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alarm management
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By Rudy Bohince

Uptime. Continual operation. Minimal downtime. These are some of the most common buzzwords in building and facility management. Big requirements bring big promises of how to keep buildings running. That includes expectations to quickly detect, diagnose, and respond to potential issues and system failures that could result in costly disruption, downtime, loss, and safety risks.

In meeting these expectations, many building and facility managers find themselves inundated with alarms and alerts from their building management systems (BMS). These alarms may include anything from freeze stat trips to high zone temperature alarms or chillers that failed to start. These alerts can buzz daily if not hourly without having a “special Bat phone” to indicate which ones are critical to address now—or else.

The Sky Is Falling: From Alarm Saturation To Alarm Fatigue

We all know the fairy tale, “Chicken Little” where a chicken yelled “Squawk! Squawk!” to tell the king that the sky was falling—and it wasn’t falling until it was falling. BMS alarms are the same.

When multiple alarms are triggered multiple times daily, it’s difficult to differentiate between a critical failure needing immediate attention and a minor issue that can safely wait. Just ask any maintenance staff member who has received a 2 a.m. wake-up call on a Saturday for what turned out to be a small, non-urgent issue.

Alarm saturation can eventually lead to alarm fatigue. In a recent industry survey conducted with CIM facility managers, respondents said they receive an average of 12.5 alarms a day, with more than 50% of them receiving up to 30 alarms daily. Significantly, 76% of the survey’s respondents wanted to see improvements in alarm system management approaches.

Vetting, filtering, and purging hundreds of email alerts consume the facility team’s valuable time and precious human resources. Understandably, building managers begin to ignore the alerts, assuming they are false alarms or aren’t urgent. In the CIM survey, while two-thirds of facility managers said they received alerts from their BMS, only one-third reacted to them. This inaction in essence renders the alarms useless, which in turn leaves buildings vulnerable to truly critical and costly failures that go unaddressed.

The Answer Is Simple: Prioritize Critical Alarms

The fact is critical building systems fail. Chillers fail to start. Boilers lose flame signal and do not provide heating. Leaks occur. Power is lost and generators kick on.

When they do, the quicker the response, the better the outcome. And guess what? The answer is simple: prioritize critical alarms as part of a building and business resiliency plan. That plan should include technology that plugs into your BMS and allows for critical alarms to be prioritized and a clear escalation path to be established for corrective action. Here are questions to ask when evaluating whether BMS critical alarm technology is needed for a facility or building:

1. What’s the cost and reputational impact of the top 10 alarms going unanswered? Do the building systems include a chiller plant cooling a data center or university lab? When these go down, technologists may not be able to access their AI applications in data centers and precious research specimens could be irreparably damaged. Building and facility managers, can’t afford to take those kinds of risks—not to mention, most budgets can’t afford it.

2. How will a facilities team embrace critical alarm technology? Building and facility management and engineering teams continue to shrink. Regardless of size, the most effective teams embrace simple technology and services that make their jobs easier. While it can feel like building engineers need to be data scientists, alarm management is a low-risk, low-cost, high-impact starting point to get teams comfortable with predictive technology.

3. How big is the building portfolio? Managers need the flexibility to manage a single commercial building, a university campus, or a financial services building portfolio spanning five states. Critical alarm technology must be straightforward enough to manage the needs of a single building yet scalable for a multi-regional, multi-use campus.

4. Where does BMS data need to be managed? For critical alarm technology to work, BMS data must live on a cybersecure private cloud network. It’s not possible to do remote alarm management with on-premise servers.

5. How does fault detection of top alarms without remediation work? Critical alarm technology is the first step in the fault detection process. When paired with an automated escalation tree that requires acknowledgment, the team and building partners can jump on remediation faster and more productively. Alarm management is most effective when paired with simple building analytics to identify and pre-emptively manage building performance discrepancies.

A critical alarm management system supports proactive, predictive, and preventative maintenance so building systems continue to operate without disruption or potentially catastrophic failures. More than a simple notification system, critical alarm management plays a central role in improving business continuity, resiliency, and sustainability—and can be built into a company’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and risk management plans.

Take A Step Forward And Manage Your Building Alarms
In A Different Way

Transitioning to better critical alarm management can be done using a step-by-step approach, with a clear path to:

• Understand the true bottom-line cost of their current alarm management approach.
• Identify and prioritize critical systems and alarms for each building in the portfolio.
• Identify the appropriate personnel to be notified for each critical alarm.
• Develop an escalation process to make sure alarms are quickly remediated.
• Continually review alarm analytics to support ongoing improvements.

 

Bohince is the Director of the Managed Services Center for Albireo Energy based in Edison, New Jersey. He is responsible for managing a team of software and energy engineers to support the Intelligent Service offerings throughout the Albireo Portfolio. He has been in the energy and smart building industry for 17 years and has worked on a wide range of commercial, mission-critical, and healthcare projects across the country. He is a registered Professional Engineer in New Jersey and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) through the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE).

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