by Bryan P. Holland, Southern Region Field Representative, NEMA
Building construction materials have evolved extensively since electricity was first introduced into buildings in the late 1800s. Today’s buildings are extremely resilient to fire, wind, and flood and have also become remarkably energy efficient. However, even the most hardened buildings remain susceptible to damage from fire and other natural disasters and tend to become inefficient in the use of energy over time as building materials degrade and equipment begins to age.
Building, fire, and energy codes are starting to recognize this trend and have begun to shift away from improvements to static building materials and components to dynamic smart systems that can evolve over time and can be adapted to meet the specific needs of the building occupants during normal operation or an emergency event. The bulk of these systems will be electrical products incorporated into a building as stand-alone systems, embedded components, or complete building management systems. These fully integrated and intuitive systems will be operated by artificial intelligence, respond in real time, and be capable of functioning in several concurrent modes of operations based on closely monitored inputs and outputs.
A prime case study would be the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. While these buildings were considered to be technological marvels of their time when first constructed in the 1970s, the events of September 11, 2001, exposed many of the inadequacies in occupant safety, fire resiliency, and emergency response capabilities. Many lessons were learned from this tragic event and have now been incorporated into current building codes and Standards.
Today’s buildings incorporate technologically advanced fire alarm systems that include multi- channel voice evacuation communication systems, mass notification systems, occupant emergency evacuation elevators, and building management systems that can control environmental air distribution systems, means of egress lighting, and other emergency systems. Today’s buildings also include dynamic lighting controls, automatic receptacle controls, and energy monitoring systems that make them extremely efficient in the use of energy.
Tomorrow’s buildings not only will be technological marvels at the time of original construction but also will sustain high- performance features over their entire lives. Building materials and components will incorporate hundreds of sensors and relays that are connected to the internet and will constantly change the conditions inside the building to suit the needs of the occupants to ensure safety, health, and productivity. Under emergency conditions, these sensors will be able to immediately count the number of occupants and their locations within a building to begin an orderly evacuation long before first responders even arrive on-site. These sensors, relays, and other smart devices will also be able to monitor the premises wiring system to redirect energy where it is most needed, reduce energy where it is not, and detect faults within the system before the component fails and becomes inoperable. With on-site renewable energy sources incorporating a full-load energy storage system, these buildings will be essentially energy and carbon neutral.
The electroindustry is at the dawn of a new era in electrical production, distribution, and use within a building. The 2020s are destined to be known as the decade of building and community resiliency and sustainability. This vision of the future use and occupancy of buildings can be achieved only with intelligent electrical, fire, life safety, emergency communications, and high-performance products and systems. NEMA and its Member companies are at the forefront of this movement and will rise to meet the challenges and opportunities that the future holds. ei