Building Types

How integrated buildings can react in pandemics

Integrated buildings can support an effective response in a pandemic, and assist with long-term planning

By George Hawkinson, Jarrod McMains and Matt Morris September 14, 2020
Courtesy: Burns & McDonnell

Technology, integration and interoperability in high-performance buildings can help guide both long-term planning and rapid decision-making during the pandemic.

COVID-19 disrupted daily life overnight, but returning to normal will be a long, gradual process. While there is real urgency around stimulating the economy, reopening will be phased and tied to health metrics.

In the coming weeks and months, facility managers will have to balance the safety of building occupants with the need to generate revenue. Social distancing guidelines, occupancy limits and other requirements will force managers to think creatively about how to optimize their space. Private buildings, public facilities, schools and hospitals will encounter unique challenges, but everyone will need to be ready to respond quickly as conditions change.

Before teams can return to work, facility managers will need to understand the amount of space required for each employee to maintain social distancing and reconfigure work spaces accordingly. The integration of building information modeling into geospatial or facility management models make it easier for managers to reimagine existing spaces and adapt them quickly to meet changing needs. Because these models support remote work, they can be used to monitor facilities and prepare for reentry before restrictions are lifted.

Office buildings and manufacturing facilities may need to schedule smaller teams in separate shifts, as well as stagger lunches, breaks and meetings. Public facilities may need to section off key areas to separate essential workers from the public or provide workers with a safe place to put on protective equipment if they must work in public areas. Many facilities will need to have controlled entries and exits, one-way pedestrian traffic flows and occupancy limits.

Geospatial applications allow facility managers to identify appropriate ways to compartmentalize and route foot traffic, while real-time tracking systems tied to integrated electronic security systems allow control of access and total occupancy.

The new normal will also require enhanced sanitation methods. Cleaning may need to be performed two or three times a day in break rooms, meeting spaces or other high-traffic areas. If an exposure is reported, immediate cleaning will be required in all affected areas.

Having geospatial information for an entire campus makes it possible to quickly identify any areas that require emergency cleaning, temporarily prevent public access to those areas and track when the work is done.


George Hawkinson, Jarrod McMains and Matt Morris
Author Bio: George Hawkinson is a project manager and technology consultant at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell, where he helps clients improve corporate sustainability, operations and management and capital improvement projects. Jarrod McMains is a controls and energy engineer in the global facilities group at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in building automation, energy efficiency and sustainability services. Matt Morris is the managing director of the security and risk consulting group at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell, where he leads a team that secures the world’s most critical infrastructure.