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US Embassy Kabul’s Two New Buildings Have Hazardous Electrical Currents That Can Cause Severe Injury and Death

Posted: 1:39 am ET

 

On July 24, 2009, DODIG released its report on Electrocution Deaths in Iraq (see Appendix A for the list of 18 U.S. military and contractors who died from electrocution from March 2003- March 2009 (PDF).

On September 1, 2009, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Hermanson who worked for State Department contractor, Triple Canopy also reportedly died from electrocution. According to one media report, his body was discovered on the floor of a shower near his quarters at Camp Olympia. (See State Dept Contractor Electrocuted in Iraq).

On April 12, State/OIG posted its Management Alert: Hazardous Electrical Current in Office and Residential Buildings Presents Life, Health, and Safety Risks at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan (PDF) affecting potentially 1200 individuals.  The two buildings (a 917-desk New Office Annex (NOX) and the 298-bed Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1) are part of a major office and residential expansion at Embassy Kabul at a cost of nearly $800 million. Embassy personnel reportedly began occupying the NOX in July 2015, and residents began moving into the SDA-1 apartments in February 2016.

This is a “management alert” as such, its  intention is indeed “to alert” the State Department leadership about this significant issue that requires immediate corrective action. The only think missing from this management alert is its distribution list; we don’t want to hear later on that this went only as far as the assistant secretaries desks.

Excerpt below:

During the course of an ongoing audit of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction and commissioning of a new office and residential apartment building at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) identified life, health, and safety risks to building occupants due to a type of hazardous electrical current—known as objectionable current—in both the office and apartment building. Specifically, OIG and the USACE team, which included master electricians from Task Force Protect Our Warfighters and Electrical Resources (POWER), discovered objectionable currents measuring up to 16.7 amps in the New Office Annex (NOX) building and up to 27 amps in the residential apartment building—Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1).1 Objectionable current is electrical current occurring on the grounding wiring of a building. Although the National Electrical Code does not establish a life safety threshold for objectionable current, Task Force POWER considers any objectionable current a risk to life and safety.

Industry safety standards regarding electrical shock indicate that loss of life is probable with current as low as 10 amps.2 In the case of the NOX, the objectionable current measured 6 amps more than the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined is likely to result in cardiac arrest, severe burns, and probable death. With respect to the residential apartment, or SDA-1, the objectionable current measured 17 amps more than the level of amperage that the CDC has determined is likely to result in death. The most common causes of objectionable current are improperly installed electrical wiring, equipment, and faulty electrical appliances.

The NOX is designed to accommodate more than 900 Department personnel, and when fully occupied, SDA-1 will house nearly 300 residents. When objectionable current flows on metal parts, it can cause electric shock and even death from ventricular fibrillation because of the elevated voltage. It can also cause a fire to ignite if combustible material is placed near the current. As a result, the life, health, and safety of Department personnel occupying these buildings are at risk. Accordingly, OIG is recommending that Embassy Kabul in coordination with OBO take immediate action to: (1) examine the installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and appliances in the NOX and SDA-1 to ascertain the cause for the objectionable current; (2) determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings; (3) and, to the extent necessary, inform residents of the existence of objectionable current and the risks associated with it, and provide instructions on how to eliminate or avoid accompanying hazards.

State/OIG says that Task Force POWER in Afghanistan was created by Congress in response to the deaths of 14 U.S. personnel in Iraq in 2008 due to electrocution as well as injuries to a number of others from electrical shock. Its mission is to identify and correct electrical issues at all military facilities in Afghanistan.

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Senior embassy officials briefed:

OIG and Task Force POWER representatives briefed senior embassy officials of their findings on February 27, 2016. Subsequent to that briefing, the Department sent a cable (see Appendix C) on February 29, 2016, stating, among other things, that little or no objectionable current was measured prior to occupancy but that it is taking actions to address the high levels of objectionable current that have now been detected. The Department also issued a Management Notice on March 2, 2016, further outlining the actions it is planning to take to address the issue (see Appendix D). OIG is equally concerned with the safety and security of personnel living and working at the embassy and believes that it is paramount that the embassy takes actions to address the concerns.

Embassy Kabul’s response:

Embassy Kabul reported that Facilities Management, OBO, and maintenance and construction contractors have examined the electrical wiring in the NOX and SDA-1 and have documented the objectionable current readings at the buildings’ electrical panels. The group also examined the main power distribution loop servicing both the East and West sides of the embassy compound and subsequently shared this information with OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group.

Embassy Kabul further stated that although the group consisting of Facilities Management, OBO, and contractors performed detailed inspections of the buildings and the power distribution loop, it has not been able to determine a single root cause of the objectionable current. Due to the highly technical nature of objectionable current, the embassy indicated that it must defer to the OBO subject matter experts as well as OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group for guidance and a determination of the causes of objectionable current at the SDA-1 and NOX buildings

State/OBO’s response:

OBO told OIG in its formal response that it “conducted comprehensive reviews of SDA-1 and the New Office Annex (NOX) buildings prior to occupancy. At that time, little or no objectionable current was measured. However, it is not unusual for objectionable current to present itself after the installation of equipment and appliances post- occupancy and when the building is running at full capacity.”

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Facilities Management Office, in coordination with Embassy Kabul, determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings.

OBO Director Lydia Muniz told OIG Steve Linick in its memorandum response that “OBO does not agree that the observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building, but agrees that workers in the restricted electrical and mechanical rooms face a potential hazard.”

“OBO Response: OBO did not concur that observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building. OBO stated that the first priority of both OBO and Embassy Kabul was to inspect residential spaces and those used by the public. According to OBO, the readings in residential and public spaces were consistent with readings taken prior to building occupancy, and OBO verified that the objectionable current was limited to locked and restricted mechanical and electrical rooms.”

As a result of OBO’s non-concurence, OIG considered its recommendation unresolved:

… because OBO did not concur that the observed objectionable current poses a risk for occupants in the NOX and SDA- 1. According to Task Force POWER, until OBO is able to isolate the source(s) of objectionable current, it may be present anywhere throughout the electrical system. Higher readings of amperage detected in mechanical and electrical rooms may be the cumulative result of multiple sources of objectionable current located throughout the building. Additionally, according to Task Force POWER, higher levels of objectionable current will be observed at the electrical panels, as this is where all electricity returns to complete the circuit. While authorized personnel performing maintenance on the electrical system are at a higher risk of coming in contact with objectionable current, there is no evidence that the risk is limited only to workers in restricted electrical and mechanical rooms.

The Thing (From Another World) - James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

The Thing (From Another World) – James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

A need for increased awareness and mitigation measures for all embassy personnel:

State/OIG says it “will consider the recommendation resolved when OBO and Embassy Kabul identify mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to those personnel occupying the NOX and SDA-1. The March 2, 2016 Management Notice issued to all Embassy personnel increased awareness, but did not identify mitigation measures for all Embassy personnel. Instead, the notice limits its guidance to advising employees not to enter or tamper with locked mechanical rooms or electrical boxes. This recommendation will be considered closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation demonstrating that OBO, in conjunction with U.S. Embassy Kabul, has implemented mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to office workers and building residents in addition to those mitigation steps already taken to reduce the risk to workers accessing mechanical and electrical rooms.”

Click here for the American Heart Association’s Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care in the case of electric shock — particularly on modifications for basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support.

 

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