Facilities management’s role in securing public spaces

There is no crisis in living memory that can compare to the scale of disruption and threat, which the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Waste swathes of the globe were in complete lockdown, self-isolation and preventative measures were the only recourse to defend against the contagion, for now.

Recent news reports indicate that a third of the world’s population is currently living under official self-quarantine directives. With people staying home and only venturing out briefly for essential supplies and services, the need to ensure that our buildings and public spaces are secured against the spread of the virus is unprecedented.

Facility management has taken on a unique role in the defense against the contagion, in this time of global crisis. The responsibility to mitigate the risk of infection within their portfolio of properties is on the shoulders of these professionals, and the preventative measures they are implementing will be one of the key factors in “flattening the curve,” of the number of infections. The strategies and processes that facilities and property managers can implement, in this context, are manifold, but the following priorities stand out as must-do measures:

Disseminating credible information
With a vast majority of the world’s population online, a virtual “infodemic” has spread, in lock step with the pandemic itself. As can be expected, misinformation and sensationalism actually outflanks authentic sources, in sheer volume.

Facility managers will play a critical role in disseminating credible information from sources such as the WHO and the national medical bodies of their countries, to educate their onsite staff and building occupants about preventive and precautionary measures.

Facility management has taken on a unique role in the defense against the contagion, in this time of global crisis.

Setting up effective operational response rooms
As a workforce that is stationed across every corner of the venue being secured, facilities management teams need to be even better coordinated than usual. Setting up well supported and connected operational response rooms—both onsite and remote—is virtually non-negotiable, in being able to deliver the sort of agile and responsive operations that are the need of the hour.

Building redundancies and inventory
Many facility management teams are running the leanest possible operations, in terms of individuals deployed, so that staff are exposed to a minimum number of others, while still being able to deliver the impeccable operations necessary. The possibility of critical staff getting infected cannot be ruled out.

FM operations need to cross-skill team members so operations remain disruption free, in the event that uniquely skilled members are compromised. Facilities managers also need to leverage relationships with their vendors and suppliers, to ensure a well-stocked inventory of essentials such as gloves, masks and disinfectants, securing their operations against possible supply-chain disruptions.

Flawless soft services routines
As evident in the slow, but eventual turnaround in China and South Korea, in terms of the number of infected individuals, prevention is the key to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. The highest possible standards of sanitization and hygiene in buildings cannot be stressed enough, in this context.

Stringent adherence to very thorough cleaning procedures, performed much more frequently than usual, is paramount. Ease of access to hand sanitizers and repeated disinfection of frequent contact surfaces, such as door knobs, restroom fixtures, handrails, elevator buttons and work surfaces, is essential to securing onsite staff and occupants.

Stringent adherence to very thorough cleaning procedures, performed much more frequently than usual, is paramount.

Maintaining optimal humidity and air quality within buildings
Definitive correlations between humidity and the infectivity of influenza viruses—of which the COVID-19 contagion is a particularly virulent and malevolent strain—have been researched for quite some time. General consensus of such these findings is that this family of viruses can be relatively contained at higher relative humidity.

This strategy was found to be true for SARS and other preceding coronavirus strains. While the effects on the COVID-19 contagion are still being investigated, building managers can explore raising relative indoor humidity to 40% or above, as a preventive measure.

Monitoring footfall & visitors
It is estimated that a significantly high number of asymptomatic infected individuals are present in most affected populations. Identifying such persons and having the ability to track their movements within a building retrospectively will be crucial to aggressively disinfecting facilities they might have infected and testing people they came in contact with. Highly detailed and error free records of this nature need to be maintained by facilities managers.

Leveraging technology to optimize operations
A unified, detailed and real-time view of operations, and the buildings under management, is critical to the response that this pandemic requires. Networks of sensors and IoT technology can help collate real time data across locations and assets, which can then be subjected to AI and Machine Learning derived actionable insights.

Temperature sensors are being used to identify individuals with elevated body temperatures, so they can be quarantined and tested. Cloud-based apps and interfaces are providing much needed data to all stakeholders and helping to coordinate efforts. Targeted deployment of these technologies, and more, will be essential to ensure the highest standards of operational efficiency and due diligence.

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Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc., an enterprise-wide platform for facilities O & M (Operations & Maintenance) across real-estate portfolios, headquartered in New York and with operations in the United States, Middle East and India. Prabhu’s career spans over 18 years of product, business and customer experience focused on enterprise-scale software for IoT-based connected services, sustainable building solutions and telecom network management.

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