Darian Toedtman 2013-11-28 01:55:51
Running the Buildings that Run the Country EMCOR Government Services helps federal agencies achieve high-performance facilities. It is the stuff of nightmares for any O&M contractor — a client is about to take the podium before an audience of hundreds when the AV system loses power and threatens to bring the presentation to an embarrassing halt. It could spark anxiety in even the most skilled electrician. Now imagine the client at the podium is the President of the United States and the facility is the U.S. Department of State. EMCOR Group, Inc.'s subdivision EMCOR Government Services (EGS) employs staff that might encounter this problem on any given day as O&M contractor for the State Department, among more than 100 other federal buildings, military bases, and commercial and medical facilities across the nation. When the above scenario actually happened in September 2012, seasoned EGS team members on standby for the event troubleshot the issue. The State Department's AV team had unwittingly overloaded a non-dedicated circuit, causing it to trip. The EGS electrician EGS Pipefitter Andre Peck replaces the gear box in a cooling tower at the Truman Building. Photo courtesy of EMCOR then re-routed and distributed the power to several dedicated circuits, enabling the AV team to re-energize their equipment without a disruption to the event. For their quick action and a mission accomplished, the State Department presented EGS staff with a notice of commendation. The field-based men and women of EGS work behind the scenes every day, improving efficiencies and trouble-shooting unforeseen problems in the building systems that enable the government to run its facilities and programs. While the rewards can be great, the AV incident illustrates the pressures of government O&M contract work, which can go badly awry without a team of highly skilled specialists and a corporate support structure. Everything old is new again Federal buildings pose unique O&M challenges. For one, they often have a long succession of additions and renovations to historical buildings, along with multiple generations of H VAC and electrical systems. For instance, the State Department's 2.6 million-square-foot Harry S. Truman federal building was constructed by the General Services Administration (GSA) in two major phases: the War Department building in 1939 and the State Department extension in 1958. The building subsequently underwent numerous renovations over the decades since its completion, though it retains its eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Located in Foggy Bottom between C, D, 21st and 23rd streets, the building blends elements of classical and modern architecture—just as the electrical and HVAC systems blend old and new technology, like pneumatic and electronic controls. This is also the case with the President's Guest House, or Blair House, which is part of the State Department contract EGS holds. Located across from the White House, this National Historic Landmark consists of four townhouses with a unified interior serving the needs of visiting dignitaries. It contains 119 rooms, including three formal dining rooms, two large conference rooms, 14 guest bedroom-and-bath suites, a full kitchen, an exercise room, and an in-house laundry facility. Standing at 70,000 square feet, Blair House is larger than the White House. Since its original construction in 1824, the property has undergone numerous exterior and interior alterations, including an addition and extensive renovation from 1984 to 1988. Mission: assorted & elaborate Besides often having a complex collage of MEP systems, federal buildings also have a wide range of missions and uses: from federal agencies like the State Department and Health & Human Services to various military bases and installations, and commercial facilities like the World Bank and FDIC to CIA-operated "black sites". Each site and building has its own mission-critical needs and demanding schedule. Where one building may require historic artifacts and artwork be carefully preserved, another may need proper maintenance of a hyperbaric chamber in a military lab, or unfaltering cooling for a server room that monitors national security or the Mars Rover. EGS proudly operates and maintains this wide array of government facilities and many others. As one would imagine, turning off critical government facilities equipment for preventive or corrective maintenance is not as innocuous as shutting down an air-handling unit in a conventional office building. Even with redundancy in place, temporarily taking a piece of equipment offline is a meticulously-planned affair requiring approval from multiple parties. For example, if one misses the scheduled maintenance window and it could be necessary to reinitiate the government's approvals process. Layered over these physical complexities are multiple stakeholder interests, standards and relationships, such as those of the EGS—which builds, owns and operates many facilities—as well as the disparate interests of individual building occupants. While an admiral at the U.S. Coast Guard may want a new series of offices built-out for officers, GSA may be hamstrung for the funding to actualize such a project. In the meantime, the facilities team may be collaborating with the O&M contractor on how to prevent the proposed renovations from compromising the logistics of variable air volume boxes delivering balanced and adequate cooling to the floor. With so many moving parts and interests, a government project is seldom as straightforward as one would hope. Another important consideration when undertaking a government O&M contract is the national significance of these buildings, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. Because these facilities represent the public face of the U.S. government to the American people and the international community, being able to maintain their integrity and aesthetic appeal is of equal importance to how well their less visible components function. Making the grade at state The scope of the State Department contract primarily covers electromechanical service and maintenance for the Truman Building and Blair House, which comprises approximately 97 percent of the contract value. It also includes service and maintenance for the fire suppression system, kitchen equipment, laundry equipment at Blair House, and pest control in specific areas of the Truman Building. Meeting contractual obligations for these facilities involves a unique set of requirements to ensure the comfort, wellbeing and safety of building occupants, while optimizing operational efficiency, reducing downtime and associated operational costs, and preserving the incalculable value