FM Issue: Safer And Stronger
By Wendy Moorehead
From the March 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
As part of a heightened focus on fire loss prevention and risk reduction, the facilities management department at the University of Iowa (UI) in Iowa City, IA launched an extensive and systematic approach to extend fire system protection into its non-protected buildings and building spaces. Facilities management simultaneously implemented fire system maintenance and operations best practices as identified and agreed upon with its insurance carrier. As a result of these combined efforts, in November 2013 the university received an award from its insurance carrier, FM Global, for its critical role in loss prevention efforts related to fire safety.
Don Guckert, associate vice president of facilities management at the university, says, “This award is the result of our overall increased attention to managing risk. In the span of the last 10 years, the University of Iowa campus has experienced significant loss related to extensive flooding and tornado and storm damage. Examining ways to minimize loss, taking measures to reduce risk, and lessening disruption to business services has become an increasingly important strategy of the facilities management professional. Extending this management practice to fire loss prevention was a natural progression of our broader value based and decision-making framework.”
Using this model as a guide, cross discipline teams from facilities management, along with UI campus partners and engineers from FM Global, honed in on the importance of protecting buildings by adhering closely to fire protection best practices. The university set aside $1 million in funds to strengthen fault protection, alarming, and deluging systems and adopted processes to manage these changing sets of conditions effectively by focusing on continually improving fire protection maintenance, inspections, and system alignments and ramping up overall efforts to reduce risk.
Dan Heater, director of facilities management, Building & Landscape Services, says, “Our philosophy is to provide an optimal point of protection to make buildings as safe as possible and to continually improve through enhancements to our best practices in fire safety.”
The university is now in the midst of an accelerated and historic rate of campus construction ($1.2 billion over the next four years), which will add well over 1.5 million gross square feet and an additional 2,500 fire reporting devices to campus—an unusual set of circumstances that underscores the importance of a coordinated and planned risk reduction program. For instance, in 1994, the university had eight fire pumps, and by 2014 there were over 30, with the peak of construction yet to come. This threefold surge in construction activity exponentially increases the number of sprinkler protection devices, fire protection valves, fire pumps, and hot work permit applications on campus.
Maintaining The System
While best practices planning is paramount, the ultimate effectiveness of any fire protection system hinges on the unimpeded flow of water through a network of piping. Should a valve be closed due to error, system repair, building alterations, or malicious intent, a catastrophic loss is possible. Over the past several years, the UI facilities management department set out to ensure that its approximately 1,060 fire protection valves were locked in the open position and securely covered. The university’s facilities management Key & Access Services division went one step further by creating a special keying system to safeguard access. Although the majority of valves were already electronically monitored, facilities management staff along with engineers from FM Global walked every building, working systematically to inspect visually and verify the position of the valves.
The ability of early responders to identify sprinkler heads, fire pumps, and control panels in buildings and on floor plans can mean the difference between a minor event and a major loss. “In the event of a fire, responders do not have the luxury of time as they search for sprinkler heads, valves, or panels,” says Lou Galante, manager, trade services, Building & Landscape Services for UI. “Making sure these components are easily identifiable can save property and lives. Every door with sprinkler access is now marked in red lettering, valves are clearly tagged, and floor plans denoted accordingly.”
As any facilities management organization knows, “hot work” is any operation that involves open flames or produces heat and/or sparks, and is a significant threat to fire protection safety that needs to be effectively managed. “Hot work permits are a requirement, but often looked at as a routine task that can become diluted over time,” says Galante.
The university recognized it had room for strengthening its hot work permit system and improved the process by ensuring permits were thoroughly and properly filled out, routed for notification and signatures, collected, and filed. The UI facilities management Planning, Design & Construction staff work closely with facilities management fire safety inspectors to reinforce the process with contractors. Contract language now requires that outside contractors take on-line hot work training before proceeding with work on campus. Fire protection impairments like a disabled smoke detector, regardless of the duration, are managed with the permit system.
The addition of a new “Hawkeye on Safety” logo to the hot work permit helps to keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Inspections And Monitoring
In addition to having processes and infrastructure steadfastly in place, inspections and monitoring are critical components of risk reduction. Recognizing the need for additional staffing to accomplish the goals of the UI’s fire safety program, Galante created a business plan outlining the need for additional human resources. He will soon have six fire safety inspectors to help meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 25 inspection protocols, which often translates to two days of inspections and six double-sided documents per building.
The cornerstone of any campus fire safety protection program is the coordination and partnership between various internal and external partners responsible for the safety of its campus community, including UI risk management, UI public safety, and FM Global. Leading the university’s risk management department is Donna Pearcy, chief risk officer, and she says “The success of the university in managing fire prevention and safety is the result of the strong commitment by the institution and the effort of internal and external partnerships. Each individual has contributed their expertise to reach a common goal of fire safety. Embedding loss prevention into the organization is a great example of proactive risk management.”
Moorehead is the strategic communications manager in facilities management at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. She graduated from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business with a B.B.A. in Marketing. She has several publications to her credit, including two articles for APPA on the topic of UI’s award-winning Energy Hawks and Energy Control Center.