Each fall brings seasonal challenges related to timely and effective facilities management practices.

When properly deployed, facility management best practices can mitigate and prevent high-value losses, allow for continued and uninterrupted operations, and avoid the loss of valuable staff time and resources to respond to a loss.

Ideally, a balanced facilities management program combines a mix of technology, timely fall maintenance practices, and a committed and alert staff willing to address issues as they arise.

High-tech approach
MIIA has been investigating a technology involving the installation of different types of sensors that send data to a central location, where the data is analyzed to look for situations where a loss is likely to occur, such as a sudden change in temperature relative to the external temperature. Warnings are then sent out based on artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

The technology is designed to alert staff so they can take action and avoid severe property damage from water leaks and changes in temperature, humidity and vibration, among other issues.

The small, battery-powered sensors communicate using cellular technology developed for “internet of things” devices, providing a simple and secure link to transmit information such as water leak and temperature data. Since they do not require Wi-Fi, the sensors do not contribute to cybersecurity risks and can be placed anywhere in a building, including areas where local network connectivity is weak.

Applications can include:
• Water detection
• Frozen pipe detection
• Freeze detection (such as heating system or refrigeration failure)
• High temperatures
• Alerts, proxy for fire
• Power outage notification
• Energy efficiency
• Mold condition alert

Unlike sensors designed to protect equipment and systems within a building, these sensors gather data that is run through algorithms designed to identify conditions that might give rise to a property loss, even before it happens.

The program offers a tiered alert system, indicating severity. Alerts are either advisory or actionable. An example of a Tier 3 (actionable) Alert would be: “The heating system has failed, and the indoor temperature is dropping below threshold, while the outdoor temperature is low. Imminent frozen pipe conditions if no actions taken.”

Because information is being transmitted from sensors to devices at a rapid pace, these interconnected devices are expected to be increasingly at the hub of municipal property maintenance, from equipment and systems to operations.

Adoption of new sensor technology may also bring additional benefits, such as increased productivity, streamlined workflow between employees and departments, and improved service to the community.

MIIA’s Risk Management program is about to embark on a pilot project using this new sensor technology.

Low-tech approaches
A human-centric approach is still a critical component to property preservation and maintenance. Even older buildings with little or no technology can be protected with diligent and careful human intervention and sound inspectional processes.

Below are some of the most basic and essential processes recommended by MIIA:

Physical inspections: The importance of physical inspection cannot be overstated. Every year, MIIA members sustain property losses caused by carelessness and conditions that could have been easily identified and prevented by regular and scheduled inspections. These inspections run the gamut from key plumbing connections, sprinkler systems, insulation levels, roof and gutter conditions, and heating systems, etc.

Storm event practices: While remote technology plays a key role in the detection of potential and actual losses, there are certain weather-related conditions where technology cannot fully replace the value of on-site staff who are monitoring conditions within a building in real time. Coupled with firsthand knowledge of a particular building’s weaknesses, historical problem areas, and vulnerabilities, staff on site can often make critical adjustments that are necessary to prevent and mitigate large losses.

Additional measures
Here are some additional strategies:

Facilities management software: This is one area where the return on investment is immediate. Municipalities should consider funding preventive maintenance routines, including the purchase of facilities software solutions, which aid in tracking and scheduling key activities.

Alarms: Installing low-temperature alarms can prevent the common problem of frozen pipes.

Fire inspections: Measures such as installing magnetic closure devices for doors will increase the level of fire protection in buildings.

Hazardous material disposal: Two communities sustained substantial losses this past year caused by improper disposal of solvent-contaminated rags. Cities and towns must ensure the placement of approved rag disposal containers for areas where solvents are frequently used, such as school shop classrooms, art rooms, and public works facilities, among others.

Facilities management training: It is critical to provide regular training and refresher courses on proper procedures and protocols to staff members with property preservation and maintenance responsibilities. A good resource is the Massachusetts Facilities Administrators Association, which provides members with access to education, information and events throughout the year.

Written by Stephen Batchelder, MIIA Risk Management Director.