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Alarm Fatigue: FDD Failure At Cleveland Fertility Clinic Has Devastating Results


Fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) is one of the most useful functions of a building automation system. But tuning a BAS to the right level and sensitivity of alarm can be challenging. Too few alarms, and you’re not really able to respond to issues as quickly or with as much impact as you’d like. Too many alarms, and “alarm fatigue” can set in, causing facility managers to ignore or even turn off alarms.

A recent story about a fertility clinic in Cleveland, Ohio highlights the importance of making sure fault detection, diagnostics, and alarming systems are working properly. The clinic, as reported by CNN, lost more than 4,000 eggs and embryos when a storage tank failed on a Saturday night when no employees were at the facility. A remote alarming system was supposed to alert staff when temperatures fluctuated, but an investigation revealed that the alarm had been turned off, and officials at the clinic didn’t know why it’d been turned off or for how long. The kicker to the story too is that the clinic knew the storage tank was failing and had been working with the manufacturer on a replacement and had been about to start the process of transferring the specimens to a different tank. That never happened, and all the specimens in that tank were lost.

A recent story in Building Operating Management magazine by Michael Brusic, a senior energy engineer at Bright Power, explains the criticality of fault detection and diagnostic systems and how they can be tuned appropriately. One of Brusic’s main arguments in the story is that fancy machines are fun, but you can never underestimate the human element in fault detection and diagnostics. Proper training for staff and complete understanding of the system – both what it can and can’t do – are critical to ensuring the success of any FDD initiative.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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