Facilities have life cycles. Like living things, the facilities we live in, work in, and play in, evolve and adapt through their day-to-day use. In many parts of the country, facilities must adapt to seasonal climatic conditions with dramatic ranges of temperature, humidity, and use.

Similarly, ongoing emergency preparedness awareness will encourage more attention to systems that can adjust to allow for contingency planning. By anticipating changes and events that could occur in the future, facility managers become "preventers" vs. "first responders" in the management of space and physical assets.

Many organizations proactively manage their facilities by using processes and technology that allow them to avoid costs as well as to save money and resources. Managing facility life cycles is actually about finding, building, and using facility knowledge bases to house the corporate knowledge necessary for a well-maintained facility over its expected life span. Essentially, this allows facility managers to do more with less, but first we need to concur on the vital signs to see how we are performing.

Where's The Sprinkler Shutoff?

A good example of the benefit of periodic checks and system stress tests was a recent event at a Midwestern hospital. It reinforced the need for a facility information management plan. It was 3 a.m. on a sleepy Sunday morning. Suddenly, the fire alarm screeched an emergency alert and sprinklers activated on the fourth floor. A fire had started on a stove in a kitchenette in the obstetrics department.

As planned, the fire protection system doused the flames and alerted emergency and maintenance personnel. As the emergency response team moved in to clean up the damage, they realized the sprinkler system could not be shut down - no one on duty knew where to find the specific valves or the documentation to search them out. The countdown to additional infrastructure failures and added costly damage began.

As the maintenance technicians scrambled to locate the shutoffs, hundreds of gallons of water began leaking into the floors below, which included a cardiac catheterization lab. Over 30 minutes passed before a retired maintenance manager could be reached (roused from his sleep at home) to answer the urgent question of where to locate the valves to turn off the flood of water, which was now pouring into additional floors below. Communication was hindered because room numbering terminology and floor plan maps had changed over the two years that had passed since the information had been refreshed.

After another 15 minutes, it was determined that as a result of a recent renovation, a space that was formerly a stair landing was now an office. A standard practice in fire protection systems is to locate valves in stairways, which was how the original system had been designed. So, the mystery was solved, and the valve located in a locked office was turned off, stopping the flood damage to the floors below.

After the emergency personnel left and the condition assessment was done, several million dollars of damage to complex medical equipment and facility infrastructure was discovered. It was an easy decision for the hospital corporate leaders to mandate better documentation procedures, including the development of a system to keep documentation current - especially for emergency response situations like this.

Integrating Documentation

To avoid another situation like this in the future, the hospital undertook a project of integrating fire protection system maintenance documentation with its master facility base plan drawings and space management system. Critical valves and panels were mapped over current floor plans. Unique identifier tags were assigned and attached to all critical components. Report formats were established that allowed for several different listings of control components to be output in a variety of ways. Individual floor plan drawings were posted in mechanical rooms to indicate where applicable equipment/controls for the area were located and what they controlled.

Additionally, composite sets of drawings showing all buildings and floors were published and stored in a minimum of two separate locations where emergency management teams could access them when needed. A collaboration website was also set up to allow multiple user access from any location to access the same information through a simple browser interface.

How Many ‘AHU-1' Units Do You Have?

AHUs need to be tracked and monitored for a variety of purposes. A good test is to check and see if multiple buildings on a campus have uniquely identified air handlers with their own unique histories documented including O&M manuals, manufacturer information, warranty data, contractor contacts, and maintenance records.

Many times, a facility manager must do ongoing maintenance on units that have not been named under a master planned system. As the critical component in HVAC systems, AHUs need to be maintained on a continuous basis for operational reliability purposes. Preventative (or predictive) maintenance must be planned and done within predetermined timeframes or runtimes. Often, equipment outlives its warranty period and, potentially, even its depreciation period. The better a piece of equipment is maintained, the longer it will last. Avoiding replacement costs as long as possible provides a financial benefit to organizations. Having good records allows managers to identify trends and characteristics for particular components and configurations.

The next level of documentation within an HVAC system should be highlighted, color-coded plans indicating zones or areas controlled by known AHUs. This documentation is required for emergency preparedness and other system troubleshooting (often for regulatory compliance as well), but usually is not included with typical record documents from designers. As these areas are mapped along with required rated partitions, locations for fire and smoke dampers can be validated. Dampers are another HVAC system component that can and should be tracked within an integrated facility management system. They have requirements for being installed, for maintenance, and must be tested periodically for regulatory compliance.

All of these individual pieces are part of a quality HVAC maintenance management system that provides methods and procedures for proactive attention. In health care occupancies, there are additional uses for these types of facility management systems within infection control requirements. Specific rooms that have positive or negative air flow requirements can also be mapped on these same drawings and reports to aid in the assurance of proper air quality.

Facility Asset Inventory Control

Tracking expensive pieces of HVAC equipment or other types of assets becomes less painful as processes to "check in" assets are implemented. By tagging a new piece of equipment as it arrives on site and is installed according to a master naming system, many headaches in the future are prevented. This would include the capability to link electronic O&M documentation, location information, and maintenance technician in-service training videos. Particularly, chillers, boilers, and AHUs should be captured in a facility management system.

Knowing what assets exist (or are available) and having easily accessible information about their life cycles, creates opportunities to proactively manage them, and in essence, "do more with less." Assets include equipment in place within a facility plus parts, tools, and trades to maintain them. Asset inventory control should integrate with space management systems to ensure that locations can be correlated with assets.

