COVID19: Digital Infrastructure Q&A

COVID-19: Q&A (Part 1): Staff Management

We are all in this together. We are all finding our own “New Normal”. We are all learning from each other and will come out of this crisis stronger due to the renewed focus on operational effectiveness, risk avoidance and contingency planning.

To this end, Uptime Institute has been creating many types of guidance and recommendations to help digital infrastructure owners and operators ride through the COVID19 crisis. We want to help the entire community deal with their present and prepare for their future, where the New Normal will be a way of life.

We’ve created COVID19 operational guideline reports based on our 25 years of data center risk management experience, published associated real-time updates and bulletins, and conducted a number of webinars attended by thousands of listeners where we shared first-hand COVID19 experience. As a community, it’s clear we are all looking for each other’s support, guidance and experience.

As part of these webinars, we have published a series of digital infrastructure Q&A documents, focused on various categories of COVID19 specific topics: Staff Management, Site Sanitation, Site Security, Deferred Maintenance, Tier Standard, Remote Working, Supply Chain and Long-Term expectations. Presented below is PART 1 of these Q&A topics, covering Staff Management during COVID19.


Q: What is your view on continuous, long shifts for four or seven days in the data center?

A: It is not best practice for operations to change to continuous shifts from four days to seven days, as fatigue and stress will increase the human risk factor that can cause abnormal incidents. Instead, we recommend assessing extending the shift time from 8 hours to 12 hours and limiting this to a maximum of two or three consecutive days. Any extended continuous shifts should include long regular breaks each shift to avoid fatigue. There needs to be a careful balance between the increased risk of human fatigue and the mitigated risk of virus spread. Managers should also consider that the total hours worked per person does not increase, that overtime will not be over 10%, and that the shifts are arranged so that staff can rest adequately between shifts.

Q: What procedures should we follow to identify an infected staff member?

A: As described in our report COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk, we recommend contact tracing systems. Register the health information and location of your organization’s personnel, suppliers’ personnel and other related personnel every day to monitor possible exposure to the virus and/or any symptoms (including those of the common cold). We recommend prescreening all scheduled visitors before they arrive on-site, including sending a questionnaire via email 48 hours prior to their visit. Require completion of the questionnaire before the appointment is confirmed. Verify that all answers remain unchanged upon arrival and institute temperature checks using noncontact thermometers before entry to the facility.

For a confirmed COVID-19 case at the site, we recommend that cleaning personnel use bio-hazard suits, gloves, shoe coverings, etc. and that all personal protective equipment (PPE) is bagged and removed from the site once cleaning is complete. With or without a confirmed case at the side, ensure the availability of PPE, including masks, gloves and hazardous materials or hazmat suits. Depending on the appropriate medical or management advice, workers should use masks during shift turnover. Training pairs (e.g., senior engineer and trainee) must wear masks at all times.

For further information, please refer to our report COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk.

Q: How feasible is it to move families to the data center?

A: Although housing staff on-site should be considered only as a last resort, regions could go into lockdown mid-shift, so you may need to prepare for that eventuality. There are disaster recovery plans that include providing accommodation for several family members for up to 2 weeks to avoid traveling to and from the data center. While the data center is perceived as a controlled-access space, it is not a safe space. Therefore, any organization considering this option should also consider offering a specialized training program for family members that includes awareness of the hazards and the associated risks, emergency evacuation procedures, etc.

Q: Is it always recommended to keep personnel 24×7 for Tier III and Tier IV data centers?

A: Yes, it is a required criteria of the Uptime Institute Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability to have a minimum of one 24-hour, 7-day-a-week qualified staff presence (full-time employee) for Tier III data centers per shift and a minimum of two 24-hr/7-day-a-week staff presence (full-time employee) per shift for Tier IV data centers.

Q: We must not forget the following considerations for staff that may need to stay at the data center for 24 hours or more: the need to prepare food; a supply of canned food for more than 40 days, as well as alkaline water and the ability to purify it by reverse osmosis in case of water contamination; and cardiopulmonary resuscitation equipment for emergencies.

A: Correct, all these initiatives are proactive and preventative. Uptime Institute’s COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk report provides additional information related to what measures data center management should consider for the health and safety of staff and the protection of the site.

Q: Do you recommend interviewing all internal staff to determine their personal situation, and whether this should be done by a psychologist, particularly if staff are in the data center for a long time?

A: Organizations should maintain open and continuous communication with staff, customers and relevant third parties on a daily basis or even twice daily. Briefings may be appropriate as the conditions change. We also recommend sharing news updates and links to public resources to keep staff informed of the current status of the pandemic and the best practices for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. As appropriate for each case, emotional support should be provided to reduce stress. Special attention should be given to any changes to continuous, long shifts that could increase the risk of human error, which may cause abnormal incidents.

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