of these structures. Many of the same capabilities are required across government contracts, as well as commercial contracts, so the following examples have broader applicability. Trustworthy, responsible staff An extensive background check for security clearance is just the first hurdle. The contract requires highly trustworthy, responsible and experienced staff with training and skills to operate and maintain a 60-year span of HVAC and electrical equipment, including both pneumatic and electronic controls. Supervisors and staff must also address inherent differences between GSA's original design standards and modern State Department uses; for example, 1940s- and 1950s-era spaces with contemporaneous HVAC and electrical systems that are used to support modern information technology. Training beyond the fundamentals The level of competence needed to run these facilities and sites requires training that goes well beyond fundamental trade skills, due to inherent differences in design standards and old technology. Some examples include training for systems like pneumatics, SIEMENS DDC, and newly installed boilers. Besides specific training on building systems, EGS's program also includes teaching facilities professionals to adopt the right attitude about themselves and the importance of their profession; gaining knowledge through courses like the AFE CPMM Review Course; understanding and implementing success strategies; and building skills through 100 percent Preventive Maintenance, OSHA 10/30 Hour Courses, ISO 9000, AFE CPS, PMI PMP, and other associated training. This makes EGS's training program one of the broadest in the industry. (See Facilities Engineering Journal, March/April 2012, Training: One More of EMCOR's Differences by Richard Stukey.) Federal contractors also need to meet or surpass the higher credentialing goals set by the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act of 2010. EMCOR's training portfolio sets the bar for the industry and far exceeds the new federal mandate. A big-picture perspective Often the root cause of a problem is a breakdown between systems. If a room feels too warm, there are numerous potential reasons. It could simply be a malfunctioning room thermostat, or it could be traced to a bad cooling coil or a failed damper in a ventilation duct, to name a few. It takes a seasoned mechanic to look at the systems as they interrelate and identify the root of the problem. For example, at the Truman Building, solving O&M problems often requires staff to peel back many layers of as-built drawings to identify the source. In one case this summer, GSA requested EGS's assistance to identify potentially abandoned piping for removal during an ongoing project. The staff reviewed multiple sets of drawings, since the piping was run in a riser located between the 1939-era Old War building and the 1958-era Truman Building. The Old War building had also undergone a massive renovation, completed in 2003. It was determined that the piping used to service the fan coil units had been abandoned 10 years ago during the 2003 renovation. None of this piping was shown on the three original prints. Thinking on one's feet As was the case during the presidential address at the State Department, electricians and HVAC engineers are often retained on standby to ensure no technical difficulties disrupt an event. Should any occur, a technician is within reach to address the problem ... and occasionally avert a "diplomatic incident". Support from professional services Whenever necessary, EGS site-based staff can tap into the knowledge and experience of professional engineers from the corporate headquarters of EGS. At the State Department alone, these engineers have conducted an extensive arc flash survey, assessed tie-off point loading for fall protection, provided a structural steel design for protecting roof equipment, performed the structural and electromechanical design for security screening buildings, and established the electromechanical design for two expansive suites within the Truman Building, which included calculating the total server electromechanical load needs of the client up to 10-times growth. The added benefit for the client and EGS alike is having the continuity of the same company performing design services as carrying out operations and maintenance. The client saves money and there is better accountability if complications arise in the future. Historic building preservation It takes training and experience to understand what goes into preserving historically significant buildings, rooms, fine finishes, art, and antique furnishings. Blair House not only requires knowledge of the overall electrical and HVAC systems, but also the reliable operation and maintenance of minicontrols for temperature and humidity in key spaces. EGS must then coordinate scheduled and corrective maintenance within the timing constraints of diplomatic functions. This requires strong relationships with specialty subcontractors and adept management of their work, particularly for specialty flooring, ceiling, chandelier, and painting services. An unusually broad parts inventory Another complexity at the State Department and other federal buildings is that there are few "standard" parts in these facilities, due to the greater diversity of equipment. The O&M contractor's inventory must include parts for systems installed over a broad range of time as the building was renovated, and a variety of appropriate vendors must be used for service. To meet this challenge, EGS has created a portfolio of specific subcontractors and vendors, as well as a detailed plan for organizing the large range of parts. The goal is to reduce the long lead times of older parts by understanding the need to mitigate the problem. Saving energy, saving money Although some government contracts do not expressly include energy management terms and thresholds, the O&M contractor who takes this initiative provides greater value. EGS normally provides certain services as part of the scope of an O&M contract to improve energy efficiency, from simply installing more energy efficient light bulbs to operating a more efficient central plant. In 2011, EGS launched an initiative to optimize the existing State Department facility, while advising the government how best to upgrade or replace equipment for better energy efficiency. One key provision of the initiative included purchasing efficiency tools, such as laser alignment tools for pumps and belts, a balometer for air balancing, and an ultrasonic flow-meter for water balancing. Other provisions included a steam conservation plan and routine vibration analysis of critical systems such as cooling towers, chillers, and AHU supply/return fans. These procedures