You are likely isolated in a confining space now, but will go into other isolation spaces before long. We may not think of them that way, and we don’t get special training or equipment to enter these confined spaces, but we use them a lot in the industrialized world. In the next few minutes we will run down the most common and best places for isolating yourself and others as you live, work and travel. Isolation is part of your life, and here are the spaces where you do it.
Good reasons for isolating yourself
While some professions require special training and equipment for dealing with the isolation of storage tank interiors, sewers, mine shafts, ocean depths or space craft, we are routinely entering confined spaces for more casual isolation. Yes, we humans are tribal creatures that need to associate with others of our kind, but we also need security, comfort and protection from the elements. In fact our need for shelter and privacy has become an essential part of who we are as civilized creatures. We need safety and security for our bodies, families, pets and possessions. We need protection from the sun, rain, snow, wind, cold and heat. We need refuge from attack by insect, rodent and other pests ready to take our food, nibble on us, or destroy our property. We’ve come to expect a type of privacy, security and protection wherever we go, such that we need isolation when we work, travel or play. For all these reasons, and some others, we have many structures, devices or spaces to isolate ourselves. This article lists the main ones:
Most of us live, eat and sleep in a home or apartment that isolates us from weather and intruders, and provides thermostatic temperature control, exhaust systems and other functions to keep us warm, dry, safe and comfortable. Our place of business, places we shop and other spaces where we work or play are generally similar closed, temperature controlled buildings.
These houses, apartments and office buildings are often sealed for efficient heating or cooling. When they are sealed, with airflow controlled, they are true confined spaces. They can be considered barrier isolation enclosures, as they place a physical barrier composed of walls, ceiling/roof, floor, windows and doors between the isolated interior, and the outside world.
This isolated confined space has a captive atmosphere inside which may be pressurized with slightly positive pressure to exclude outsite air from leaking in. It could also be pressurized with slight negative pressure to prvent inside air from leaking out. In a recent post we describe how and why to control the pressure in your house or building for health and comfort. Another article explains how slight positive pressure control in a home can help with leakage problems like drafty windows.
When we leave our home, or the office or the shopping mall, we may well need to use a vehicle to get to the next destination. It it isn’t a bike or a golf cart, it may well be our next isolated place.
If we use an automobile or bus to get to our destination, chances are good that it too is a sealed, climate controlled space that can offer pressurized isolation for our comfort. The need for isolation is great in transport vehicles, as they travel at high speed, making life more difficult for those in open cars due to rough winds and sometimes difficult temperatures, rain or snow.
Most passenger cars sold in the 21st century have automatic climate control, air conditioning and cabin air filters to keep the atmosphere comfortable, fresh and clean. Positive pressure control can also help to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning from leaks in the engine exhaust system.
Often, high quality cars offer isolation and climate control beyond the capability of building heating and cooling systems, and they may be better isolated from noise and electrical signals as well. This is much improved from the open, unheated seating in most vehicles several decades ago.
Trains and urban mass transit
If we travel in a train, subway, light rail or elevator, we also are generally in a sealed, confined isolation space with some form of climate control or engineered ventilation. While many rail platforms and station areas are open-air, even some of these spaces are enclosed and climate controlled.
The nature of the isolation differs from train to subway or light rail system, but they all provide passenger containment and protection for safety. They generally all also contain the atmosphere inside, isolating that air from the fast moving air outside the vehicle. Long-haul passenger trains and some commuter trains have climate control, sound isolation and comfort systems that rival those of buildings and private cars.
Even though we may be bothered by crowds of strangers all around us, we are isolated. We are isolated together with traveling companions we did not choose, but isolated just the same.
Planes and ships for long distance travel
If you plan to travel to another city or a different continent, you will experience a different level of mobile isolation. If you go by ship, you will spend a long time in isolation designed to keep you safe and comfortable even when harsh ocean storms are a few feet away. If it is a pleasure cruise, you are likely to experience exceptional comfort in a self-contained city on the sea, all enclosed and isolated from water below and weather above.
In a way, this is greater isolation than many other places, as you enjoy access to an isolated power grid, isolated food supply, isolated water supply and climate, all shared with your fellow passengers and crew. Ocean liners have very high standards for the comfort, quality and reliability of the isolated systems that contain and protect the passengers and crews. Other ocean-going and shorter distance craft have different standards of comfort and protection, but they all provide substantial isolation from outside weather and ocean.
With airline travel the bar is even higher. Space and weight are at a premium, so the challenges of packing all that is needed in an isolated aircraft cabin are substantial. Commercial airliners are generally packed with people, and they all need protection from the high velocity air, harsh temperatures and brutally low pressure outside. In older aircraft the height and speed were limited by the altitude tolerance of passengers and crew. At high altitudes the air pressure is lower, making breathing more difficult, and causing other physiological problems. Without the massive facilities of huge ocean ships, and with the added challenges of high altitude and high velocity air to deal with, technical complexity of climate control in aircraft is greater than atmosphere control at sea. This form of isolation must deal with substantial pressure differences between the cabin interior and the cold, fast moving air an inch or two away. The cabin is maintained at a positive pressure for the health and comfort of people inside, The crowded seating and pressure management bring some health and comfort issues with them, and these will be dealt with in a future guest post by writer with extensive flight crew experience.
In any of these isolated places, or outside of them we may have to deal with accident or disease that requires medical intervention. It may be possible that a ships doctor, fellow traveler with emergency training or family member can help, but in many cases we may seek help in a medical facility.
A wide range of places for isolation are used in medical treatment. Hospitals have special standards of isolation to avoid contamination from one diseased patient to others in the facility. In addition, there are special isolation standards for the most contageous patients, and the rooms where they are treated, housed and quarantined. Staff are trained in use of gloves, gowns, other personal protective equipment (PPE) and special hand washing to avoid physical contact contamination and maintain touch or enteric isolation.
Even with all these precautions it is safer to treat the most infectious, dangerous patients at home, remotely, without removing them from the building. This is possible by use of telemedicine methods which we discussed in a previous post.
For some patients with difficult infection, respiratory or other medical problems isolation in an oxygen tent or a hyperbaric chamber can provide life saving treatment not possible in ambient conditions. Other patients with immune system problems must be kept in microbe-free isolation away from other people to avoid exposure to diseases that could be lethal.
The other ways that patients, staff and materials are isolated in the medical world are many and growing, but the ones above are the most common.
Other isolated work and life spaces
The list of possible specialized isolation spaces is long in today’s technically advancing world. There are cleanrooms, sewers, submarines, nuclear facilities, bank vaults and spacecraft to name a few. As technology progresses, the isolated spaces we are in and the others we use but don’t enter continue to increase in number, size, variety and sophistication. If you live and work in an industrialized country, you probably spend time in at least 3 of the ones mentioned in this article.
If you have experience with other kinds of isolated spaces, or have a question or comment about this post, please share your thoughts with us in the comment box below. We want to hear your story or question, and we appreciate you joining the discussion.