Equipment & Communications

Electrical and communication equipment can all be severely impacted by ashfall. During a volcanic eruption, these services are critical in aiding emergency efforts. For electronic systems and components, the goals are to keep ash out by controlling what gets in and cleaning and disposing of the ash properly. Keeping ash out of buildings will help protect electronic equipment too.

Modern electronics are well-protected from airborne contaminants, so short term exposure to ash is unlikely to cause damage. However, functionality may be reduced.
  • Ash particles may block ventilation grills and jam cooling fans, increasing operating temperatures which may in turn trigger overheating shutdowns.
  • Ash (if wet) may cause short circuits across exposed electrical contacts:
    • Fine wet ash is less mobile than dry ash, so is less likely to be drawn into electronic compartments.
  • Ash may affect the functionality and operation of keyboards, mice, CD drives and USB ports, requiring frequent cleaning.
  • Hard-disk drives are unlikely to be damaged by small amounts of ash due to their robust filtering systems.
  • Laptop computers are less vulnerable than desktop computers because they have fewer openings and lower cooling requirements.

Longer-term exposure (months to years) may cause more significant damage, such as corrosion due to the reactive surface chemistry of volcanic ash.

Electronic Motors

Ash can increase the wear on brushings, brushes, thrust bearings and commutators on electric pump motors and other drive motors. Small motors blanketed with ash can generate heat and could become fire hazards (FEMA, 1984). Common every day household appliances are just as susceptible to ash infiltration as computers and electronics.

Recommendations for cleaning motors (FEMA, 1984):
  • Turn off electric motors and machinery before cleaning them. Throw the motor switch as well as the main circuit breakers.
  • Clean the electrical equipment using air pressure of 30 psi or less to avoid getting a sandblast effect on delicate parts.
    • Vacuum, where possible, and change filter bags often.
    • Do not brush or rub surfaces, which may cause damage.
    • Do not blow ash into places that should be kept clean.
    • Always follow manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning equipment operated under dusty conditions; increase maintenance servicing as recommended.
  • Watch for electric shocks when operating ashy and dusty equipment. Be alert to the possibility of overheating and fires.
  • Carefully monitor vacuum cleaners to assure that filters and ash bags are changed when necessary.

See Also:
Buildings > Preparation > Keeping Ash Out of Building Interiors