Timely execution of key maintenance protocols can significantly reduce the risk of property losses at any time of year, but these protocols have become even more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Municipal property managers now have the burden of deploying pandemic strategies such as bringing more fresh air into buildings and using HVAC systems at higher capacities. MIIA is seeing that when losses or equipment failures occur, down times have become much longer because of the scarcity of key building materials and the need to carefully schedule and rotate trade crews, among other factors.

The pandemic has caused many municipal buildings throughout the state to be closed or open with restricted hours, but this should not result in an equivalent reduction in building maintenance protocols. To protect against unnecessary losses, buildings that are closed or operating at less than normal capacity must be maintained and operated as if they are or will be fully occupied.

The following maintenance action items are highly recommended:
Custodial inspections and documentation: Ensure that all rooms, heating systems and windows are inspected daily when buildings and schools are closed. This is especially critical this year, given pandemic-related efforts to circulate more fresh air throughout buildings to help to dilute and replace contaminated indoor air.

HVAC systems: Inspect and evaluate the condition and maintenance needs of key heating systems (boilers, furnaces, unit ventilators, sprinkler systems and water heaters). These systems have generally been working continuously over the winter months and may begin to show signs of wear and tear, inefficiency, corrosion and leakage — all key indicators of the need to repair, replace or upgrade faulty, outdated or underperforming equipment and systems.

Unit ventilator failure has been a high-frequency loss type. As heating and cooling systems are inspected and maintained in a building, it is imperative that all of the unit ventilators are included in the scope of work. Problems with unit ventilators, including freezing, seizing and failing, can often be identified before a failure occurs.

Evaluate HVAC systems for their capacity for equipment upgrades, such as portable air purification units and bipolar ionization centralized filtration systems.

Building closures: Planning ahead for school and municipal building closures is vital, as some of the worst losses occur over holidays and vacations. Always maintain heat at 60 degrees at a minimum. The Insurance Information Institute recommends a temperature of 65 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing during the winter months.

Emergency systems: Test generators and service as necessary to ensure they are operational in case of emergencies. Due to their complexity, fire alarm systems should be inspected, tested and maintained at least annually by a qualified contractor.

Fire and smoke doors should be tested for proper operation at least annually, or more often depending on their level of use and abuse. Doors that are often propped open by building occupants may need to be inspected daily. Ongoing problems with propped doors may need to be addressed by adding magnetic hold-open devices that are released by smoke detectors.

For more information, see MIIA’s Property Protection Advisory Checklist.

Written by Stephen Batchelder, MIIA VP for Claims Operations and Risk Management.