As mission critical managers continually strive for methods to extend continuous operation, a successful practice is increasingly seeing implementation: the orientation program. Although nearly always developed to minimize the learning curve for new team members, virtually all who employ a program report it serves as a valuable resource for even the most experienced individuals in the group. When one is in doubt about a system’s intended performance, capacity, or configuration, or simply wishes to find a vendor’s emergency phone number, an orientation manual is a valued resource.

The actual manual is just part of an optimal orientation program. The most effective incorporate customized “shadow” schedules, weekly feedback sessions, informal written tests, and peer validation of progress in addition to the document.

The orientation document serves as core content for the orientation program. It permits new team members to consistently and expediently acquire knowledge of expected behavior, work schedules, department policies, site and systems configurations, escalation procedures, and a general understanding of the critical nature of the operation. There is no standard list of contents, but many mission critical managers have included at least the following:


Sample Orientation Manual Table of Contents

Section 1: Introduction 2
Section 2: Shadow Schedule 5
Section 3: Preventive Maintenance Calendar 7
Section 4: Safety Procedures 10
Section 5: Data Center Work Procedures 25
Section 6: Infrastructure Systems Descriptions 28
Section 7: Emergency Call List 32
Section 8: Escalation List 34


The introduction section typically describes the purpose of the data center operation; the impact if critical processes are interrupted; the cost of impact; and the daily precautions necessary to prevent accidental interruptions. Expectations of behavior for mission critical team members should be defined. An example follows:

Consistently expected behavior

  • Always operate by procedure (unless a quicker response is necessary to save a life)
  • Thoroughly review procedures prior to executing them
  • Listen to each step, repeat back each step, and wait for acknowledgment before performing each step
  • Display a questioning attitude (do not assume your manager is always correct)
  • Operate in pairs at all times (question each other)
  • Only our employees will transfer a system (isolate or restore to service)
  • Voice concerns for safety
  • When in doubt, stop the activity and consult others

The shadow schedule should be customized for each new employee, based on specific experience they bring to the group. On average, mission critical managers require new team members spend a minimum of six months shadowing others before they are permitted to carry out daily tasks and work assignments individually. They should initially be paired for a specific number of weeks with a more experienced team member, so they may “shadow” that individual as daily preventive maintenance tasks, customer work requests, and project activities are conducted.

Over the remainder of the six-month (or longer) shadow schedule, the new individual should be intentionally paired for similar increments of time with team members who specifically have experience the new employee needs to acquire. This will entail moving from one work shift to another more than once. During the shadow period, the new person should assist those they are shadowing, but not initiate work. They should be expected to ask questions frequently. The person they are shadowing should informally test their level of comprehension and the knowledge they have retained at least weekly.

Because virtually every new employee brings technical knowledge with them, those who are being shadowed will also benefit from the experience of spending several weeks with the new team member.

After three months and again at the conclusion of the shadow schedule, the mission critical manager should meet with all individuals the new team member has shadowed. This group should collectively determine if the new person is ready to conduct selected work activities on their own. Assuming that is the case, the new team member should then be assigned to a consistent work shift and provided with specific written annual objectives. If the answer is no, then an additional period of shadowing should be defined to specifically target detailed experiences needed.

The preventive maintenance (PM) calendar is included in most orientation documents to provide a comprehensive view of scheduled activities that involve both isolating a system prior to maintenance and restoring a system to service after maintenance is completed. There is no better means of instilling confidence for the performance of critical system transfer activities than by scheduling a different team member in the “hands-on” role when each isolation or restoration activity is performed. By following written procedures and taking direction from the department’s expert on a given infrastructure system, each team member will individually experience how equipment performs, looks, and sounds as a transfer is successfully completed. New team members should be included in the scheduled rotation for PM events involving system transfers.

Safety procedures that pertain specifically to work in the critical facility are frequently included as a section of the orientation document, so they are accessible in one file. “Lockout/Tagout,” “Electrical Safety,” “NFPA-70E,” “Haz-Com,” and “Confined Space” are a few of those commonly needed.


Example of a lookout tag (safety procedures section)

Data center work procedures are unique to each facility and directly address allowable and prohibited behavior in critical areas such as computer and infrastructure systems rooms. These are often required reading for all who will work in the facility. Many organizations require each employee and contractor to review work procedures in the presence of a manager and to execute a signed copy for filing.

Infrastructure systems descriptions are often created by the engineering firm responsible for the facility’s design. Presented as brief outlines or short paragraphs, these make information retention easier for a new team member. Together with a concept of design statement, identifying how the various systems are expected to function together and when it is (or is not) appropriate for a mission critical operator to intervene manually, system descriptions provide fundamentals which permit operators to make informed decisions when an incident occurs.


Sample Infrastructure Systems Descriptions


  • Four 600-ton Trane centrifugal chillers
  • Variable frequency drives (VFD) on each chiller
  • Heat exchanger for free cooling
  • Any chiller can work with any cooling tower
  • Any chiller can be valved in or out of the system at any time


  • Four primary chilled water pumps
  • Two secondary chilled water pumps
  • Four condenser water pumps
  • VFDs on all

Piping and Valves

  • Redundant loop systems: primary, secondary, and distribution
  • Distribution is closed loop
  • Any section of pipe and any valve may be isolated for maintenance or repair
  • Valves are provided for future equipment additions
  • Chiller, cooling tower, and heat exchanger isolation valves are electronically controlled through building automation system

The emergency call list includes every twenty-four hour contact number for each emergency organization, utility provider, equipment service vendor, engineer of record, department member, internal customer contact, etc. associated with the mission critical facility. It should be kept current in the orientation document and be posted visibly within the work space for the mission critical team.

Similarly, the escalation list concisely identifies which management team members should be contacted in a specific order, at identified intervals, when a reportable incident has occurred. Their emergency numbers should be prominently displayed.

Some have incorporated additional contents in orientation documents to further assist their teams. These range from one-line diagrams and building plan views to change management, security access, and property disposal processes. Overall, mission critical managers should strive to provide an accessible resource document which encompasses critical information without overwhelming the reader.

The time to identify, create, assimilate, and format the individual documents that make up an orientation manual can range from two weeks to six months, depending on resources available. A single team member should be designated the owner of the program. If they have limited hours available for this project effort, experienced contracted help may be engaged. Once the initial manual is complete and approved, a PDF copy should be made available online to all department members. Only the orientation program owner should be permitted to edit the manual. Scheduled reviews and updates of the manual should be part of the program owner’s written objectives.

Most importantly, a hard copy of the manual should be issued to every team member and retained at their work station. This will ensure the manual is accessible when online files are not, such as during a loss of utility and emergency power.

The department manager will need to schedule several hours each time a new employee is hired to evaluate the new employee’s background and experience and customize a shadow schedule. The schedule should determine the optimal order and number of weeks for pairing experienced team members with the new hire. Once onboard, the new employee will benefit from meeting monthly with the manager. Besides this minimal investment of time by the manager, each team member the new employee is scheduled to shadow will invest some time each day in the orientation process. Once fully implemented, the orientation program will greatly increase your potential for an extended continuous operation record.

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