Brief on previous article
The hotel maintenance-engineering department and the hotel security department share a common interest; the protection of hotels’ assets. The general scope of the hotel maintenance-engineering department was explained with pictorials for readers to imagine the absence of maintenance -engineering activities on the areas depicted; the grounds, water features, building and external pipelines. Readers’ attention was drawn to anticipating new normal practices in the department.
At the least, we assumed the acquisition, installation, maintenance and servicing of sanitizing dispensers are the responsibilities of the department.
The realities of the hard impact on hotel operations was illustrated through a scenario using the blog’s imaginary hotel, GANA Hotel. During the 3 months that it was operating with an average occupancy of 12% at a daily average rate of $150, GANA Hotel lost GHC 7,168,356.00 ($1,240,200.00).
Continuation of Expedition
To continue our expedition, I caught up with a hotel Chief Engineer who once said to me; ‘Several people ask me whether there is the need for an engineer in a hotel and my answer is I do the same thing an engineer does on a ship or air craft. An international hotel is a stationary ship.’
I have never forgotten this imagery of a hotel being ‘a stationary ship’!
The maintenance-engineering department of a hotel is required for a property to function efficiently. By providing utility services like electricity, hot water, air-conditioning and refrigeration, maintaining engineering and services of various other equipment, the department is undoubtedly the backbone of the hotel. In a crisis situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, when hotel facilities are being underutilized and where the virus is a threat to all, let us find out if they will have new normal practices in the department.
Q: There are two departments, maintenance-engineering and security departments, which did not cease operations in the big hotels, while other departments shut down temporarily, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, why?
Response: The maintenance department takes care of the assets of the hotel to maintain its value and the security takes care of its safety, especially from intruders.
Q: The maintenance-engineering department is known to be responsible to keeping the lights on, the toilets flushing, the building standing firm and numerous other functions in order to keep guests comfortable and happy! With the coronavirus pandemic and hardly any guests in our hotels, the department seems to have been thrusted into health-related responsibilities (safety and hygiene matters). Using your experience, how do you advise that these different functions be coordinated?
Response: In our hotel, there were few guests in the rooms though we closed down.
It wasn’t prudent to shut down all machines and equipment due to our proximity to the sea. Rust is our biggest problem and some amount of heat is needed to keep electronic circuits functioning. Water pumps were running and fresh air units were also on to keep the air fresh in rooms and public areas. Two technicians were in the hotel for two weeks on rotational basis to take care of these functions. The chief security is in charge of all Covid-19 protocols, to ensure adherence. All our security men are certified First Aiders and Health and Safety Marshalls. The security and the resident Nurse took charge of safety and hygiene matters.
Q: Should a hotel be taking guests for quarantine and the guests check-out, would ‘deep cleaning’ of the room involve special cleaning which the maintenance-engineering department has to be involved?
Response: In the hotel, fumigation of the room is needed first. This is done by a sub-contractor. Then the ‘deep cleaning’ can be done by the Housekeeping department.
Q: “We as engineers have to ensure that air inside a room or a public space like a lobby or restaurants, keeps changing. More air handling units will have to be installed in hotels. Instead of taking the air back, there should be a provision of pumping fresh air,” said Rothin Banerjee, Director – Engineering, Taj Palace, New Delhi.
How does one explain to the ordinary person what he means in relation to the coronavirus?
Response: If windows to a house are kept shut and the ceiling fans are kept on, the air in the rooms become stale and stuffy because the same air keeps going round. When the windows are opened, fresh air comes in and out and it becomes comfortable.
Rothin is simply saying that the air conditioning systems should have fresh air systems incorporated in the design to make them more efficient.
Q: The following are sample hotel guestrooms. What does the shutting down of guestrooms involve?
Response: It involves shutting water valves to individual rooms and only flushing once a week. Taking all the linen back to the laundry, switching air conditioners to fan mode just to allow air circulation.
Q: What are the consequences if the valves are not shut and air conditions are not switched off throughout the three months of shutdown?
Response: There would be water running through the lines putting demand on the pumps. There could be unnoticed leaks that could create problems. The aircon will continue cooling resulting in higher electricity costs.
Q: You have described how the department takes good care of some of the hotel’s assets when a hotel temporarily shuts down. How about the following?
Response: Regular lubrication and running the electronic equipment once in a while to prevent rust.
Response: As answered earlier, in our facility, two technicians were permanently in the hotel on rotational basis to take care of all maintenance related issues. The pools were cleaned once a week. There was a houseman resident in the hotel for two weeks to clean public areas. The kitchen was partially open to cook for the few guests and resident staff.
Q: Generally, the functions of the department have not changed; guestrooms, public areas and equipment maintenance and repairs. You have been drafted into taking extra responsibilities in respect to handling requirements necessitated by the pandemic. Should we expect the modus operandi of the department change?
Response: Not really. We came back to meet a lot of breakdowns on equipment and so much room maintenance issues. Apart from observance of the Covid-19 protocols, we are performing our core mandate. That may be applicable to the operational departments.
Q: I indicated in my introductory article that in the least one should expect the maintenance -engineering department to purchase, install, maintain and service hand sanitizers. Can you confirm if this is what happens in your facility?
Response: The installation of sanitizers is done here by the supplier and Housekeeping replenishes. Minor maintenance on the equipment is done by us.
Q: I don’t imagine wearing a face mask all day while on the job. How do the staff manage it?
Response: The face mask is worn all day. The staff move around with sanitizers in their pockets. If the mask has to be removed for drinking, eating or when they are all alone then their hands are sanitized.
Q: My understanding is also that no other special outfits are required to be worn by staff while on the job?
Response: Not at all.
From the above discussion, one can conclude that hotel maintenance-engineering departments are not likely to institute new normal practices peculiar to their operational procedures except that personnel are expected to observe the known protocols while on duty:
- covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
- putting used tissues in the bin straight away.
- washing your hands with soap and water often –use hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available.
- trying to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- cleaning and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- not touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- using face mask
- observing the social distance protocol
- using hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available
Part 2 will explore the impact of the pandemic on hotel security operations.