Special Report: Expert Panel Addresses TOP Facility Challenges
Edited by Heidi Schwartz
Published in the July 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
In 2007, several top facility management professionals assembled at the TFM Show for a panel discussion that examined the question, “What Keeps You Up At Night?” Sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, this interactive presentation was a skillful analysis of the challenges plaguing those managers charged with the most critical aspects of operations.
For each subject area, the audience was asked to identify the most difficult challenges based on professional experiences. The expert panelists responded with suggestions and strategies to help members of the audience resolve their problems. It was truly a spontaneous collaboration with tremendous audience benefits.
The highlights of the event have been extracted in the following article, which reiterates the top challenges and shares the panelists’ suggestions.
What is most challenging about security? Assessing facility vulnerability accurately (43%).
Robert Wetherell (RW): Assessing facility vulnerability is not an exact science—there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. First, you need to know precisely what is going on, which means you should make the time to attend operations meetings.
Next, ask security staff (if you have them) to conduct “what if?” exercises as they’re doing their patrols. Have them think outside the box and anticipate all kinds of scenarios. These are people who are out there assessing the status of the facility on a regular basis; you can benefit from their expertise and knowledge, because they see a lot more than you might.
You can also ask your maintenance staff where they see vulnerabilities, if any, that lie within your facilities and systems. Ask them to come up with solutions or ideas that will help mitigate those vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability assessments are essential. There are many tools, methodologies, and ways to conduct them. If you aren’t an expert and don’t know how to conduct a vulnerability assessment, you should definitely check out the consultants and network with your peers to find out what’s going on in your facility and your industry. They’re not as daunting or challenging as they’re typically made out to be, but vulnerability assessments can be a very important component of an overall security plan.
Tim Springer (TS): Given the events of the Virginia Tech incident, this particular subject is top of mind for many facility professionals. Fortunately, we have two individuals with facilities experience at universities who are willing to add to these comments and address the issue of security on campus.
Chris Jelenewicz (CJ): When I was at the University of Maryland, a tornado struck our campus and killed two students. This is one thing we would never expect there.
One common complaint we heard (and that I have heard with the Virginia Tech incident) was occupants did not get notification quickly enough. How do you notify hundreds of people on different parts of a large campus like that with an emergency notification system? It’s definitely something to think about in terms of facility vulnerability assessments.
Bill Coleman (BC): What happened at Virginia Tech was a horrific thing, and it’s an absolute tragedy for them to have to endure. I am at a loss as to how to stop things like that from happening.
We live in a free society. College campuses are very open environments, but as long as we choose to live in a free society, civilized people are going to be victims of events such as this.
Can we do things a little bit better? Yes. As previously mentioned, we can look at the ways of notification, but putting an alert out over that many buildings in that kind of a space is something that needs to be improved.
What is the most challenging about energy? Planning for energy costs (20%) and calculating Return on Investment (ROI) as it relates to equipment upgrades (21%).
Jeff Crane (JC): Planning for energy costs and/or calculating ROI are interrelated, so it’s no wonder these two received similar responses. To resolve these challenges, it’s really important to understand your current energy costs compared to your costs over the past 12 and 24 months. It’s absolutely crucial to benchmark and measure utility consumption, whether it’s electricity, natural gas, or water.
You also need to understand what’s driving your consumption. Is it occupancy? Weather? Seasonal demands? Do you have different processes in your facilities that affect you? Once you have a good understanding of your current consumption rates, what affects them, and a historic understanding of where you’ve been, you’ll be that much closer to predicting expenses in the future.
There are a number of measurement and documentation tools you can use to monitor your consumption and costs and use that information to determine your ROI for capital improvements and upgrades.
What’s the most challenging about environmental issues? Costs, whether imagined or justified (38%).
Stu Carron (SC): When it comes to doing things in an environmentally sensitive manner, there are a lot of concerns about cost and increasing costs associated with making these decisions. There are two ways to look at this. First, there are a lot of opportunities out there to do the right thing environmentally without adding any costs to your operations. There are many little or no cost items that can be addressed within your current operating budget by your current staff if you just change your perspective of your daily activities and include the environment in your decision making criteria.
