe. The system has a leak-detection sensor cable located between the outer secondary pipe and the inner primary pipe. The sensor cabling detects hydrocarbons while ignoring water and is monitored and alarmed by the BAS.

The facility also uses natural gas—primary heating boilers use gas as a primary source and fuel oil as a secondary fuel. The building’s natural gas system is connected to the LANL natural gas distribution system. A seismic isolation valve automatically provide gas shutoff to the building during a seismic event.

For backup power, a standby diesel-engine generator system is located in a dedicated sound-, vibration- and fire-isolated room. A permanently mounted remote load bank rated at 100% of the generator’s rating was provided. A fully rated, circuit breaker protected, cable-landing station, located on the exterior of the EOC, was provided for a portable engine generator connection (see “Electrifying an EOC,” p. 36).

A three-phase on-line solid-state battery-powered 225-kVA UPS provides uninterrupted critical power protection with a minimum four-hr. backup time to all communication system loads. The UPS system components include an input isolation transformer, input contactor and fuses, input filter, charger, inverter, static switch, output fuses and contactor, RS232/RS485 interfaces, remote emergency power off (EPO) switches, remote monitor status panel, battery monitoring functions and an external maintenance bypass switch. The battery system includes visual and audible indication for a 15% or greater reduction of normal power supply (rated voltage) and is monitored at both the Dispatch Center and the UPS room.

The UPS system supplies power to all communications equipment, fire and police dispatch equipment, 911 equipment, radio transmitter equipment and work stations in fire and police dispatch centers.

Water, water everywhere

There are many more systems within the facility that could be discussed at length, but one, in particular, deserves special mention: piping and plumbing. Not only are self-sustaining systems for potable water and sewer vital to the EOC’s mission, but remember the Cerro Grande fire? There are special water needs for fire protection.

Water service was extended from a nearby site to the EOC building. The site water transfer station is capable of pumping water at a rate of 50 gallons per min. to either a 120,000-gallon elevated fire suppression water storage tank or a 21,000-gallon underground potable water storage tank. The BAS monitors the pump status of the site water transfer station, potable water storage tank and the elevated fire suppression water storage tank.

The 21,000-gallon underground storage tank is sized to provide potable water during an emergency event that isolates the building from the LANL site water distribution system. The tank can support 100 people living in the EOC for 14 continuous days without any additional water supply based on reduced water usage. The potable water is distributed from the storage tank to the building through a booster pumping station, which once again, includes standby pumps to maintain a building pressure of 60 to 70 psig. Moreover, the potable water storage tank includes an ultraviolet retreatment system to prevent water stagnation and keep the water drinkable.

The old EOC at Los Alamos proved woefully inadequate during the Cerro Grande fire of 2000. With this new facility, the next time there is a disaster, Los Alamos County and LANL will be much better equipped to manage the situation. Not only will emergency management personnel be more secure during a crisis, but LANL and all of surrounding Los Alamos County can rest assured that emergency managers will quickly swing into action from this state-of-the-art command post.

(Ken Stone of the Austin Company’s Irvine, Calif. office, contributed significantly.)

In the Event of Fire…

The emergency operations center at Los Alamos National Laboratory is completely protected by an automatic wet-pipe fire-protection sprinkler system. The fire-protection systems are designed to conform to NFPA 13, for Ordinary Hazard, Group II, Occupancy.

The computer room incorporates automatic fire-detection systems to provide early warning of fire in accordance with NFPA 75.

An addressable fire-alarm system monitors the building in accordance with NFPA 72. The system consists of a fire alarm control panel, addressable analog area smoke detectors, addressable analog duct smoke detectors, addressable analog heat detectors, sprinkler water flow alarm switches, sprinkler supervisory switches and tamper switches, horn and strobe combination notification appliances, air-handling shutdown relays, elevator recall/shunt relay and battery standby.

Electrifying an EOC

The main 1,600-amp, 480-volt switchboard is served from a 1,600-amp automatic transfer switch, which is connected to a 1,000-kW diesel generator for standby power, as well as the main service pad-mount transformer. All circuit breakers are electronic with full-function trip sensors. Metering for the main switchboard is a multi-function digital meter with application software. The switchboard incorporates a transient voltage surge suppression (TVSS) system.

Interior step-down k-rated transformers serve sensitive electronic loads. Their neutrals are rated for 200% of the rated secondary phase current. These k-rated transformers are supplied with a full-width electrostatic shield.

Panelboards serving computer and other sensitive loads are electronic grade with integral TVSS devices, 200% neutral buses and isolated ground buses.

Finally, the main grounding electrode for this building consists of an electrically continuous 4/0 AWG bare copper conductor placed in the outer edge of the lower part of the mat foundation grade beam to form a loop around the entire perimeter of the building. A continuous 4/0 AWG copper counterpoise was also installed around the exterior of the building to provide the lightning protection grounding system. Both of these grounding systems are bonded to the service entrance main grounding electrode bar located at the main switchboard.