Keeping Things Cool On The Front Lines

July 16, 2003
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This week, daytime temperatures in Iraq will probably reach somewhere between 110 degrees and 116 degrees F. Things will get a bit cooler at night, when temperatures typically drop to somewhere between 70 degrees and 80 degrees F.

Troops currently stationed in Iraq, and in other locations throughout the Middle East, have a number of dangers to worry about. The extreme heat is one more element that creates obstacles and frustration for the military.

The HVAC industry is doing its part to help protect soldiers in the U.S. Army from the dangers that can occur due to excessive heat exposure, as well as helping them feel more comfortable in desert environments.

Port-A-Cool is one of several manufacturers contributing portable cooling systems to the military. According to the company, the portable systems are easy for the troops to use and operate. The systems have also proven vital in keeping troops comfortable and in keeping computer servers up and running.

Dangerous Temps

Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003. For the past four months, the U.S. military and troops from several allied countries have made the deserts of Iraq their temporary home and command base.

For troops still stationed in Iraq, relief from oppressive heat is a necessity. With this in mind, several HVAC manufacturers have pitched in to provide soldiers with the cooling they need to stay safe and continue doing their jobs.

Port-A-Cool, a manufacturer of portable evaporative cooling systems based in Center, Texas, is one company that has been involved with the military for quite some time.

According to Jim Altom, a Port-A-Cool distributor in Emory, Texas, the company realized that its portable units could be used for a variety of applications that would be beneficial to the armed forces.

The company approached the U.S. military and started testing its products in various locations. Systems received trial runs in military hangars, in vehicle maintenance facilities, and almost anywhere that troops gathered.

Altom said that the response to the Port-A-Cool systems was extremely positive. The systems now have a permanent place at several military bases. In fact, Altom said that a Port-A-Cool system can be found at just about every U.S. military base around the world.

But the systems have proven to be the most beneficial on the battlefield.

“[The troops] are in a hot environment with a tremendous heat factor,” said Altom.

He explained that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set guidelines for individuals who work in hot climates. OSHA classifies “high temperature environments” as those over 78 degrees F. When temperatures reach this high, OSHA suggests that workers rest 25 percent of their work time.

Under these kinds of conditions, serious consequences can occur. Troops can encounter minor problems from heat rash to fatigue, and more serious problems such as heat stroke, heat collapse, and dehydration.

Altom said that in order to stay within these kinds of guidelines, soldiers in the field are in desperate need of cooling. He also said that evaporative units provide several benefits over traditional cooling systems. According to Port-A-Cool, evaporative cooling systems typically only require water and electricity. This makes the systems easy to use, even outdoors.

The systems are capable of lowering ambient temperatures and adding moisture to the air.

Cooling Troops And Equipment

Air Rover Inc., based in Tyler, Texas, is another manufacturer that has had a long relationship with the military. In fact, Air Rover has not only provided portable cooling for the current war effort, they have provided systems for NASA, as well as federal energy projects.

Currently, the company has over 1,000 portable systems in use in the Middle East.

According to Jack Stiles, CEO of Air Rover and a chief designer of portable systems, the military has been using the company’s products since Desert Storm. He explained that the military used traditional air conditioning units during the first war in the Middle East.

“That was a learning curve for [the military],” said Stiles. “They built hundreds of A/C units to cool tents and put them in the desert. But those units were not designed for that.”

He said that the units were considerably undersized. Once temperatures surpassed 150 degrees, the units would quit.

With this in mind, the military was looking for something more efficient. Stiles worked with the military and suggested Air Rover’s High Temperature (HT) Series Portable Systems. These particular systems were originally designed and used for steel mills.

The HT Portable units can handle extreme temperatures up to 150 degrees and were a perfect match for the desert.

Stiles also stated that the portables are beneficial to the military in two important ways. The obvious benefit is that they keep troops cool.

“It gets so hot in the Mideast that they have to do something to keep tents cool,” he said.

The systems are also vital in keeping computer systems up and running. Stiles explained that the desert heat can cause important computer systems to crash and break down. Besides extreme heat, the computers are also susceptible to the desert sand. Stiles said that due to the desert conditions, it would take two troops to vacuum on a regular basis to keep sand off and away from computer servers.

Air Rover said that it solved this problem by including a special filtering system with each of the portable systems. The portable unit sits outside of the tent and can filter out sand while pressurizing the space inside the tent. This keeps sand and dust from entering the tent and infiltrating important computer hardware.

United CoolAir has provided portable systems for the war effort in the Middle East. According to the company, the systems used in the desert are a variation of its commercial product. The units can supply heating as well as cooling in case temperatures drop too low during the night.

Adapting To The Desert

United CoolAir, based in York, Pa., has also developed portable systems that will help alleviate many of the problems associated with desert conditions.

“We manufacture units that provide air conditioning, filtration, and heating in one package that are used in rapid deployable tents,” said Athar Khan, engineering manager for United CoolAir.

Khan explained that the physical features of the portable systems are important in order to adapt to the environment and the situation. For example, the cabinets are painted green or tan to match military colors.

“These units must be lightweight, so an aluminum cabinet is used,” explained Khan. “The cabinets must withstand a lot of abuse in the field, so it must be strong and durable.”

Rod Beever, vice president of sales and marketing for United CoolAir, said that the portable systems the company provides to the military are a variation of a commercial unit developed several years ago. He said that the unit’s cabinet, piping, and components are the same, but the compressor is changed and rated at the standard 95 degree ambient to provide a nominal 12 tons of cooling.

Since the United CoolAir portable system can provide both cooling and heat, it allows the troops to cool the environment during the morning and afternoons, and then switch to heating during the night if it is necessary. This can all be controlled through an auto-change thermostat. Khan said that some of the units have the thermostat built right into the control box, while others use a remote thermostat, which is placed in the conditioned space.

Khan also said that the units were recently equipped with a centrifugal blower.

“This feature allows the unit to be used outside in a free blow mode or indoors with a flex duct attached,” he said.

Publication date: 07/21/2003

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