Remember the Walter Reed

Walter Reed Army Medical Center has become the new poster child for sick buildings—an Edmund Fitzgerald of sorts, where the best of the fleet sank in a storm with no one watching. Like many of you, I've been following the news, and find the matter disheartening. When I saw a report on television that showed water-stained ceiling tiles and peeling wallpaper revealing what looked like mold ...

03/01/2007


Walter Reed Army Medical Center has become the new poster child for sick buildings—an Edmund Fitzgerald of sorts, where the best of the fleet sank in a storm with no one watching.

Like many of you, I've been following the news, and find the matter disheartening. When I saw a report on television that showed water-stained ceiling tiles and peeling wallpaper revealing what looked like mold on walls, I grew heartsick for the wounded soldiers receiving medical treatments and being temporarily housed there.

At the risk of pulverizing a dead horse, there are a few things that remain to be said.

Soon after the problems were revealed by the Washington Post, It was good that Walter Reed's commander was sacked and then his boss, the secretary of the army and its highest-ranking civilian, also was sacked. The message being that when people fail their buildings, not only are they failing the mission of their administrations, they are failing their careers. That ought to get other administrators more concerned about their buildings.

Congressional investigations are underway to determine the extent of the problem, and word already is out that Walter Reed is only the tip of the iceberg. This story could last a while.

Good. Let's use it as an opportunity to clean up the medical facilities and clean out the administrators who promulgated unhealthy conditions. We can call it “The Purge” and make it a campaign issue heading into 2008.

I've been around long enough not to take my optimism too seriously, but maybe the Walter Reed controversy will initiate a cycle of media attention, public discourse and long-term substantive changes in how Americans view all of their buildings. Maybe building administrators will notice and take action on problems before they become catastrophes, such as realizing that when they're looking at mold on a wall, they're seeing a moisture problem, not just discolorations in the decor. And, when they smell paint, adhesive, roofing tar or diesel fumes, they are breathing chemicals that could be toxic.

Given such awareness, perhaps The Purge will become “The Splurge,” and budgets for buildings, equipment and services, as well as salaries and training for building professionals, will increase sufficiently to routinely implement the best practices we've been honing since humans moved from caves to condos.

And we shouldn't need promises and mea culpas codified as regulations to do it. Let's just do what's right. And yes, this might increase costs, but if so, it would bring them up to what they really should have been all along. Besides, does the country really save money when cutting corners on buildings manifests as sickness, suffering and premature death of building occupants?

Send your questions and comments to Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com





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