Second, there’s a growing body of evidence indicating that the paybacks associated with investments in the environmental arena—whether related to energy efficiency, water use reduction, or other items like this—are significant and real. As we go through a project by project analysis of what we want to accomplish within our operations, we have to put our financial caps on and look at those paybacks—understand not just the costs, but the paybacks and ROI.
BC: With regard to ROI and environmental issues, there are numerous computer programs available that will help you with these decisions. There is a program (I believe it’s the FEDS program from the EPA) developed by Berkeley National Laboratory, that allows you to put your entire facility data in there to run “what if” calculations. Computer programs like this can be downloaded for free.
What is most challenging about fire safety? Preparing, testing, and implementing a disaster recovery plan (55%).
CJ: The one thing to think about when implementing a disaster recovery plan, or any type of emergency management plan, is this: after you develop the plan, don’t just throw it in the bookcase. It’s something you’ll need to work with, change, and continue to develop over time.
RW: Many people who train adequately on implementing their disaster plans only go up to the point of the act; they don’t train into the recovery part of it, which is probably going to take as much effort (or possibly more) than just dealing with the situation at hand.
Humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to perform in the way we’ve been trained. It’s time consuming, but this tail end piece—what to do after the fact—is probably the most important in terms of bringing the whole thing together. I encourage you to go all the way through the recovery process.
JC: There’s a reason children are trained to walk out of the building the same way every time when there’s a fire alarm in the school. It becomes instinctive and second nature. Adults aren’t drilled and trained to react and have instincts like this, but we have to do it in facilities.
The tabletop exercise is an excellent way to step through scenarios. Just jot down the likely events for your facility. Think of some of the things you read in the newspaper. They can happen.
Assemble the department heads within your organization and ask what each one would do if this happened. Human resources is a key part of this, and IT needs to be involved with regard to notifications.
The more you examine, the more you’ll uncover in terms of plan deficiencies—and opportunities for improvement. Eventually you’ll ingrain the right message: when a disaster does strike, department heads will respond in a timely manner. More than likely, there will not be time to thumb through a 500 page manual.
SC: Disaster recovery is one of the things that keeps me up at night, thinking about what if this happens to my facility? I’m sure you all share these nightmare scenarios too.
We have to think about disaster recovery as distinct from emergency response. Emergency response is getting people out of the building, putting the fire out, and shutting the power off. Disaster recovery is more about, “now what?” To prepare for that takes an organized effort—an additional effort on the part of facility managers.
You have to start by thinking, “What’s mission critical in my facility here? Who is going to be screaming for what the day after the emergency occurs? Is it that data center that has to become operational? The R&D facilities? The chairman’s office? What’s it going to be?”
You have to develop the likely scenarios by doing simulations and drills. One of the things we’re looking at as a likely scenario in our disaster recovery at JohnsonDiversey is pandemic response. Definitely keep that on your list.
CJ: Also, you’ll need to train your employees—especially when you get new employees—in the emergency management plan. With regard to personnel, the plan should list roles and responsibilities for all relevant staff members.
Use those training opportunities not only to have your staff better understand how to work with the plan, but also think of it as an opportunity to evaluate the validity of the plan on an ongoing basis. If there were a fire, would everyone know how to get out? Some people may find themselves locked inside a stairwell, which happened during a Chicago fire several years ago. Include realistic scenarios in the training so you can be prepared.
It’s important to test your equipment—evacuation systems, fire alarms—in these exercises. That will help you determine if there is—or isn’t—a defect or malfunction at an inopportune moment. This gives you hands on training in terms of equipment operation in a real life scenario (while no one is in jeopardy).
TS: In terms of dealing with the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome where you have building occupants who are asked to participate in an emergency evacuation drill, it’s difficult to overcome the percentage of the population inclined to think, “Oh, it’s just a drill. It’s not real. I’m not going to participate.”
CJ: The best thing to do under those circumstances is to get the word out and emphasize the importance of it. When people understand the severity of what they’re doing, they will react accordingly.
However, there is the “cry wolf” syndrome that may happen when a fire alarm system is not maintained or designed properly, and it’s activating the building alarms at a time when it’s not needed.
