When disaster strikes, the ability to keep the lights on is critical. Rescue, cleanup and rebuilding efforts all need the phosphorescent glow from night lighting to keep timely response and recovery efforts rolling through the dark. If the power goes out, disaster relief agencies and emergency management will need to rely on alternative lighting options to light the way.
Stranded in the Dark
Emergency situations created by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fire increase the sense of urgency to get responders onsite as quickly as possible — tight timelines and whims of the weather will have relief efforts going around the clock. If permanent lighting is not available and there isn’t ready access to a power source to provide lighting, portable light towers handle every lighting need.
“Light towers are commonly used in disaster-relief operations to provide temporary light and power to distressed areas,” says David Spears, product manager for Terex Power Products. “Most light towers provide not only lighting but also a limited amount of power to run tools and electrical appliances.”
Light towers are ideal for use in these types of situations, according to Spears, because they can be easily towed into position and set up in a short period of time. They provide their own power so these luminaries don’t need external devices, like a generator, to offer brighter and safer conditions. And because light towers are able to power auxiliary equipment through on-board power receptacles, they can also serve as temporary generators in these situations, minimizing the amount of equipment onsite while offering much-needed power.
First responders such as police, fire and ambulance crews can rapidly deploy portable light towers to aid rescue efforts and to secure accident scenes. Because they are easy to set up for maximum amount of light coverage, light towers are also perfect for illuminating first-aid tents and staging areas. Once the initial responders are onsite, light towers brighten the scene for the teams called in to begin to investigate the damage and repair the area.
“Most people give light towers little thought,” says Spears. “They appreciate the extra light but don’t realize where that light is coming from. But for emergency responders on sites like the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota or cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina, light towers were crucial to rescue and recovery efforts.”
Then, says Spears, light towers turn night into day for utility and construction crews tasked with getting the power back on, setting up temporary shelters, cleaning up debris and starting the process of rebuilding. Many contractors are used to working unusual hours to get a job done — maintenance tasks, as well as infrastructure projects, such as on roads and bridges, often require construction crews to work on a 24-hour-a-day schedule. This experience makes these same crews an ideal choice for working in the aftermath of a disaster.
“Light towers are also critical for general construction contractors tasked with cleaning up and rebuilding after a disaster,” says Spears. “Tight timelines dictated by the weather, the condition of the infrastructure and the immediate and long-term needs of the victims keep these crews working around the clock to get things back to normal.”
Illuminating from Dusk till Dawn
Having the right light on a job is essential for illuminating darkened sites, but it is also crucial that the sites are safe for light towers to be used. For light towers to be effective in distressed areas, it is essential for operators to follow standard operating requirements spelled out by the light tower’s manufacturer. For example, many light towers are rated to withstand up to 60-mph winds with the tower erected. If high winds plague the recovery areas, such as during the California wild fires, it might not be possible to use light towers until the weather conditions change.
There are other limitations, according to Spears, to keep in mind when putting light towers to work on recovery efforts. Locations where light towers are being employed need to be accessible by a truck and trailer. Also, remote locations where access to diesel fuel limits the usability of light towers, as well as environments where fuel usage is restricted, may make it difficult to use a portable light tower.
According to light tower operating requirements from Terex, which manufactures a number of trailer-mounted light towers, the area around the light tower should be clean and free of debris. When setting up the tower, position it on a firm, level surface and make certain that it is well grounded and secured in place. This includes leveling the unit and extending the outriggers before raising the mast.
Also, according to the light tower operating requirements, operators need to remember to never start up a tower in need of repair, especially if the insulation on the electrical cord is cut or damaged. Operators should always check overhead for wires and other obstructions before raising the mast. Operators must also make sure that the area behind the tower is clear of people and other equipment when raising and lowering the mast. It is important to keep in mind that it is best if light towers are lowered when they are not in use. And, because the bulbs become extremely hot during use, it is important that operators allow the light fixtures to cool 10 to 15 minutes before handling.
Regular maintenance, like replacing burned out bulbs, is key to having a productive light tower onsite during any event. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines for service and maintenance. One of the most important maintenance tips to follow in order to keep a light tower shining brightly, according to Spears, is to make certain that the engine is set at a constant RPM with no load. Operators should crank the engine before the light switches are turned on and shut down all breakers prior to shutting down the unit. Starting the unit while not under load prevents damage to the electrical systems from improper voltage and frequency.
“This ensures good, clean voltage and longer life from the ballasts, generator and light fixtures,” says Spears. “If the engine speed is not maintained, the lights will run at a higher voltage and burn out more quickly.”
Other things to do to ensure the tower’s long life are to keep the fuel tank filled, check the engine oil and coolant levels at least once a week and transport the tower with the light fixtures off and mounted to the boom.
If the light tower is being utilized in severe weather conditions, such as extreme hot or cold temperatures, dusty environments or high winds, it is important to inspect the unit more frequently and complete service checks as necessary.
“In situations where the temperatures are extreme or there is a lot of debris in the air, operators should check the engine every day, as well as change the air and fuel filters more often,” says Spears.
After a disaster strikes, light towers can offer a beacon of light to those in need, providing the people living and working in the affected area a brighter, safer place to be.
Amber Reed is a technical writer for Performance Marketing, based in West Des Moines, Iowa.