The Facility Technologist: Mission Critical Facilities—Part Two

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the November 2004 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Last month, this column defined mission critical facilities and provided an overview of some of the characteristics of these spaces. What naturally follows is an examination of the technological requirements of spaces. This month’s entry should provide readers with an explanation of what they need to know regarding the equipment that’s essential to mission critical facilities. These systems require knowledge far beyond what most facility professionals have within their grasp.

Situation Management Rooms (or Command and Control Centers). Situation Management is a generic term that applies to facilities that handle emergencies. The key elements that come together here are people, information, and communications. These facilities have unusual requirements, including:

  • Display systems with large format video screens. These systems may be rear or front projected. Rear projected systems will provide very high resolution and brightness, but they are usually quite expensive. Front projected displays use projectors that shine on a screen or wall. These are usually less expensive but do have limitations when it comes to brightness and sharpness. In a room where full office lighting will be used, they are not quite as bright or sharp as rear projection screens and may require special lighting designs. In darker areas, front projection is usually an ideal solution.

In either case, video management systems make it easy for a supervisor to display images on television sets, computer screens, or video conferencing streams. Multiple video “cubes” can be as large as 60″ diagonally, so the entire wall can be viewed as one screen or as multiple smaller windows.

  • KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse) extenders. Typically, there are no computers on or under the desks in these rooms. Instead, computers are located in a secure, conditioned data center designed specifically to provide the safest environment. KVM extenders allow the users to work on the computers, even though they are in a separate room. These devices work though CAT5 cabling to lengthen the wires that connect users to their computers. KVM extenders have been in use for many years in high security institutions and are extremely reliable. They are growing in popularity in ordinary facilities, because they eliminate the clutter of computers and wires under desks while securing computers and data from theft or tampering.
  • Ergonomic monitor mountings. In Situation Management Rooms, it’s important to make sure people can see each other and the critical information on various displays. Ergonomic monitor mountings can allow tremendous flexibility. Some allow monitors to be moved 360û or even folded down onto desks when not in use.
  • Synchronized clocks. Systems are available that can synchronize the displays on multiple clocks as well as on computers throughout the facility. This is particularly important when time stamping a critical event for later analysis is necessary.
  • Weather alert systems. The latest weather monitoring systems are capable not only of showing radar and satellite imagery, but can also alert multiple people by pager or phone when hazardous weather alerts are issued. Some of the more advanced systems can even connect to a Geographical Information System (GIS) which can analyze and predict the impact of an event on assets.

Dispatch Areas. These areas process calls from the outside and then route and dispatch events to the proper responders. These areas must be treated very differently from those of the Situation Management Room or Command Center. Some of the key considerations include:

  • Ergonomics. Dispatchers spend long hours in the same chair, with minimal time away for breaks. Comfort levels must prevent burn out and ensure optimal performance. Lighting systems must be optimized and levels must be lowered to reduce eyestrain. HVAC systems must be able to provide even comfort without hot or cold spots. Noise abatement systems that use “white noise” can mask extraneous sounds while still allowing the dispatcher to hear what’s important. These systems can also keep conversations private.
  • Special work stations. Dispatchers often need access to multiple monitors and computer systems that require special mountings. Custom consoles may be required, because of the demand for built in technology (like radio systems and control switches). Dispatchers may also need KVM switching devices, so one monitor and keyboard can be used for several systems.
  • Display systems. Large scale video display systems are used in dispatch areas. Here, front projection is often used because of lower lighting levels.

Dedicated Technology Spaces. Data centers and other spaces that are dedicated to technology offer distinct challenges and require targeted support for equipment and personnel.

  • Power. IT equipment requires high quality, extremely reliable power. Generators, power conditioning, and UPS systems must be installed and maintained properly. They should also be tested on a regular basis, preferably according to a schedule designed by an electrical engineer with experience in mission critical facilities.
  • HVAC. High temperatures will destroy IT equipment just as fast as bad power. Extra dedicated cooling units need to be installed in these spaces. Filter maintenance is even more important, because dirty air filters in a data center can cause dust contamination and lead to system failures. Clean up requires disassembly, which can be very expensive.
  • Fire suppression. Data center fire suppression systems use chemical agents or gases that do not damage electronic components. These systems require special maintenance and management, and the facility professional must know about the potential health and environmental issues related to these chemicals.

During emergency situations, it’s always difficult to sustain operations. But for facility professionals charged with outfitting mission critical spaces, it can be even more challenging. Special equipment, long hours, and high stress levels make it imperative for these spaces to provide reliable, comfortable, and efficient environments.


Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Managementtextbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago,IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, andreliability of client business through technology.