With only one state in the nation reporting a school budget surplus, 34 states reporting budget shortfalls, and the rest struggling to balance budgets by dipping into rainy day funds or reducing the number of school days, commissioning services are driven to provide added value.1

As a result of tight state budgets, independent commissioning providers are using their skills, experiences, and "fresh eyes" to add value to their document design review services. During the design review and subsequent submittal reviews, the commissioning firm can help spot discrepancies in naming protocols, graphical display symbols, and color patterns as they work to improve the clarity and understanding of the documents and training materials provided to the operation and maintenance staff.

It's Six O'clock. Do You Know Where Your Prv Is?

Today, improvements in interoperability between various controls and equipment manufacturers have made it easier for machines in a building to work together. However, because of the many different naming protocols, graphical display symbols, and color patterns used by these manufacturers, they have also created some confusion for O&M technicians, who must struggle to learn myriad words, acronyms, and symbols.

In addition, BACnet®, Ethernet, LonWorks®, and new Web-based systems have increased the ability to display multiple buildings or building additions on one operator workstation hosting several control company vocabularies and graphical display pallets. Unfortunately, the standardization of vocabulary and graphical display icons, colors, and patterns that indicate operating condition or alarms have not kept pace with the development of standards shared in the machine language.

To help rectify this lack of standard operator interface protocols, clients have turned to the commissioning process for help. The commissioning firm, with its focus on operability and maintainability, is well positioned to review vocabulary and graphical display protocols and comment on the value of standardizing them. Even greater improvements in interoperability can be made if the school district develops standards that designers can use and commissioning providers can reference during the review.

The nonstandard use (and overuse) of acronyms is one example of the lack of standardization that can cause problems. These wonderful shortcuts often keep the user paging back in a document to find their first-use nomenclature (FUN), leaving the user wondering if PRV means power roof ventilator or pressure relief valve. A glossary of acronyms (and limiting their use) increases the usability of documents that O&M staff will depend on long after the inventor of the three-letter acronym (TLA) is gone. Clarity is often the goal of document review, and reducing the number of acronyms aids clarity.

Clarity and improved usability are also reasons for commenting on graphical symbols and color patterns used by various controls programmers to represent equipment and building operating conditions. The controls industry has worked hard to allow machines to work together but has not standardized the symbols and color patterns that depict equipment and operating conditions. This lack of standardization results in the use of several different colors, shapes and patterns on graphical interfaces that indicate the same thing.

For example, I have found the color red used for something as simple as indicating a normal off or stop condition. Another control system hosted on the same network and workstation was programmed to indicate red when a space temperature was two degrees above setpoint. I have also seen different controls vendors and graphical interface programmers use red, or blinking red, to indicate that a potentially dangerous alarm condition is present.

Given the potential for all of these control systems and graphical display patterns to reside on one school district operating station, imagine what an operator might think when seeing the display screen depicting the boiler room with a blinking red boiler. I hope the operator would not think that the boiler was just cycling on and off!

Complex buildings are comprised of many systems. In addition, district buildings are increasingly merged to form a supersystem connected by the Web or other standards of protocol. Because these supersystems are often the combinations of diverse manufacturers with several varieties of embedded controls, operators increasingly find difficulty understanding all the different messages. "Getting it right" includes helping the owner receive standardized language, symbols, shapes, patterns and colors. ES