Real Estate Weekly
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Property Managers Views

Today’s buildings smart, sustainable and safe


By Richard J. Hayes, vice president
ABM Facility Services

Today’s building technologies lend themselves to many advances that reduce the overall operating costs of a facility and become a significant contributing factor in both attracting and retaining tenants. 

This contribution is most pronounced when considering triple net tenants who are looking “holistically” at the true cost of leasing space, inclusive of operating expenses.  The cost per square foot is merely one part of the equation that informed prospective tenants use when calculating the life cycle costs of space for their employees. 

Smart technologies that provide real-time, dynamic census data on building occupancy are of particular importance and are the subject of this article as they positively affect the sustainability, safety and cost of the occupier.

With an emphasis on safety, most Class A Commercial Real Estate (CRE) facilities generally maintain a full-time, staffed security model that includes credentialing and photo identification of every building occupant including building employees, tenants and subcontractors.

Keyed, card access is the preferred method of access for permanent employees as they are free to come and go as their work day dictates.

Real time, dynamic tracking information can be modeled and analyzed to track the “ebb and flow” of the building’s occupants as they enter and leave designated turnstile access points.  It is expected, and can be empirically proven, that the majority of occupant traffic occurs during the start of the work day, lunchtime and at the end of the work day.

This generic census data is used to determine the optimal time to adjust boilers and chillers to accommodate a safe and comfortable work environment during the peak times of building occupancy.  This limited census data does not necessarily model the behavior of facilities that operate during four distinct climate seasons or during holiday periods.

It also does not address the granular activity and resultant occupancy of tenants that occupy multiple floors  and maintain distinct operational disciplines in certain areas; tax and accounting is segregated from sales, executive offices occupy separate floors, etc.

The ability to generate real-time, dynamic models of this granular occupancy allow the building’s facility manager to generate additional savings that may not be realized by traditional occupancy models.

We now have the ability to provide these dynamic, granular models directly to the facilities’ control systems so that adjustments can be made to generic occupancy models and thus produce additional data that can be used to either enhance the comfort of the building’s occupants or reduce the energy expenditure of the facility.

Now, accountants that occupy specific floors and have extended hours during tax season will not have their respective cooling/heating systems automatically shut down coincident with the generic building census model.  The executive floor that is vacant due to the annual off-site meeting will not be needlessly heated or cooled.  So how are these models created and how can they be used in conjunction with other building systems to improve the overall sustainability and safety of a building?

A tightly integrated key access system is imperative in order to develop the empirical census model required to feed the facilities’ control system.  There are many options available on the market but the preferred method is to capture the “location” of the building occupant and bio-metric (photo) identification.

The extent of occupant background checks shall be left up to the building management and shall not be addressed as part of this discussion.

Once captured, the key access can be used to control turnstile as well as elevator and floor access.

Once captured, the key access can be used to control turnstile as well as elevator and floor access.  The key card can be used as the “gatekeeper” to an integrated turnstile and elevator call button.  Algorithms can be developed, based upon building occupancy and location, to allocate elevators to accommodate the predominant flow of occupant traffic during peak transition periods in the building; beginning of work day, lunch time and end of work day.

Maximization of these “queuing” algorithms most efficiently allocates elevators to accommodate traffic flow thus reducing inefficiencies which result in extra elevator usage.  Once the efficiencies associated with a granular key access program are in place, data can be gathered to track occupant usage and movement in the building.

After a sufficient period of time, which is building dependent, models can be developed to track building occupancy behavior.  Trends which develop, such as an early exodus on Fridays during the summer season, can be capitalized on by reducing chiller capacity commensurate with the occupancy status of the building.  Predictable information, such as normal work week occupancy hours, weekends, union and building holidays can be input as the baseline for the modeling algorithm.

As unique empirical data is gathered and recorded on the building occupants, the building’s occupancy profile model is derived.  As with any mathematical model, the greater the period of observation the more accurate the modeling profile assuming “steady state” conditions; no change in tenants or occupants that would cause deviation.

The most obvious savings to be realized from a dynamic response to this occupancy modeling is in utilities consumption, however, efficiencies may also be realized in cafeteria services, waste disposal, janitorial and other ancillary services.  In addition to these potential savings, the building’s ability to monitor the occupancy traffic in a building directly affects the security of the facility.

A tightly integrated approach to building access, when combined with facility wide video identification, provides the added benefit of securing a safe work environment for its’ occupants from both external and internal threats.  Occupants who are allowed access to freely move between floors of a building, once inside the perimeter of the turnstiles, pose a potential threat to other building occupants.

This potential threat can be mitigated by limiting floor access rights via smart elevator/turnstile technology or access doors in each respective floor’s elevator lobby.

For example, the employer that occupies multiple floors in a building will be supplied card access to only those leased floors and, when swiping into the turnstile and/or elevator keypad, will only be allowed access to those floors.  This approach is similar to the approach used for visitors to the building with the exception of a confirmed “escort” who is responsible for their movement in the building.   Dedicated floor access alone will not guarantee protection from internal threats to a building’s security.

In order to mitigate further threat from both internal and external intrusions, a network of strategically placed cameras should be employed that can detect and identify known building occupants and external visitors alike.  This approach provides the ability to capture and identify “unauthorized” access from both internal and external building threats.

The deployment of smart video technology pro-actively alerts on-site security personnel, or third party monitoring staff, to movements in the building which can be acted upon real time.  Real time options include the dispatch of security personnel to the area of intrusion, notification of police/emergency personnel, audible alarms, lock downs, etc.

An additional and very important benefit of real-time, dynamic census data arises in times of emergency when the need to account for building occupants is dire.  This information, in conjunction with an effective Emergency Action Plan (EAP), is critical to confirm the safety of building occupants.

Smart technology has significantly evolved to improve both the efficiency as well as the occupant experience in CRE.  Building managers and owners that embrace these new advances are able use them to their advantage in both reducing operating expenses and attracting and retaining tenants.

Tightly integrated access protocols and technology are just one way to enhance the sustainability and security of a facility and can be leveraged as part of a holistic smart, sustainable and secure discipline for your buildings.



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