Government facility design: Automation and controls

Consulting engineers are working on government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military buildings

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 29, 2019


Jody W. Baldwin, LEED AP, CEM 

Branch Manager, Mid Atlantic Division 

Envise, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southland Industries 

Sterling, Virginia 


Christopher Carter, EIT 

Associate/Graduate Electrical Engineer 


Austin, Texas 


Mark Chrisman, PE, MS 

Vice President/Healthcare Practice Director 

Henderson Engineers 

Kansas City 


Gary Krueger, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CM 

Vice President and Executive Director 

TLC Engineering Solutions 

Cocoa, Florida 


Joshua Meinig, PE 

Senior Mechanical Engineer 

CDM Smith 

Orlando, Florida 


Brian Pak, PE, LEED AP, BEMP 

Senior Mechanical Engineer, Department Lead 


Fairfax, Virginia 

CSE: From your experience, what systems within a government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military project are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been? 

Chrisman: We are working on a study now to combine nine nonautomated facilities into one larger automated facility that could be significantly more efficient. Most of the existing facilities are pre-World War II era or shortly thereafter and haven’t had significant upgrades since then. 

I think automation will begin playing a larger role in the public sector, similar to the way nationwide retailers have warehouses that use automated processes/robots in the private sector. 

Meinig: In my experience mostly the HVAC systems and lighting are the most automated systems. 

Baldwin: Lighting control is finally being incorporated into lighting systems and even into individual luminaires. The past two decades have seen lamp technology improvements and acceptance, but lighting control has been slow to take root. Smart fixtures, wireless networks, open protocols and tunable LED are no longer unstable, bleeding edge technologies and are being included in the design and implementation of some projects.  

Water conservation is an important and arguably necessary activity that has traditionally been reserved for projects with only the very highest water and wastewater cost structures. As all aspects of water availability, quantity and quality grow in concern, we are seeing a greater use of technology to minimize use and waste and to maximize recovery. 

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome for these projects and how did you do so? 

Krueger: A challenge with system integration and/or interoperability includes integrating with existing systems and also “right sizing” the level of automation/control sophistication with the ability of maintenance staff to control and manage. When augmenting or adding to an existing facility there are often interface challenges with technology and limitations that may dictate proprietary systems, which limit the ability to secure competitive pricing.  

A final challenge is confirming that systems are installed correctly and in compliance with the design intent. To address this concern, we have advocated full commissioning, but at a minimum commissioning of building controls.

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM to the facility maintenance team for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification. 

Meinig: Yes, my firm is a full-service engineering firm within house architects. All O&M data are input within the BIM model. Although most clients are not yet equipped to manage the O&M through the BIM, several clients require BIM O&Ms in the contract. 

Krueger: BIM is now considered a standard expectation for design with the expectation that the BIM model will also be used by the construction team (regardless of delivery method) for material takeoffs, clash detection and development of coordination drawings.  

The use of BIM by building owners has been more limited, but owners do understand that their ability to use these systems will increase in the future and they are increasingly requesting BIM models with specific parameters and expectations. Federal (Department of Defense) projects have been among the industry leaders in establishing clear expectations and deliverables for BIM. 

Chrisman: Our firm extensively uses BIM in conjunction with project partners. We have been part of projects in the private sector where the BIM model was set up to be used by facilities management staff to assist with ongoing maintenance.  

However, this method is not effective or beneficial without appropriate upfront and ongoing training. Without the proper introduction to this too, facilities staff became disenfranchised with the models/process and reverted to what they had done previously. For this to work, the design team and on-site technology team needs to be engaged once the building and BIM model is turned over to staff afterward and then possibly even include annual training for changes that occur. 

CSE: Have you included virtual reality or augmented reality in the design of such a project? 

Baldwin: One area where building analytics prove valuable to end users is in predictive maintenance and we can improve that value using AR or computer-mediated reality. The data flood we have created with new technologies and improved networks provides the needed information; AR makes that information both visible and valuable.  

We call this “augmented analytics,” and it allows us to signal future courses of action. A team’s experience, industry history, manufacturers’ data, algorithms and machine learning all come together in a high-value interface that helps us to avoid failures, save energy, reduce maintenance costs, increase sustainability and maximize life cycle returns.  

Meinig: Somewhat, through laser scanning, Google Earth and Lumion, we can import our CAD models into the client’s actual site or existing structure, helping the envision the design.  

CSE: Has the “internet of things” come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? How has this integration impacted the project? 

Baldwin: IoT is widely used, but may not be as widely understood. Any project that uses an IP-based technology could certainly qualify as an IoT project. Beyond that, only the early adoption and inclusion of an IoT-based approach to building automation, integration and ideally to technology unification will create high-value returns to the building owners and managers.  

Incrementally we are incorporating IoT into our structures, but it has been slow progress. We want smart buildings but have not yet fully made the intellectual and financial investments. But the industry is gaining ground. Concepts like gait recognition technology are now being implemented to make ingress and egress passive and smart. 

CSE: Cybersecurity and vulnerability are increasing concerns. Are you encountering worry/resistance around wireless technology and IoT as the prevalence of such features increases? How are you responding to these concerns? 

Krueger: Concern with security remains the dominant limitation of the proliferation of wireless technology. Owners rely on their IT staff to advise them on the risks associated with wireless 

and the mindset of “better safe than sorry” will often control the decision. At a minimum we would recommend the installation of the infrastructure necessary to support wireless to allow as a future option. 

Baldwin: Federal sites in general, and the Department of Defense in particular, adopt a justified reluctance to all networks and especially wireless ones. As technologies and networks evolve, we are seeing an increased acceptance of the concept of wireless for certain data streams, but deployment is still rare.  

Where we are installing wireless devices, the devices are on isolated systems and networks and are deemed to pose no cyber threats because the information is of no or extremely limited value. Wireless connectivity has potential benefits in terms of cost-efficiency, latency and ease of use in environmentally sensitive areas. Edge computing and other advances will make wireless a better option soon. 

CSE: When incorporating IoT-ready products or technologies, what are some of the most pressing challenges or concerns when working on such structures? 

Baldwin: Though the trend is toward open protocols and networks for future projects, there are still numerous buildings and campuses that use proprietary products, wired infrastructures and networks. In cases where sole-source providers have not opted to or have not been compensated to upgrade to open platforms, integrating IoT-ready products can be cost-prohibitive or even unattainable.  

The near future will see an increased use of flat IP networks to accomplish truly unified technology solutions in our built environments. Multiuse, open networks provide both time and dollar efficiencies as well as the greatest ability to accept and gain value from current and future advances. 

CSE: How has your technology team worked with facility managers to implement security technology (biometrics, card-scan, etc.) in government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military projects? 

Meinig: Yes, most of the projects we work on are either secured sites requiring integration into the clients existing system. We also have provided secured access within the buildings to restricted areas. 

Krueger: Effective integration of security technology is a collaboration intensive process, which varies considerably with owner and facility type so it is important to have flexibility in your design process to recognize and adapt to customized owner needs.  

Some owners have well-developed relationships with security system vendors and prioritize consistency for their facilities and our design efforts may be limited to effective planning of infrastructure requirements for boxes and conduits, whereas other clients require an intensive education regarding available options that requires a more intensive process to present, review and collaboratively determine recommended systems and products.