Buildings As First Responders

Written by Microdesk VP of CIO Advisory Services, Brad Horst
Originally published in Construction Executive.

The way people create the built environment and experience buildings and shared spaces continues to evolve from a series of reactive to proactive, passive to active and physical to virtual events and activities. These dynamics are often fueled by new environmental conditions, industry requirements and user expectations that obligate the industry to achieve faster results through building design, construction and operational excellence.

Today when thinking about new building experiences, there is a pressing need and expectation to show how buildings respond to various user groups as well as immediately adjust to concerns around safety, efficiency, business continuity and functionality. Early digital design decision-making and delivery methods can improve construction outcomes and building performance. Similarly, early thinking and planning can inform how to operate and manage building assets more effectively throughout the building lifecycle. Buildings with modern automation and management systems can predict, preempt, protect and react to user requirements in new and compelling ways.

For example, sensors can determine safe distances between occupants and create incident response events based on the number of people in a particular space. They can monitor the number of riders that can comfortably fit into an elevator designed around a specific service load requirement. From a fire safety standpoint, they help staff better understand how many people have entered a building to ensure that exit routes and fire suppression systems still provide adequate options during emergency situations. Sensors also appear in motion controls for lighting systems, door openers and bathroom fixtures. They offer touchless controls that conserve energy and resources and help to reduce viral transmission from one person to another.

Video and image systems in conjunction with machine learning and artificial intelligence can provide valuable site information that can help mitigate risk for both construction crews and end users. How many people entered and exited the jobsite during the workday? Is everyone accounted for at the end of the day? Of those who entered the site, are they wearing the appropriate safety and protective gear? In the areas where work is being performed, are the correct guardrails and other safety measures in place? Are proper clearances maintained between heavy equipment and those walking throughout the site?

Some of these same safety issues now apply to occupants inside the building as well. Are people wearing masks in common areas? Are safe distances being maintained in shared spaces? Video and image systems can be trained to look for these types of patterns and behaviors. They can save time, create a safer work environment and provide reliable risk mitigation tools for insurance providers and building owners.

Finally, better management and exchange of indoor and outdoor air using smart building automation systems and air filtering technologies can deliver a more efficient, comfortable and healthier indoor environment. Buildings can be designed to anticipate the arrival of visitors at the beginning of the day by accelerating the exchange of fresh air. Using an increasingly broad assortment of purpose-built wireless IoT devices, building spaces can be balanced to provide a uniform and more comfortable environment for all occupants regardless of their location inside the building. Modern filtering technologies help to remove harmful particles from the air that enter and exit the building while sensors monitor air quality and dynamically adjust the system accordingly. And of course, in the modern world, wireless sensors, IoT devices and other robust building systems are able to stream and analyze system and building performance data via cloud services to support more predictive rather than reactive outcomes.

The building industry is well positioned to deliver on modern expectations, and facilities are able to provide safe, dynamic work environments. New occupant requirements motivate and challenge designers and planners to think differently about building design, delivery, operations and management in order to understand the best methods that increasingly incorporate automated and intelligent building systems to support how people work, play and live.

When viewed together and well-coordinated during the early design process, new building technologies can offer exciting opportunities as well as better, safer results. Using data-driven insights, the industry has an opportunity to reimagine and expand how buildings can create better experiences, safer environments and more memorable outcomes for all occupants and stakeholders.