The Seton Hall fire is a good example of what can happen when this is the case. Many students heard the alarm and stayed in their rooms, because there had been numerous false alarms the previous month. Three students died in the dormitory that night, and honestly that number could have been much higher.
Another recommendation is to make sure you don’t over design your system. If you have extra equipment—more than you really need—that can translate into more you have to maintain.
Consider this example: in a fully sprinklered building, the need for manual pull stations is limited. However, a lot of designers like to throw them in there regardless (possibly inviting false alarms under certain circumstances). Generally, the best fire protection experts prefer effective equipment over excessive equipment.
What is most challenging about project management? Being brought into the strategic process at the appropriate time (44%).
BC: The key in any project management instance is communication. So if you’re not being brought into the strategic process at the appropriate time, that’s probably a communication issue. This happens often.
Unfortunately, the language we speak in facilities is not necessarily the language that our supervisors, vice presidents, and presidents speak. We need to be able to communicate so they can understand the need for our early involvement.
If they’re scheduling anything that involves facilities, they must have you or someone from your department involved quickly. The implications of exclusion could be detrimental to the project.
TS: When I worked at Michigan State University, I had an annual challenge: help the dean figure out space assignments that were under her control. The only problem was, she couldn’t read a floor plan.
For those of us who deal with floor plans and other related information like this on a day to day basis, don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s easy and clear because you’re familiar with it. You can’t make that assumption and be effective when communicating with upper management.
SC: It’s one of the unfortunate realities of our profession that we have to sell ourselves constantly to prove our value. It’s tiring, of course!
But there are many people within our organizations who don’t understand what we’re bringing to the table. When it comes to getting involved in a new project, don’t be the facility manager who has the building or system turned over to you after commissioning is done. You want to be at the table during the entire course of that project, and that will require an early exchange demonstrating how you can bring value to that process.
For instance, we are in the process of building a new distribution center at JohnsonDiversey. When I started talking about green facilities, they all said, “We don’t even want to talk about that yet.”
But when I stressed this needed to be a high performance facility from the outside in—mentioning that 75% of the life cycle costs of the building come after construction and commissioning—and the only way this could happen is with involvement from facilities at the get go, things clicked with them. I became part of that project team, built in the features we needed, and got our entire staff involved.
Speak the right language, and do it in a way that will reveal the value you’re going to bring to each project.
What’s the most challenging about operations? Getting the tools, education, and staff to handle expectations realistically (43.75%).
JC: It’s just impossible for us to be experts on everything. What’s more important is knowing where to get the right answers.
As previously mentioned, there are numerous free sources of information, and TFM is a great tool across the board. The Web site has an article archive you can use to find solutions on every subject we’ve analyzed: energy, project management, the environment, safety, and so on. You will find more than you can possibly read just from that starting point, and then follow that path in whatever direction you need.
TS: As for recruiting and retaining staff, it’s always a challenge, particularly with regard to meeting the sometimes unrealistic expectations of your internal clients.
SC: Staff is probably the hardest thing to justify as an increase in any organization, regardless of what additional things get dumped on your plate. Head count additions are a non-starter. Budget increases are next in line as a non-starter.
So what do we have to do? We have to be creative. We have to use some of the principles embodied in lean manufacturing and lean construction and become lean facility managers too. Reprioritize in order to make things go easier for your staff. If a procedure doesn’t work, throw it out and start over. You have limited resources, so you have to be creative about how to go about getting it done.
TS: Front line facility managers say it’s easier to get an outside contractor to meet an immediate need than it is to get a staff person who will increase the department’s ability to serve its facility and customer base. It’s the idea of a first cost versus a life cycle cost.
If you look at it the other way, it can actually be cheaper to hire somebody in-house and add that capability to your staff long-term instead of hiring a contractor for a short period of time. The contractor is going to be more expensive when you compare apple to apples.
Across the board, facility professionals have to be creative in terms of how they think, and most of all, they must be effective in how they communicate.
Many thanks to Kimberly-Clark for supporting this distinguished panel of facility management experts who can be reached by e-mail at the following addresses:
Jelenewicz (cjelenewicz @sfpe.org),
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