The best approach is to develop a single repository of master facility documentation that begins with space documentation, encompasses facility equipment and furniture assets, and provides a means and method for maintenance management. This can take a number of forms. Whatever can be collected is what you start from and begin to use immediately. All information formats and reports should be considered as the base of information develops and grows.

With the scanning and reprographic techniques available today, an electronic archive of facility information can be created quickly. This immediately minimizes the risk of losing critical paper-based information and drawings that will become obsolete or degrade beyond usefulness.

The resulting electronic images are stored and transferred more easily than paper or CAD files, therefore, can be sent to the source of need more quickly and inexpensively than possible in previous years. With wireless technology and small format portable computing devices, more access and just-in-time information can become available to more people who access it when they need it - even from a remote location.

Any major piece of equipment will have O&M information delivered with it. That information should be immediately captured electronically for retrieval in the future from a variety of locations in a variety of formats. Many of the necessary procedures and steps will be available from this information so they need to be pulled into a master maintenance system that can reference them during the equipments' life cycle.

Space Audit

From the outset of a facility management engagement, an intimate understanding of the space and scale is needed, including a system to serve as a repository and source for facility information. Periodically, a structured approach to confirming and identifying available space and its current usage should be undertaken. A space audit that will be valuable and usable in the future will utilize CAD base plan drawings.

As areas are verified on-site, the master base plans can be updated almost simultaneously to ensure that any undocumented existing conditions are captured in the system as soon as they are discovered. Space management files that contain room outline polygons (or objects) can be maintained separately and then simply reference the master base plans, which allows further information security.

The space management drawing files (one per floor) become the sub-repository to form individual room and asset information. A space audit is a snapshot that shows what information was known at a particular point in time. Many health care reports required for regulatory compliance or reimbursements are based on who uses what space at what time. A logical facility management approach with solid technology behind it allows a multitude of reporting formats and output.

To get more value from space audit data, methods to identify and prorate common spaces to cost centers are needed. Further categorization of space according to standards for cost centers, rooms, zones, ergonomics, etc., is also needed to allow more in-depth information to be recalled for maintenance purposes. While the examples cited are health care facility related, any multi-building campus, whether health care, educational, industrial, research, or corporate headquarters, benefits from this type of model as well.

Facility Management Health

So how do you get started on the journey of facility management process improvement? Start with an inventory and condition assessment to determine your own facility vital signs:

  • What do you need?
  • What do you have?
  • What has changed since the last time you checked?
  • Who needs access to the information and who should not have access to the information?
  • What could cause discomfort for your facility users?

As time and budgets begin to allow process improvement beyond initial collection and gathering of data, more information should be converted to universal "intelligent" formats and symbols. Better electronic documentation should be required as final products when construction projects are completed. Project information becomes the basis for master facility information, but it must be managed and maintained.

CAD is the most prevalent format in the A/E/C industry and facilities management world to contain and compile design information, allowing integration with other file formats and systems. The industry trend that is moving toward the use of objects in design projects leads to a best practice that is called creating a facility information model. The facility information compiled for design and construction migrates to become the facility management information, then is monitored and maintained through a facility management system. More and more facility products are being created with this data object approach so, as components are selected and built into the model, ongoing information about that item can be available for future use.

Facility Life-Cycles Model

A simple approach and facility management system that includes a set of electronic drawings and a database which models your facility and its functional zones is all that is needed to begin an incredible journey of maintaining facility life cycles. Over time the system hierarchy can be expanded and extended to allow information to be identified through snapshots over time. Annual compliance reports become a push of a button - a snapshot in time - that includes all of the required analysis, diagnosis, and treatments.

Be sure to look for systems that allow multiple priorities and criteria to be considered along with specific condition ratings. Systems that automatically function through graphical interfaces and allow graphical display of selected information continue to provide value and benefits as information grows and evolves. Establish your own best practices, but be prepared to use some "bypass surgeries" to work around constraints and the effects of aging within your facility management processes.

Much like the LEED® program and its evaluation methods, industry standards to assess and rate new buildings are easier to implement than those for an existing building. However, with a few hours of evaluation and analysis, a unique facility information infrastructure can be established to ascertain priorities to be accomplished for the overall improvement of the health care organization. Most health care organizations work from the JCAHO regulations and establish procedures, steps, and frequencies to guide their workload and priorities - short and long term.

A fully featured facilities information management system will allow users to publish information out of the master drawings and data to be posted on a Web-based project collaboration website. Original data remains secure and protected from the outside, information is sorted and presented in controlled formats, and with password protection multiple levels of access are possible.

A facility information management system that is aligned with facility life cycles will save money by improving processes and avoid costs that can come from lost, unorganized, or inaccessible information. Success will come from a system that is built on valid, continually updated, master information that can be disseminated to multiple users in a variety of formats that they can use. Process improvements that positively affect life safety for users and occupants of a facility need to be constantly reviewed and considered.

If this type of system had been in place, the sprinkler system that doused the early morning fire would have been shut off quickly before water could do any more damage, saving the institution several million dollars. As well, before decisions to add space or property are made, an assessment needs to be made regarding the existing use of space. Having a system to track existing conditions in addition to having a move-management system in place is crucial to accomplish proactive facility management tasks. The preparation of a facility management system that can be used for decisionmaking must be initiated long before it can be used as a basis for important and costly initiatives.

A price cannot be put on the value of peace of mind for facility managers. By starting with small steps in a logical progression, achieving the big idea of successful facility management is truly attainable. ES