Internet of Things (IoT) technology is a game changer for facility managers facing the unique challenges of maintaining the complex array of residential halls, labs, libraries, classroom buildings, and dining halls that comprise a campus. IoT-empowered sensor technology can assist facilities managers monitor buildings for vulnerabilities to water damage and changes in humidity and temperature, and identify potential damage before it occurs, avoiding the dislocation of students and residents as well as the cost of time-consuming repairs. IoT technology also makes building management easier and more effective by adding intelligence and real-time data feedback, thus helping to predict and prevent property damage.
Here are some basic questions and answers regarding this innovative technology:
How do IoT sensors operate, and how do they make life easier for busy facility managers?
Small, battery-operated IoT sensors are installed at critical locations across the campus, including boiler and mechanical rooms, and around HVAC and fire sprinkler systems. These sensors monitor and detect the slightest changes to temperature, humidity, and water leaks, as well as factors that could indicate an increased risk of water damage. Using a high-security cellular gateway system, sensors send 24/7, real-time alerts directly to an app on the facility manager’s smartphone. The intuitive dashboard pinpoints the location of the sensor and the reported issue.
The sensor system is monitored by a 24/7 call center available to troubleshoot any tech issues and follow up on alerts with texts, emails, and phone calls. Even in the event of a power failure, we have you covered. The gateway is equipped with a four-hour rechargeable battery backup. If there is a power outage, the facility manager receives an alert letting him/her know the gateway is using backup batteries. The facility manager receives another alert when power is restored to the gateway.
Can you share an example of IoT sensors in action?
One day not long after a New England campus opened, a drain valve was inadvertently left open. Water began pouring into a laboratory on the fourth floor. Facility management was alerted instantly, and they were able to quickly isolate the source and shut off the waterflow.
As you can imagine, this could have been a devastating loss. Had the leak not been detected and contained, water cascading down from the top floor would have inundated sensitive laboratory equipment throughout the facility, causing millions of dollars of losses. This kind of risk is magnified while campus facilities are empty or underutilized because of the pandemic.
Has the lockdown raised the stakes for facility managers?
It certainly has. In the current COVID environment, with many buildings unoccupied and fewer personnel on site, IoT sensors are like virtual watchdogs, and they are more important than ever.
During the pandemic, campuses have come to rely on IoT sensors as the first line of defense while many buildings were left suddenly vacant, and in the absence of normal onsite facility staffing. With new IoT “eyes” on campus, the school was able to focus on a higher priority issue: their students’ health and safety.
IoT sensors capture hidden risks. What’s an example of a hidden risk on university and college campuses?
One example is the presence of mold. Sensors have the remarkable capacity to provide a report on potential mold growth, a significant issue that even the most experienced managers might overlook. If it goes unchecked, mold can cause air-quality and health issues, creating a more complex environmental problem for the college or university.
How does the facility manager know where to place these sensors?
Along with a team of IoT experts, college and university facility managers help design a bespoke plan, one that meets the unique needs and challenges of each institution. This specialized plan includes selecting the optimal sensor product for your needs, identifying the right quantity of sensors and where to place them, and ensuring that the right type of sensor is installed at each location.
The facility manager has access to an online portal that includes the installation guide and other helpful documents, and a call center staffed with technicians is available to help address any questions.
Common areas of concern on educational campuses include boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, laundry rooms, residential halls, labs, HVAC systems, and electrical rooms. We’ve seen water damage events in unheated and poorly heated areas, such as loading docks, as well as other areas where water can accumulate.
The sensors monitor for conditions such as low or high room temperatures, moisture in the air, high temperature in a refrigerator, and the presence of water, protecting everything from high-value areas like teaching labs and computer rooms to buildings steeped in history and libraries with priceless literary collections.
What kind of alerts might a facility manager get on his/her smartphone?
The alerts are tiered according to severity from advisory to actionable.
Take, for example, a pipe-freeze condition. The facility manager may get an advisory alert that the indoor temperature is dropping and is abnormally low, indicating that a heating system may have failed. If the temperature drops further, which could lead to a potential leak, the facility manager gets an actionable alert. All actionable alerts provide an email and text and are followed up with a phone call from our customer service team. In the event of a burst pipe, the facility manager gets an immediate actionable alert.
How significant a problem is water damage?
Industry data shows that nonweather-related water damage is the second-most common cause of loss. The average water damage claim cost is upwards of $90,000 for commercial properties. Financial costs are only part of the story; colleges and universities must grapple with disruptions associated with having to close classrooms, libraries, or residential halls due to flooding.
Any final thoughts on the value of IoT sensors?
College and university facility managers have a weighty responsibility to protect property as well as maintaining a safe environment for students, teachers, and staff. IoT sensors that can predict and prevent costly and disruptive losses, are the next generation of risk mitigation.
Hemant Sarma is senior vice president of Internet of Things at Chubb, located in New York, NY. You can reach him at IoT@chubb.com. This is his first article for Facilities Manager.