Millions of people spend a significant portion of their lives working in high-rise office buildings. High-rises are—for the most part—safe, and the tenants of these steel towers aren’t even aware of the scope and magnitude of planning, preparation and hard work that occurs daily to ensure their safety, comfort and the continuity of their business operations.
A high-rise office building is a mini city that operates around the clock, seven days a week. Successful operation of these office buildings is dependent on seamlessly integrating the needs of the client businesses for the continuity of their operations while maintaining the critical facility operations of the building.
High-rise office buildings are divided into two basic categories: commercial and corporate. Commercial buildings have multiple tenants that are often high profile. Corporate high-rises have one major corporation as the principal, if not sole, occupant. These buildings are able to function continuously on a day-to-day basis largely because of the leadership skills of property managers directing crews of engineers, electricians, security, fire and life safety specialists, information technology managers and contract service vendors; this ensures a seamless team effort in meeting the building’s primary requirement: safety. Property managers generally follow three basic maintenance time schedules—daytime, evening and weekend—in order to ensure the safety of the occupants while maintaining uninterrupted continuity of business operations.
Cycle One is Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. During this time, the building is fully occupied, and critical business operations are in full swing. On any work day, there can be a multitude of service calls to the property management office that could include a variety of situations, such as burning smells in a computer, a microwave oven not working or sparking, flooding in the bathrooms, air conditioning problems, a missing fire extinguisher and soiled carpets.
In cases like these, a preliminary response team of either engineers; electricians; and security, fire and life safety or service vendor technicians will be notified through in-house communications. These personnel will immediately go to the complaint location to investigate, report the findings and send status reports to the building operations command center. For most high-rise office buildings, a full team response is initiated anytime the fire safety system is alarmed.
When an issue can’t be resolved during the day—say a smoke detector is malfunctioning; electrical wiring or outlets have to be replaced; a heating, ventilating and air conditioning damper won’t open—the work is assigned to the evening or weekend operations team to resolve due to a potential disruption of business operations.
In addition, on any given work day, there can be periodic unannounced on-site regulatory inspections by municipal, state or federal agencies that require specific operations personnel to cease what they are doing and respond to the inspector’s request. This can include producing records, certificates, architectural/engineering plans, emergency action plans, risk management plans, right-to-know filings, or documentation on building evacuation drills. They might also ask to be escorted to specific floors or shown particular systems for visual inspections, on-site testing and, in some cases, to interview occupants.
Furthermore, Cycle One, the building management team is running building operations while coordinating the evening and weekend service and maintenance operations with key managers and service vendors, in what could best be described as a military-like effort to ensure they perform scheduled maintenance within budget and without disruption to business operations.
Although the major requirements for personnel and calls for service would occur during business hours, Monday to Friday, this is only the first cycle in the high-rise property management team’s three-cycle operations process of personnel working around the clock 365 days a year.
Cycle Two is Monday to Friday, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. During this time, maintenance and work will be permitted that poses no potential risk to the next day’s business operations.
This is the period of nonbusiness hours during which floor build-outs (vacant floors under construction for new data centers, trading floors and support operations) and required systems maintenance are conducted for and resolved by IT cabling personnel, electrical contractors, plumbers, HVAC engineers, elevator mechanics, fire suppression vendors, kitchen duct cleaning vendors, data center cabling installers, computer upgrades, security system maintenance, cleaning services, life safety systems maintenance, regulatory service testing and other issues. Specifically handled are those items that come up during normal business hours but cannot be addressed during the day.
All of the Cycle Two work is vetted and approved by the operations manager to ensure there are no potential risks or negative impact to daytime business operations. If concern arises that the requested approval for work on the weekday evening hours could pose a risk to daytime operations, the project would be rejected and rescheduled for Cycle Three.
Cycle Three consists of the weekend, Friday evening from 8 p.m. to Sunday at 4 p.m. This is the cycle where construction, systems repair, critical system maintenance and vendor services deemed potential risks to weekday business operations are conducted. These critical weekend windows of opportunity can be further reduced by end-of-the-month financial institution restrictions and end-of-year work restrictions during portions of November and December.
Engineering operations managers also may conduct full-system shutdowns one weekend a year, so they can test their electrical systems and backup generators as well as address any critical systems issues. Preliminary meetings are conducted weeks before the shutdown so all vendors and building operations personnel will be working off one approved script.
During the once-a-year shutdown, outside electrical contractors will conduct infrared thermal scans of the entire electrical distribution system. At this time, issues with bus duct, circuit breakers and other internal electrical problems can surface and be addressed. This annual weekend maintenance shutdown is a preventative measure and can cost in excess of $500,000. While expensive, it is much less than if an electrical issue occurs that shut downs a data center or disrupts a trading floor, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Although often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of maintaining a high-rise building’s operation in a seamless flow of functionality and safety, the engineering staff, engineers, electricians and property managers are the first and last line of defense ensuring the safety of all building occupants.
COLLINS, a public safety and terrorism expert with three decades of experience in law enforcement, fire safety and high-rise safety management, is a former police director for New York’s Department of Environmental Protection.