July/August 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 4
by Rodger Reiswig, Vice President of Industry Relations, Johnson Controls
In his global role, Rodger Reiswig is instrumental in championing life safety for people worldwide through his efforts to improve fire protection codes and Standards and promote their adoption and enforcement.
As our country initiates a return to normal and workers return to the office, building owners and managers have shifted their focus to readying their building systems for life safety. Those systems need to be at their peak performance.
People have new safety concerns and questions. They wonder if building owners have maintained and cleaned the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system and serviced the fire alarm and mass notification systems. Office workers are now more aware and curious about the systems in a building that will ensure their safety, health, productivity, and peace of mind.
Owners and facility managers also have new questions and concerns:
- How will service technicians coming into the building be protected?
- How will service providers ensure their staff does not contaminate the building and equipment they service?
- Are there new ways to perform maintenance or inspections remotely to limit risk exposure?
Cleaning and Maintenance
As owners and occupants become more aware of their surroundings within a building, it becomes more common to think about how systems and furnishings are cleaned and maintained. There are national codes and Standards on how to inspect, test, and maintain life safety systems. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has Standards on fire alarm, carbon monoxide, sprinkler, mass notification, and many other life safety systems. Those Standards specify how often systems should be visually inspected and functionally tested—and how often to replace specific components and equipment like batteries and smoke alarms.
When it comes to cleaning equipment, consideration has to be given to what types of chemicals may clean and disinfect without inadvertently causing harm to equipment, shortening the equipment’s life expectancy, or in some cases, impeding the operation of the equipment. If you are using a chemical or process to clean and disinfect equipment, ask the manufacturer if it will harm the equipment or change its operation. NEMA GD 4-2020 COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidance for Electrical Equipment is a good resource and provides specific guidance to answer common questions on maintaining cleanliness while preserving the functionality and integrity of electrical equipment.
For facility managers and building owners, recurring questions include “What if I missed a periodic inspection or maintenance during the shutdown?” and “What if we missed multiple inspections and are now off our typical maintenance cycles?” Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time and inspect and maintain equipment that was not accessible during the shutdown. In these situations, the best thing to do is to start fresh and handle all of the required inspections and maintenance items that need to be completed now. Building owners and facility managers should document what systems they have, get them evaluated by the authorized service providers, and complete the maintenance and inspection reports.
There is demand for inspection and maintenance of building systems today, and the lead time for an authorized service provider may be lengthy. Building owners and facility managers can perform some of the work themselves. For example, NFPA has mandated visual inspections that are the “hands in the pockets” type and do not require you to touch anything. For instance, an inspector should visually observe the batteries’ condition for a fire alarm system and evaluate if they are corroded, bulging, or leaking. Smoke detectors, manual pull stations, and audible and visual appliances need to be visually inspected to ensure they are still appropriately mounted and not painted over, blocked, or vandalized.
Building owners and facility managers should work with their service providers to create a plan to get the various systems back on track for servicing and inspection. A question to ask is, “Are there any items on the maintenance and inspection side that I can take care of to help get the inspections done quicker?”
Remodel or Rearrange?
Many building owners or facility managers find that they need to remodel or rearrange their floorplans to change cubicles and designated work areas. Walls might need to be moved, spacing partitions may need to be added, etc. A life safety expert should evaluate any modifications to walls, partitions, etc., to review if the modifications could impact the performance of a system. For example, if a wall or partition is added, will it change the airflow and affect the operation of a smoke detector?
If remodeling and renovation is going to occur, this would be a great time to consult with a service provider to see if changes to equipment can be incorporated into the renovation. There may be economical advantages to performing a system upgrade (full or partial) during the process. Many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) will allow for partial upgrade of life safety systems or allow for a long-term plan to upgrade these systems. As always, consult with the local AHJ in the jurisdiction of the building to glean their input.
Upgrading or changing out older systems can have a positive financial impact. Newer equipment for almost all building life safety systems uses state-of-the-art technology, advances that have come about in recent years to help building owners and facility managers interface with their systems. Apps on tablets and phones allow users to interface with systems and gain information quickly and intuitively. Newer systems can inform building owners and facility managers of upcoming maintenance and provide reports of events that occurred, and in some cases, help prevent unwanted service issues such as midnight calls.
Newer systems can also transmit information off-site to building owners and facility managers to inform them of status changes and alert them when action is needed.
A supervising station typically monitors life safety systems to transmit information about security, fire, environmental, and other issues off-site to operators that are staffed continually. They, in turn, will inform police, firefighters, service providers, and users as to what has transpired. With the integration of these systems with the internet or dedicated networks, users can verify system performance and address some issues with staff on-site without having to travel to the facility.
Building owners and facility managers need to understand the potential of their systems and stay abreast of new building system technology. As systems become more interconnected, opportunities will arise to improve building safety while reducing operational costs—a win-win for building occupants and owners. ei