facilities manager doing a condition assessment

Facility Condition Assessments Cut Risk, Increase Resiliency

An integrated, comprehensive and data-driven FCA can help managers prioritize the best ways to make facilities future ready.

By Jaco Cronje, Contributing Writer  

The last couple of years have brought a fair share of unexpected weather. Record-setting summer rainfall in St. Louis. The deadliest hurricane on record in Florida. Massive flooding in Kentucky. An ice storm in Houston. Extreme heat across the nation. 

Houston is not exactly known for its cold weather, but in February 2021, the city was hit by an ice storm that cut much of its power. It was one of those “once in 100 years” events that shifted thinking for many local leaders, including a prominent medical facility, and following the storm, facility officials opted to conduct a facility condition assessment (FCA) focused on freeze mitigation. 

To get ahead of the next unexpected freeze, the organization considered a range of factors, including air flow, exposed piping, electrical and water supply, roof strength and snow-melting systems. But that is not all an FCA can do. 

What is an FCA? 

An FCA independently verifies the condition of a facility and all its systems. It can identify opportunities for increased safety and security, as well as efficiencies that can save money and promote better health for building occupants. 

Typically, managers and their staffs inspect and maintain HVAC, IT and lighting systems individually. Through an FCA, systems are examined for the way they perform independently and in an integrated approach. Facility operational outcomes are considered, as opposed to silo system functionality. 

An FCA also looks at the building today and in its future, allowing owners and managers to address problems proactively rather than reactively. The assessment involves more than a report. Its output provides an overview of the current state, including risks and gap analysis, and should incorporate an ideation session to explore what can be improved or changed. 

FCAs are an increasingly important tool in a world with a rapidly growing range of new, unexpected threats, including climate change, cyberattacks and health challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Looking for trouble 

An FCA is easy to delay, which is the way many building owners and managers are caught unprepared, and the benefits can be intangible until there is an emergency. Cybersecurity is one example. 

The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that one-half of commercial buildings have devices exposed to the internet, and nearly 40 percent of building management systems have been targeted with malware, phishing or ransomware, and that was pre-pandemic. In today’s world, conducting a threat and vulnerability assessment (TVA), which is a subset of an FCA, can help managers prepare. 

Climate change is another factor. Every coastal site measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has experienced an increase in flooding since the 1950s. For any coastal facility, rising sea levels and increased frequency and severity of storms need to be factored into building management. 

It is not just the ocean. Floodplains exist from coast to coast. Wildfires, extreme heat and tornadoes are happening in areas less accustomed to them. The list of potential threats goes on. That is why changing climate and weather patterns are a key reason to conduct an FCA. 

The 2020 pandemic also identified an unexpected risk an FCA can address: the distribution of germs through the air and on hard surfaces. Since the emergence of COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in FCAs focused on ways to reduce touch surfaces through contactless access control, occupancy sensors, destination-dispatch elevators and occupancy-based cleaning systems procedures. These changes demonstrate concern for the wellbeing of building occupants and can reduce sickness, thereby boosting the productivity of staff. 

To that end, an FCA can enhance the occupancy experience of a building. A recent project in West Palm Beach, Florida, identified a series of changes that would increase energy efficiency through occupancy and light-level sensors to optimize the electricity consumption, adjustable shades to reduce heat glare, and HVAC equipment efficiencies. These small shifts increased the consistency of temperature across the office building, making occupants more comfortable and productive and reducing the carbon footprint and extending the lifespan of the equipment. 

Here is the key: Assuming a facility is generally in good order, performing an FCA every five years on average – is more likely to mitigate risks, improve facility resilience, and establish sound budgeting cycles for the operational technology in the building. In other words, FCAs foster resilience. 

Finding the ‘right’ time 

The best time to conduct an FCA is before a problem develops. This is easy to say and hard to predict. One approach is to think off seasonally. To prepare for next summer’s heat, facility managers should begin an FCA in the fall or winter to allow time to identify and address any concerns, such as HVAC upgrades. A building located in a climate that is typically not too cold could prioritize a cold-weather assessment in the spring or summer. 

New regulations or evolving industry standards also can trigger an FCA. For example, Cambridge, Massachusetts, will require all large buildings, including commercial buildings to eventually achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, with a required 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2026 from a 2019 baseline. 

Events such as COP28, the UN climate change conference, which took place in Dubai in December 2023, also can inspire action. Many entities and organizations left COP28 with a renewed climate interest and commitment, and facilities and buildings are one area essential to delivering those long-term goals. 

What’s next? 

Facilities managers need to take a hard look at their building stocks. Many of the nation’s buildings are in dire need of optimization. That is a near-term and long-term problem, since some engineers and architects estimate that 80 percent of the buildings that will exist even in 2050 already have been built. That means managers need to upgrade what they have, making FCAs imperative for all non-residential structures, including schools, hotels, airports, hospitals and office buildings. 

Ideally, an FCA should be integrated, comprehensive and data driven. It is unlikely a facility manager will be able to address all recommended changes immediately, but having a repository of validated information along with a real-time dashboard and automated report generation can help managers prioritize the best ways to become future ready. 

Jaco Cronje is vice president and technology solutions architect for WSP. 

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  posted on 1/19/2024   Article Use Policy

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