4  FM quick reads on

1. Detection Systems Reduce False Alarms

Today's tip is to be aware of recent improvement in fire alarm accuracy. In the past, nuisance or false alarms conditioned building occupants to ignore fire alarm systems when they sounded. This pattern of response over the years has resulted in loss of life. As one would expect, the detection technologies have evolved with the fire alarm control units in an effort to address these reliability concerns.

Detectors installed only a few decades ago relied on a single technology. A large majority of spot-type smoke detectors were ionization detectors that relied on a radioactive source to ionize the particles in the air and monitored the resultant electric potential in the sensor-housing atmosphere. Other detectors, also widely used, were photoelectric smoke detectors using LED light sources. However, because these spot-type detectors were relying on one method of detection, they were susceptible to nuisance alarms.

Current addressable spot-type fire detectors, however, utilize microprocessor-based detection technologies that allow the detectors or the fire alarm control unit to make intelligent decisions about what they are sensing. Most large fire alarm manufacturers now produce detectors that monitor for multiple factors — the presence of combustion gases, an increase in temperature and the presence of smoke particles — to make a big-picture decision. State-of-the-art and innovative detection systems often discriminate combustion products from nuisance sources such as steam and dusty environments.

These new detectors have dramatically improved the reliability and credibility of fire alarm systems. As false or nuisance alarm frequency is reduced, the public perception should improve. Some manufacturers now offer guarantees that smoke detectors will not activate unless there truly is a fire event.

Spot-type smoke detectors installed 20 years ago also required sensitivity testing. When dirt infiltrated the detector-s sensor housing, a nuisance alarm was often the result. Intelligent fire alarm systems have eliminated the need to perform sensitivity testing since the panel can track detector sensitivity. Additionally, intelligent detectors can track their factory sensitivity deviation and compare that sensitivity to degradation in performance as a result of dirt rather than a nuisance alarm; this condition is reported as a dirty detector. Building maintenance personnel can then address the dirty detector long before it results in an evacuation.

Trust Contractor To Be The Expert

Today's tip is to transfer all risk and control to the contractor in outsourcing situations. If you've done your due diligence, the vendor you've hired is the expert in the situation — not you.

"An expert has no technical risk," says Dean Kashiwagi, PhD, PE, professor and director of the Performance Based Studies Research Group at Arizona State University. "His only risk is others coming in to try to control him."

The ideal project scenario involves facility managers explaining what they want and the vendor letting them know what they can get, Kashiwagi says. The key is working with a contractor selected for their expertise and the value they can deliver, not the cost savings a facility manager can wring out of the contract.

In the first phase of the selection process, you assume all vendors are experts and take their performance claims at face value. Then you ask questions and verify all claims that were made, Kashiwagi says.

"Ask the vendor how they know they can do it," he says. "They'll know deviation in cost. They'll know deviation in performance. They will have self-evaluated." The vendor needs to measure their own people and operations, not the customer.

Once you have winnowed the choices down, let the contractor do what they need to do. This includes making them write the contract — pushing the risk back to them, because their lawyers won't promise something they can't deliver on.

Cost does come into the equation, but it shouldn't be the primary deciding factor. "We're not looking to pay more, but if we're paying more we want hard evidence that it's due to valid factors," Kashiwagi says.

Remember that risk drives up cost. One strategy to use in pursuing value-based instead of price-based decision making is to talk with a desirable vendor who might be too expensive and find out what risk factors influenced their bid. Mitigate the ones you can and have them rebid.

University’s Planning Yields More Funds For Replacement

Today's tip comes from the University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest public universities in the United States. The school needed an efficient, objective, and repeatable method of prioritizing facilities projects, as well as creating its annual budget and 10-year plan.

After an initial facility condition assessment of the entire campus in 2002, the university completed a second assessment in 2005 and a third in 2010. Recently, the facilities team wanted to find the best method to maintain the integrity of the data, while implementing a schedule of detailed condition assessments each year for 20 percent of the approximately 19 million square feet of facilities.

The university has a large maintenance and facilities staff, making self-assessments a feasible solution to complement the five-year professional assessment cycle. Using a Web-based guided self-assessment tool from VFA Inc., the staff can gather current data for critical buildings.

One benefit of gathering accurate facility data is that the true condition provides a metric to analyze the effect of investing in facility improvements. Industry-wide, this benchmark is known as the facility condition index (FCI).

When gathered in a software database, as UT-Austin did, FCI provides a complete view of the necessary and recommended maintenance items and their cost for the selected portfolio, as well as the expected replacements for the major building systems. It can then serve as the basis of strategic facilities plans.

By using the software to evaluate the condition of its buildings, UT Austin's capital planning program has helped to demonstrate a need for more funding to support renovation and renewal projects, resulting in annual budget increases. The old spending trend of 80 percent funding for repair work and only 20 percent for system replacement and renewal has been inverted to 15 percent funding for repair and 85 percent for system renewal.

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