By Danielle Myers
In a literal sense, your school’s walls are technically unable to talk. But, they’re getting pretty good at giving administrators advance notice of potential problems before they occur.
The cost of facility repair and maintenance is staggering. A study from the Center for Green Schools found that from 1994 through 2013, U.S. K–12 school districts collectively spent $925 billion on maintenance & operations — an average of $46 billion each year. On top of that, the same study estimated that districts were carrying at least $271 billion in deferred maintenance and repairs.
In an effort to keep these costs down (to the extent possible), schools are increasingly leveraging analytics and environmental monitoring that can help monitor for triggers that could predict a catastrophe. These predetermined alerts help administrators quickly respond and prevent an issue before it leads to a costly repair.
Taking the Temperature
You take a person’s temperature to help determine if they’re sick. With schools, you can continually monitor temperature to prevent the building from an emergency. The key is to set baseline temperatures within your monitoring system, and program it to send you alerts if these numbers are exceeded.
For example, a burst pipe can lead to flooding and expensive repairs. But, by affixing a sensor to that pipe and receiving alerts anytime the temperature drops below 40 degrees, you can step in and address the issue before the pipes freeze. The inverse is true of refrigerators, where a too-high temperature could lead to a month’s supply of spoiled food. Or, maybe you catch the temperature rising in your server room because an HVAC unit is failing. In either case, if you notice the temperature rising in real time, you can predict that this may become an issue and take corrective action, rather than having to make costly repairs down the road.
Where There’s Smoke, There Need Not Be Fire
With school fires, we’re not just talking about cost of repairs anymore – we’re also talking about potential loss of life. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer to do anything you can to predict fire hazards and address them before they get to the point where students or staff are in danger.
You would hope that faculty and students are taking extreme precautions in science labs that are outfitted with bunsen burners and other hazardous materials, but accidents can certainly happen. In that case, an automated alarm system can immediately alert a pre-designated emergency response team so that help can be on the way before you’ve even realized you’ll need to call them.
Fire hazards aside, you can also monitor the health of fire extinguishers and be made aware whenever they need maintenance and/or have been tampered with. This ensures that if a fire does occur, you can be confident that your extinguishers will always be working properly.
Your facility manager may get a little grumpy waking up at 1am to an alert, but in the long run, will prefer doing that to overseeing a major repair. Predictive analytics and preventative alerts aren’t just about tools, they’re about mindset. As a team, you must commit to identifying possible causes of concern and implementing the regular checks necessary to ensure that you’re always on top of them.
This also means doing more than relying on alerts being sent to an email inbox that you check once a day. When your building is trying to tell you something, you need to make sure you’re able to listen. Have alerts sent to phones, desktops, pagers, two-way radios and make sure multiple team members receive them. This is hardly overkill when we’re talking about protecting students and staff or preventing a major operational failure.
Preventing these issues requires commitment and communication. It’s not all on one metric or one person; you need a committed team of administrators who implement all possible data points to predict disruptions and speed up response time. By regularly reviewing your facility analytics and constantly identifying new ways to monitor the environment, you will reduce maintenance costs in the long run, while also ensuring a safe space for your faculty to teach and your students to learn.
For more, see:
- Next-Generation School Design
- 3 Ways to Design Better Classrooms and Learning Spaces
- Active Learning Requires Innovative Learning Spaces
Danielle Myers is General Manager of Status Solutions, a situational awareness technology company.
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