Behind the scenes of GS: preventing and curing

With about 10,000 persons on the site every day, CERN’s infrastructure takes a real hammering every day of the year. Fortunately, the GS-SE Group is on the watch…


Here, like everywhere else, nothing stays shiny and new for very long. That’s why it’s important to carry out regular, even daily, maintenance of buildings, equipment, pipes and roads which every single day see thousands of CERN personnel and visitors passing by. The team responsible for this weighty task is part of the GS-SE Group.

Suspicious steam
All CERN’s buildings are heated by two heating plants (see the article in Bulletin 13-14/2011) via the underground hot-water network. Seen from below the ground, this is a labyrinth of pipes stretching over 30 km (including both the Meyrin and Prévessin sites). And with some of these pipes now over 40 years old, it goes without saying that leaks are a common hazard. “At the end of 2013, we had to deal with a big leak at Point 1,” says Christophe Martel, who is in charge of the heating and air-conditioning installations. “We had to dig up the road to access the faulty pipe. This was a major operation and called for interventions by other services with which we work hand-in-hand (civil engineering, the EN-EL Group for HV cables and the EN-CV Group for the other pipes located nearby).”

But how do you know when a leak requires action on this scale? “Given the volume of water we have to pump back into the circuit – which is supposed to be closed – we can deduce the quantity of water being lost through the leak and thus determine its size," explains Martel. Saying that, to plug a leak, you still have to know where it is… Fortunately, they sometimes leave tell-tale signs. “Steam escaping from manhole covers is often associated with a leak," adds Martel. “And when it’s raining, dry areas on the ground can also put us on the scent… Then we use infrared imaging to pinpoint the exact location.”

And all the rest…
Whether it’s checking thermal insulation and roof sealing, repairing facades, entrances, doors, windows, floor coverings, walls, ceilings, maintaining toilets, or fixing roads and pathways... the team in charge of infrastructure maintenance takes care of it all. “We follow a multi-annual maintenance plan,” explains Richard Morton, who is in charge of infrastructure maintenance. “For example, each year in spring and autumn, we fill in the pot-holes on all CERN’s roads. Of course, we also take on many minor one-off jobs, which arise from our own observations or from tickets sent to us by the Service Desk (see article in Bulletin 44-45/2013). Among these jobs is the (recurrent) task unblocking of rainwater and wastewater drains.”

So with almost 8,000 tickets assigned to them in 2013, the members of the GS-SE Group are truly the guardian angels of our comfort and safety.

by Anaïs Schaeffer