Government facility design: Electrical, power and lighting

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

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 26, 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: Are there any issues unique to designing electrical systems for these types of facilities? Please describe. 

Carter: Yes, these types of facilities often provide their own load and demand calculations for their specific building types which differ from those recommended within NFPA 70: National Electrical Code and ASHRAE Standard 90.1. 

CSE: What types of unusual standby, emergency or backup power systems have you specified for such facilities? 

Krueger: As a Florida-based firm almost all government projects require some degree of redundant power capacity to assure operation in the event of an extended power outage. The state’s long history of hurricanes have demonstrated that, although the initial damage is structural due to high wind effects, the lasting, lingering and often more devastating effect is the lack of power that often makes the facility uninhabitable for weeks after the event. 

Backup power is typically provided by permanent or rollup (temporary) diesel or propane generators with our primary design consideration based on identifying which critical systems require power remedy and requires expected duration of operational support. Our most unusual redundant power project including developing backup and primary power for a doomsday condominium constructed in a decommissioned underground military missile site. Power was provided by alternate energy sources including wind turbine, PV, generator, local power grid and batteries. 

Carter: At a facility located on a NATO base where the option to provide an emergency generator was not available due to base regulations, to meet the government required backup time, a UPS with 90 minutes of battery had to be provided. 

Meinig: Typical these facilities are provided with diesel or bi-fuel generators with aboveground UL 2085 protected fuel tanks. 

CSE: What are some of the challenges when designing electrical, power and lighting for government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military projects? 

Carter: One of the primary challenges is navigating the various government codes and standards that go above and beyond the standards required by NFPA and International Building Code. For example, Navy, Army, Air Force and Overseas Building Operations each has its own design requirements, which at times can take precedent over NEC 

Meinig: Providing lighting and power distribution designs within electrical hazard classified space. Equipment becomes very expensive and determine what actually needs to be in the classified space can save a lot of money. 

CSE: What kind of maintenance guidelines are involved to ensure the project is running efficiently after the project is finished? 

Meinig: On facility type project, power meters can be provided to monitor and compare the buildings power consumption relative to the energy model. 

Krueger: Effective turnover of the facility systems to building staff is critical to project success. Our process would typically include the development of a detailed O&M manual and staff training as part of the project process. A follow-up 10-month (after occupancy) evaluation is used to confirm that training is effective. 

CSE: How are such projects designed to ensure that the infrastructure can handle new, high-density equipment now and in the future? 

Krueger: Predicting future information technology equipment requirements, density and infrastructure support demands remains a challenge. We try to use our experience with similar clients and facilities to identify trends as well as intensive interviews with client IT staff to determine expectations for future needs. 

CSE: What are some key differences in electrical, lighting and power systems you might incorporate in this kind of facility, compared to other projects? 

Carter: In these types of facilities, they have their own prescribed intensities, color rendering index, color temperatures outside of recommended Illuminating Engineering Society values due to security concerns. 

CSE: How does your team work with the architect, owner’s rep and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable? 

Krueger: Many owners have established standards for incorporating added electrical capacity for panels in anticipation of a general need/tendency. We would often challenge general requirements with the intention of more reliably evaluating and projecting expected future power requirements. Focus would be to identify which specific systems are anticipated to drive the anticipated increased demand is interesting in that some systems (LED lighting, for example) are actually expected to be reduced. 

Meinig: A lot of owners like to have two main feeds into the plant to provide redundancy even from the power plant side. 

CSE: Describe a government project with a high power load, such as a data center or research facility. What did it include and what best practices did you include for these facilities? 

Meinig: Some projects have thousands of horsepower of electric motors on the plant. For load shedding we have design Tier 4 prime generator systems. 

CSE: What kind of lighting designs have you incorporated into such a project, either for energy efficiency or to increase the occupant’s experience? 

Baldwin: A common approach to secure energy savings is to retrofit existing light fixtures or luminaires with new technologies — most recently with LED technologies. The problem is that a luminaire was not designed to use an LED and the engineer and architect did not design that space to use a luminaire retrofitted with an LED. The best solution is to upgrade the lighting system by changing the luminaire, the technology it uses and the control system that maximizes its efficiency and its utility. Whether we are retrofitting, repurposing or building new, the goal for lighting should be to keep the occupant front of mind and then maximize any installation, maintenance or operational efficiencies that can be achieved. 

CSE: When designing lighting systems for these types of structures, what design factors are being requested? Are there any particular technical advantages that are or need to be considered? 

Carter: We are seeing these facilities trending more the use of LED lighting as their total cost of ownership are approaching that of other types of lighting such as fluorescents and incandescent. 

Krueger: The trend toward LED lighting is essentially complete as LED lighting has become competitive and products have become stabilized with less evolution in design and proven field performance. 

Clients are becoming more sophisticated in understanding lighting parameters, performance and design options. Color, ambiance, theming, circadian cycle and lighting control options need to be discussed to help the owner make informed decisions regarding the myriad options that are available. Use of lighting modeling/renderings is becoming a required technology to assist in communicating potential lighting design options.