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Industry trends show progress despite adversity

The world has changed drastically since last year. The events of Sept. 11 have had a strong impact on every aspect of facility management. However, positive breakthroughs have also been made in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; roofing; refurbishing; lighting; furniture; and security.

HVAC indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is an issue that continues to be examined. Ventilation and filtration systems can accelerate or curb the spread of infectious or toxic contaminants. Two recent public health calamities caused by the rampant spread of deadly bacteria (anthrax and toxic mold) have brought indoor air quality, or IAQ, controls under even closer national scrutiny.

According to Del Williams, a technical writer for PDG Environmental Inc. (OTCBB: PDGE), toxic mold is becoming a more common and problematic IAQ issue, as well.

Toxic mold outbreaks have appeared in millions of offices, schools and public buildings. Recently, Gov. Davis signed the Toxic Mold Protection Act, which directs state health officials to set exposure limits for schools, businesses and other public buildings. This law, which took effect in January, also requires landlords and real estate owners to disclose when forthcoming mold limits are exceeded.

Standards

As a more constructive solution to problems like IAQ, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers devised industry-wide, agreed -upon minimums for what are deemed acceptable modes and levels of filtration and ventilation. In response to these standards, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have made design modifications to eliminate areas of standing water where bacteria can grow and then evaporate and be dispersed through a building.

In addition, modifications in equipment positioning have been brought to the attention of facility managers and architects. HVAC units were typically placed in the back of facilities to prevent them from being an eyesore. The problem with this is loading docks and garages were typically found in the same location, and the automobile exhaust fumes were consequently being introduced into the interior environment of the facilities. As a result of the standards and research, these units have been moved to areas where they allow only fresh air to be brought into the facility.

Roofing

The first step toward protecting a roof lies in preventive maintenance procedures. The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends on-site inspections performed by certified roofing contractors twice yearly. In-house staff should then follow up on these inspections to increase the effectiveness of such measures. Preventive maintenance procedures and the ability to identify the source of a roof leak are the tools facility managers need to keep in their information arsenal.

Refurbishing

In these lean times, refurbished furniture may be just the ticket to help facility managers squeeze more value out of their budgets. Many facility managers are reluctant to invest in refurbished furniture. Common misconceptions often plague the refurbishing industry.

Higher end furniture systems were designed to be reconfigured and to last. The most common reason for discarding these systems is that they have fallen out of fashion. By refurbishing, the product is given more time in office environments rather than in landfills.

Reuse of materials in any capacity -- be it recycling, refurbishing, remanufacturing, reusing -- saves energy, money, land, etc. According to the Office Furniture Recyclers Forum, for every pound of natural resources used in the remanufacturing process, five to nine pounds of original materials are conserved. Additionally, the amount of energy required to alter an existing product during the remanufacturing process is 85 percent to 95 percent less than that required to manufacture a new product.

Lighting

The current recession has forced companies to lay off, cut back and curb spending. To increase profit margins and decrease spending, conservation is key. Several new options in office lighting could lead to significant savings:

* Daylighting spaces. Part of making a building environmentally sensitive, or "green," often includes the introduction of sunlight to interior spaces. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to natural sunlight increases worker productivity and overall health. The problems posed by this alternative lie in the heat and glare issues it causes. In some cases, window treatments are needed to counter the glare caused by the direct sunlight, and once those treatments were employed, artificial light became necessary. The amount of energy needed to cool a space heated by outside light was actually more than the energy needed to light that space by artificial means. This is no longer the case. The practice of cool daylighting helps facilities to achieve the LEED rating required for a facility to be considered green.

* Design. Form and function are driving factors in lighting design. Facility managers today have more specific criteria in mind when selecting lighting fixtures for their office environments. A movement has emerged to reduce ambient lighting in office environments, supplementing individual needs with task lights. According to Neall Digert, Ph.D., technical director of Solatube International Inc., a lower level of light is sufficient to accommodate 80 percent to 90 percent of the tasks people perform in office settings, and the other 10 percent to 20 percent can be accomplished with the use of task lights.

By decreasing the amount of ambient light in a space and supplementing with task lamps, facility managers would only pay for the light they actually use during the course of the day.

* Energy conservation concerns. Companies are beginning to implement changes in their lighting design specifications. Programs like "Change A Light, Change The World," from Philips Lighting are making strides toward saving energy and educating the public at the same time.

Furniture

The recent onslaught of displaced workers has forced some companies to crowd their office spaces even further with the employees and equipment necessary to maintain daily operations. Additionally, the surge in popularity and accessibility of video, and teleconferencing technology and the reluctance to travel, are affecting the number of employees requiring physical space in existing facilities.

When added to the already shrinking footprints of the nation's office spaces -- as reported in a study by the International Facility Management Association -- workstyles of office personnel have changed significantly.

While the shortage of space has taken away the dedicated conference rooms in some facilities, the need for such teaming and conferencing areas has not diminished. In response to this trend, furniture manufacturers are designing mobile furniture that can morph from individual workstations to teaming areas and back again. Flexibility and multitasking abilities have never been more necessary.

The trend toward flexibility and mobility in furniture design has been more a result of changing work styles than of economic factors or shrinking footprints.

Security

While workplace safety and school violence are still two of the most popular educational sessions being offered by the American Society for Industrial Security, these topics have been overshadowed by a surge of requests for courses that teach what to do in the event of terrorist attacks or other monumental disasters. Nonviolent crisis intervention skills are no longer as sought after as disaster recovery and contingency planning skills.

* Information Security. According to Steve Baker of SpaceCo Inc., while technological advances have miniaturized and made portable practically everything, this has also increased the ease with which valuable information can be stolen. It is important to take steps to secure sensitive data in the event of the loss of physical possession of the device carrying it.

* Biometrics. It is becoming increasingly urgent for facility managers to authenticate the identities of persons entering and exiting a facility. Biometric readers recognize a person based upon who the person is, not what he or she is carrying or what code can be recalled.

Passwords and tokens such as keys, badges or cards can be stolen, transferred, lost, forgotten or duplicated. But fingerprints, eye scans and voices cannot be traded, forgotten or borrowed. This is the only way to ensure that the person with access is the person intended.

A combination of biometrics and smart cards -- where the biometric identifier template is stored on the card instead of in some remote database -- has become a popular option in applications that require tighter security.

Wireless technology

Wireless technology is being implemented in many more applications than in previous years. It is making PCs -- and employees -- more mobile within a facility, as well. Wireless Ethernet standard 802.11b allows voice and video to be transmitted in real time. When used in security applications, it is as though the security personnel can take the CCTV monitor with them as they walk through a facility. This untethered system, when combined with access control software, has the same capabilities as its hardwired counterparts. This allows one staff member to accomplish the tasks of patrolling and monitoring simultaneously.

A brighter future

Facility managers all over the world are looking at security, safety and disaster/contingency planning in an entirely new light. Priorities have been shifted. Facility managers have been responsible for the safety and security of the occupants in their charge all along. Now they are being scrutinized even more closely, the sense of obligation weighs upon them even more heavily. If they are adequately prepared, they will prevail.

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