Ensuring safety in public buildings
A facility manager’s job description is lengthy and varied and includes tasks such as inspecting the premises to ensure everything is stocked for the day’s work; creating a maintenance schedule for the interior and exterior of the building; conference room setups; electrical, plumbing and HVAC maintenance — either in-house or contracted out — and safety and hazards control.
Ensuring facilities are safe can be complex these days with a multitude of potential threats and hazards that could come from within the facility or outside the facility. Adding to the complexity is the fact that many of these facilities are open to the public and therefore don’t want to be as secure as Fort Knox. That’s an issue that Manassas, Va.’s City Manager William Patrick Pate said his city is wrestling with.
“Our philosophy is we want a transparent government so the public feels the building is inviting, but we have good common sense practices for safety,” Pate said.
Some of those common sense practices include locking up the facilities at night, plus having alarm systems and panic buttons if an employee feels threatened, but Pate said, “Typically that hasn’t been an issue for us.”
In the utility departments, he said, “We have high counters for folks dealing with the public and glass windows — it keeps people from reaching across the counter and grabbing money.”
When it comes to safety features of buildings, several of the features are incorporated at the planning stages. It would be at that point where it would be decided whether a building needed bullet proof glass or safety film on the windows. Safety films helps windows heat and cool a facility more efficiently, but it can also protect against flying debris in a storm and even protect against vandalism and theft. Alarm systems, counter heights and visual aids such as security mirrors and closed circuit televisions and cameras are usually incorporated in the planning stages, but if a facility is older and some of those items were not included, they can generally be added easily enough.
Safety on the job
Some safety measures in government facilities include making sure walkways are clear and marked when wet, using proper techniques and tools like being careful when picking up boxes or using hydraulic tools. Hydraulic tools prevent injuries to workers plus prevent fires that could occur if sparks from traditional power tools ignite a natural gas source.
Pate said in Manassas they try to do a lot of training on safe work environments.
“We have a safety officer and a risk manager. They try to be proactive in looking at issues that will create safety concerns,” he said.
Those concerns include making sure people working outside in the field on hot days have enough water to stay hydrated. Pate said Manassas is ADA compliant and is also a walkable community so it identifies and eliminates any possible trip hazards.
“We work with our crews to identify any safety hazards and potential liabilities,” he said.
Manassas, a city of about 38,000, has its own electric utility. Pate said the electrical workers are very diligent about safety: “Working around high voltage electricity all the time, you have to be extremely careful or there’s a potential loss of life.”
Manassas Police Department just installed the Body One cameras this year, protecting officers inside the buildings and while out on patrol. The fire department spends lots of time on safety protocols and conducting drills, according to Pate.
Several new government buildings across the country have improved fire safety measures to control smoke, heat and flames in a fire event. Some of those features include ventilation that removes smoke, doors that will release smoke through louvers or will contain the fire to a certain area of the building, fire suppression valves and, of course, smoke alarms and typical water-based sprinkler systems. These features help keep building occupants safe while minimizing damage to the facility.
Emergency and automatic safety shut-offs for water and gas are critical to protect facilities in case of a water leak or plumbing problem, flooding for water services and in case of an earthquake or tornado for natural gas.
Dan Miceli is a licensed stationary engineer in Maryland who has worked in government facilities for over 35 years, currently at a Food and Drug Administration Facility. He said as a power plant engineer working with steam turbines, electricity, heat, chilling and air conditioning units, when a lightning storm is coming, their facility automatically separates from the municipal power plant and goes on “island mode” to ensure their equipment continues to operate. If they have advance warning, the engineers will manually switch to “island mode” to be on the safe side. He said the natural gas furnaces and boilers also have an automatic shut off. Miceli said he just completed safety training on approximately 20 different topics and the training is conducted annually or bi-annually.
Many government facilities have metal detectors — some are only put in use during court proceedings.
Pate said tighter security measures have been taken at water treatment plants — facilities that the Department of Homeland Security identified as being at high risk — and in Manassas gates and locks were installed at their facility.
Two of Manassas’ municipal buildings are or will soon be undergoing renovations. Manassas City Hall and the public safety building. At city hall Pate said they are trying to open up customer service areas so that it is more apparent where visitors need to go to conduct business. They are consolidating all the customer service areas on the main floor where the council chambers are also located so there is better access for the public to departments such as clerk-treasurer, utility departments and code enforcement.
“Which will create better security on the upper floors as most of the things the public needs in the building will be on the main floor,” he said.
“We’re looking at ways to make sure we have the appropriate barriers and privacy areas while having it be environmentally friendly to the public, with some level of protection for our staff,” he said. “Our thought is if it’s more open, everyone will be able to see what’s going on.” Pate said currently departments are walled off and he felt that made them more unsafe.
Improvements to the public safety building include adding security features such as ways to better protect evidence storage and to transport prisoners; even though that’s something they do only rarely. The improvements will create an even safer environment for citizens and the police.
In Manassas Pate said when it comes to safety, “we try to make sure we are constantly talking about it and showing examples of what potential bad things can happen, hoping that they remain vigilant. Our goal is to ensure that they all make it home to their families each day.”
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