help the government meet mandated energy efficiency goals and are conducted at no additional cost to the client. Other energy efficiency improvements might be performed upon request by the client. For example, the State Department's Facilities Management Services (FMS) team received proposals from two major controls vendors to optimize the operation of the chiller plant to the tune of about $1.2 million. The price tag made FMS alternatively ask EGS to team up with the government's energy savings performance contractor (who relies on EGS for much of their commissioning and improvement ideas) to devise and execute a more cost-effective optimization strategy. A key element of the solution involved resetting the parameters of the building automation system's chiller control set points, particularly on the secondary chiller loop. The team adjusted the temperature on the secondary loop to respond to demand, rather than a preset primary loop water temperature. In turn, this enabled us to reduce the bridge control pressure (between the primary and secondary loops), resulting in less secondary loop flow through the chillers and increasing overall chiller plant efficiency. Besides saving the government $1.2 million by doing the work within the O&M contract, these steps save a significant amount of energy every day. From preventive to predictive maintenance Corrective and preventive maintenance is necessary to any contract, but it remains limited in ensuring occupant comfort, reducing downtime and associated costs, and optimizing building system efficiency. Predictive maintenance (PdM) instead offers greater value than routine, time-based preventive maintenance, since maintenance tasks are scheduled and performed only if necessary. PdM gains value when an O&M contractor can reduce equipment repair costs by performing non-invasive tests, such as operation analysis, vibration analysis, infrared testing, and a motor maintenance program, all of which are implemented at the State Department. Planning for the unplanned The government O&M contractor also needs to work with the in-house facilities team to develop a proactive and costeffective contingency plan. EGS works with the State Department to prepare facilities for forecasted severe weather events including hurricanes, derechos, flooding, snowstorms and the like. The staff takes advance steps to mitigate possible facility damage, including clearing storm drains, cleaning rooftops, and sandbagging entrances. EGS also has an emergency plan that covers events like loss of power, protests, bomb threats, fire and terrorist activity. Playing it safe Because the federal government has the highest standards and accountability for providing a safe working environment, government contractors inherit those same requirements. Besides the severity of penalties for infractions of any kind, EGS is motivated to provide exceptional work safety assurance to clients as an industry leader. The EGS safety focus is evident through its Corporate Environmental Health & Safety Department, which provides ongoing training and support to field-based safety managers and staff in the form of weekly "toolbox meetings", safety and quality assurance audits, routine email blasts and on-call responsiveness to questions and concerns. The oversight even extends to EGS subcontractors, who are held accountable by the same standards. For those subcontractors not employed by EGS, but employed directly by the government, EGS takes the initiative to offer corrective assistance to the subcontractor when the occasion arises and report violations to the client. In the eyes of the law, being complicit in a safety violation is also being culpable. By taking safety seriously and standardizing requirements across all EMCOR divisions and subsidiaries, government clients can rest assured that their O&M contractor is upholding and enforcing the letter and spirit of the laws that protect their workforce from preventable injuries and fatalities. Personalizing client retention Like any client, the government does not want to feel like a contractor is only measuring their level of satisfaction and implementing their feedback when it is time to renew the contract. EGS therefore uses a more involved approach to client satisfaction and retention. In lieu of sending out annual surveys asking the client to rate their experience with EGS on a one-to-five scale as it pertains to specific questions, an EGS client satisfaction & retention specialist pays personal visits to clients to discuss all aspects of EGS's performance and become better acquainted with client needs, objectives, working styles, and the facility itself. EGS found that the survey method left low incentive for busy clients to fill out and return the form, and checking in with clients only once a year through this impersonal medium was also insufficient to keep on top of client concerns. In-person discussions instead guarantee immediate client feedback and build stronger relationships by putting a face (and sympathetic ears) to an otherwise amorphous corporate entity. Having a face-to-face dialogue also allows the conversation to lead beyond the confines of generic survey questions into specific details that would otherwise remain unvoiced or unclear by a restrictive number ranking system. The result is more productive feedback: specific examples of problems or dissatisfaction; clarification of client perspective; and collaborative, solutions-oriented communication, instead of defensiveness and finger-pointing. Not every O&M contractor or facilities specialist will get the opportunity to work on a government contract or encounter the unique circumstances that can pose risks and difficulties. Nevertheless, the takeaway is that adopting similar standards of excellence and preparation enhances service on any contract and gives contractors an edge over the competition. By implementing more PdM, hammering out details for contingency planning, personalizing client satisfaction efforts, taking initiative beyond contractual obligations to save energy and money, and other best practices EGS institutes, contractors will enable their government clients to reap both measurable and unquantifiable value. Darian Toedtman is the senior project manager for EMCOR Government Services at the U.S. Department of State and has been involved at the site since 2003. Toedtman has 19 years of service in the U.S. Army and currently serves as a battalion operations officer in the DC National Guard. Alexandra Kleinkopf is the client satisfaction and retention specialist at EMCOR Government Services. She has a background in managing commercial and government-leased office buildings in Washington, DC.
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