Energy, Safety, Security and IT Heading for Storms

 Copyright: David Lawson - published Property Week April 2006

Home Page

Sailing on still blue waters, no-one gives much thought to the stokers labouring below. But what happens if the engines break down in the middle of a storm?  Occupiers and investors often cruise along in similar apathy, expecting buildings to work faultlessly. But waters are becoming increasingly choppy and decades of neglect could make the next few years extremely uncomfortable.Energy, safety, security and new technology are already building into major storms. New working methods and demand for more efficiency loom on the horizon.


 As winter fades, the furore over gas, oil and electricity prices might be expected to fade. Yet summer is the peak time for commercial buildings as ventilation and air conditioning systems kick into high gear. And the coming months are forecast to be the hottest on record.Facilities managers have spent years struggling with inefficient and outdated systems and grown used to being dismissed with the distain of a passenger encountering a stoker on the way to the first-class dining room. Breakdowns this summer and huge bills in the autumn could finally grab attention.Meanwhile, a torrent of new regulations over energy labelling, climate change taxes and public pressure over global warming could finally bring home to landlords and tenants that little will be achieved without the help of facilities managers who have to channel all this hot air into practical solutions. 


  Every foreign visitor comments on the remarkable air of calm in the face of a new wave of terrorist threats. Few realise this comes from a deep well of skills built by facilities managers over three decades since the IRA began its assaults on the mainland.  British commercial buildings are probably the safest in the world, but managers are facing new pressures. For instance, they can no longer farm out security to those private armies of security personnel who have locked up premises so efficiently.    Stories about excess force, turf wars and employment of former criminals drove the government into setting up the Security Industry Authority to oversee all private policing. New rules have just come in imposing licences on private forces, and these demand levels of training and experience which will force up costs.

Disabled Access

  Ironically, this comes at a time when facilities managers are struggling to make it easier for the right people to get in. The Disability Access Act is causing endless problems as managers try to reshape older buildings which were even a problem for the able.Some surprising lessons are being learned. The British Institute of Facilities Management annual conference in Oxford last month heard that an obvious improvement to lifts involved fitting Braille buttons – until it was realised that only a fifth of those with eye problems could read the language. The solution was switching to raised numbers.


  Extra attention is now being paid to getting people out of buildings after the lessons of 9/11 and London’s Tube bombings. But even this has taken a new turn with yet another re-weaving of red tape. Fire safety is being transferred onto the shoulders of landlords and occupiers through rationalisation of more than 70 laws passed over the decades. Fire services will no longer issue safety certificates. Instead, a ‘responsible person’ within a building will be expected to ensure staff are safe. Who these people are is still uncertain. According to lawyer Maples Teesdale, the new duties should not be too onerous but could be shared between employers, landlords, tenants and managing agents, depending on lease terms.The new rules were meant to come in this month, but despite a long consultation period they have created such confusion that the deadline has been postponed while the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does a road show of seminars explaining the changes. At the end of the day, it seems likely that facilities managers, who already look at after most safety issues, will be handed yet another task 

New Technology

 This has wide implications for facilities management which will be looked at next week. But safety and security is an often overlooked issue. Martin Bell, head of corporate responsibility consulting at Johnson Controls, posed a question at the BiFM conference, asking how do managers ensure protection if there is no office? Few delegates admitted they had visited employees who work from home, so how could they keep track of issues such security? This involves not only hardware such as computers containing sensitive information but whether important documents such as credit card statements are properly stored or shredded.The development of ‘wi-fi’ working, where staff sit at coffee bars or in clients’ buildings tapping into laptops or pocket organisers, raises huge security issues. Who might be sitting in the next chair, watching and listening?   Facilities management needs to stretch beyond sites and buildings but turf wars with technology departments often means training and risk assessment falls into a black hole, leaving clients dangerously exposed.