Do you allow your occupants to communicate?

Introduction

Maintenance of facilities, building TLC and equipment breakdown are on-going occurring at any building or premises. Some of these functions are vital for maintaining the physical condition of buildings.  And the others are to address the hazard as soon as possible.

Although these activities are the contractual responsibility of Trade businesses performing the work, each building/premises needs communication steps in place to help ensure that contractor safety obligations are met and that the health and safety of building occupants is not compromised.

Having structured criteria and processes for communicating key information to the occupants is now not an option. With buildings under pressure to ensure safety of its occupants – timely and easy to understand communication is vital. In the age of pandemics it is even more crucial to provide tools to occupants to receive timely information and them having ability to report incidents whether health related or hazard related quickly.

Why to develop a more structured process for occupant communication?

You have guessed correctly, it is mostly facilities managers’ responsibility to keep the building occupants informed. Emails, texts and notice boards are proving inadequate and vital information is ignored time and again. Although so much goes on in buildings to ensure occupant comfort or safety but occupants find themselves as outsiders in these internal functions.

In order to develop connection between building facilities and its occupants, they need to find how they are connected. Where in the building/premises they can take action. Most importantly ‘taking action’ is not equivalent to going through hoops where occupants just give up. You need an easy system which is structured around real facilities and equipment. Occupants will be able to connect and be in control. Importantly for the facility manager any structured communication coming from occupants can be analysed and decisions can be made. For example if a facility is repeatedly reported as unclean, this data is important. However when the same thing is reported via unstructured means i.e. email, phone calls the context is completely lost or it will take facilities operator a significant time to join the dots.

How to build the communication triggering criteria

Facility managers are supported by Care-takers, facility services providers and trade experts to keep the buildings running and meet occupants’ expectations.

So communication moves up and down this chain and any break in it is time consuming and reestablishing connection is even harder. This can lead to dissatisfaction but also result in higher costs. Facilities Manager is also normally responsible for initiating this communication setup and ensuring procedures are in place for handling each type of notifications. The procedures can move around:

  • Nature of work: Some activities expose building occupants to hazards in their normal course of work.
  • Duration of Activity: You can set procedures based on what will be the duration of any maintenance or renovation activity.
  • Access Changes: If any of the planned activities will prevent normal entrance or need barriers

Some other activities which have minimal impact on occupants’ normal conduct and safety can be excluded from this communication.

The procedures further move around when and how often this communication is required. Again, it will be based on nature of activities. You will set the process how long before any type of activity you will initiate the communication i.e. 2 weeks before major repairs of elevator.

How technology can help? 

  • Technology now allows us to not work in silos where we have building facilities, building equipment, building service providers and building occupants data in different lists.
  • Having ability to easily connect these nodes through technology has allowed us to bring the efficiency in communication chain and data collection not experienced before in built environments.
  • As we know data is augmented by contributions from all different stakeholders who are linked to the building whether they are humans or IoT nodes. Technology enables to bring these into same platform to allow decision makers to have deeper understanding and enable them to reach trouble points faster before they reach reactive stage.
  • Finally, the technology enables the user experience so that everyone can participate and play their role without being intimidated by clutter.

Important note – Emergency Warning and Inter-communication Systems (EWIS) and/or Occupant Warning Systems

Since we are discussing communication, we need to touch upon these systems. These are driven by the Building Code depending upon country and/or states. Since this topic is deep, exhaustive and technical, we will not cover it here. We believe this needs to be kept independent of the ‘communication structure’ we have described above. Having emergency communication system to carry out other occupant related communication will certainly undermine this system.

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