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Managing Indoor Air Quality

Monday, June 20th, 2011
Sacramento skyline in smog

Clean air is a safety concern.

For building owners and managers, ensuring tenant and visitor welfare is always of paramount importance. And while there is only so much that can be done to control the quality of the air that enters into a building, it is still important to frequently filter and refresh the air for optimal tenant and visitor health.

Regulations such as the Clean Air Act have saved thousands of lives from diseases such as emphysema, asthma and heart disease. However, there is still much that can be done to control air pollutants to allow everyone to enjoy cleaner air.

What are some of the main contributors to air pollution?

  • Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless but very poisonous in large quantities. Facilities that operate furnaces and/or automobiles need to provide adequate ventilation and install carbon monoxide alarms to ensure safety.
  • Particulate matter is basically “stuff” in the air. This can be man-made or naturally caused, resulting from sources as diverse as burning fossil fuels and power plants to dust storms and wildfires. Particulates have wreaked havoc on the human body since ancient times.
  • Nitrogen oxides are the brown plumes of “haze” that can be seen downwind of major cities. The result of high-temperature combustion, such compounds produce smoggy reddish-brown skies.

Before embarking on new policies and procedures for improving a building’s air quality, it’s important to record a baseline. Testing for radon, carbon monoxide and particulate levels can help guide you about unsafe conditions and provide guidance on the priority order for steps to clean the air.

What kind of policies can a company institute to improve air quality?

  • If your company is relocating or expanding, avoid purchasing office space that is in close proximity to industrial areas which might produce toxins. Of course, if your property is already located in this type of area, you can take steps to safeguard the air in the interior of the building.
  • Don’t allow smoking either in or around your building. Cigarette smoke contains an alarming number of toxins which can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time.
  • Review furniture choices in tenant offices. Pieces made of out cheap particle board may contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

Cleaning and maintenance tips for air quality:

  • Proper cleaning of carpets is essential. Carpets act as a filter or trap for dust mites and other allergens. Without frequent vacuuming with appropriate filters, carpets can outgas airborne toxins.
  • Follow suggested maintenance and cleaning guidelines for HVAC systems. Ductwork should be cleaned to remove mold or other contaminants. Filters should be the highest-quality to effectively remove particles down to the smallest micron.
  • Janitorial staff should be allowed to open windows or other ventilation, whenever feasible. Fumes from high-grade cleaning products are a serious irritant.
  • For residences and businesses in high-humidity areas, consider utilizing dehumidifiers to inhibit the growth of mold.

Unlike other disasters that can be seen or heard, air quality is (by its very nature) a typically invisible problem. As such, it can pose detrimental health effects over long periods of time, making it a silent but deadly killer. Taking steps to clean the air will have a direct effect on tenant happiness and productivity.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Evaluating the Aftermath of the Raid in Pakistan

Sunday, May 8th, 2011
Outline of three soldiers against sunset

Has the threat of terrorism increased since the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound?

After the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and his subsequent death, some law enforcement officials and property owners are concerned about the threat of new terrorist attacks. But are we any more at risk than we were prior to Bin Laden’s death?

Many residents of the United Kingdom consider a new attack to be likely. In fact, the U.K. Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned that: “Vigilance should be our watchword.”

In the United States, the presence of security personnel has been beefed up in numerous locations. Still, despite the perceived risk of potential terrorist repercussions, the official terror threat level in the United States was not elevated following the announcement of Bin Laden’s death. (The new alert system differs from the former multi-color-coded system in that it only offers two-threat levels— “elevated” and “imminent.”)

Potential risks might result:

  • A branch of al-Qaida in Yemen or some other disconnected country might be the source of the next attack.
  • The next threat might come from a lone individual who sympathizes with al-Qaida, such as occurred with the Fort Hood shooter, who some contend was linked to terrorist groups.
  • Terrorist cells in North Africa have either loose or no affiliation with al-Qaida and have many connections to ethnic groups in the United States.
  • A broader risk is a decreased emphasis on funding for anti-terrorism training due to the perception of the “War on Terror” coming to an end.
  • As the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many experts caution of an interest in terror groups to commemorate the sad day with new attacks.
    • U.S. officials have confirmed that documents retrieved from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan show that al Qaeda was in the early planning stages for an attack on U.S. railroads to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
    • According to Homeland Security, the FBI has advised local officials to be on the lookout for clips or spike missing from train tracks, packages left near the tracks, and/or any other indications that a train could be at risk.

But the truth is that regardless of recent developments, it is always advisable to prepare for the threat of terrorism. Domestic terrorism is possible. This is not a time for complacency. Property owners, tenants/employers and everyone should continue to follow best practices.

How can you remain vigilant to the threat of terrorism?

  • Set protocols for monitoring any incoming delivery packages and personnel.
  • Establish rules for suspicious items that are left at or near your facility.
  • Pay attention to the Department of Homeland Security’s threat monitoring.
  • For high-traffic and value buildings, consider installing metal detectors at each entrance.
  • Develop a check-system to verify visitors with tenants.
  • Double check current evacuation procedures make sense if a terrorist attack occurs.
  • Install security cameras, which can capture individuals who could be “casing” your building.
  • Read information about altering your HVAC systems to protect from possible chemical, biological, or radiological attacks.
  • Terrorists increasing usage of online media for propaganda also increase the risks of cyber terrorism attacks that could strike at key facilities. If you operate a secure facility that handles sensitive materials, be sure to catalog and report any suspicious hacking attempts.
  • Flag individuals who ask for detailed information about your building or the surrounding areas. Scrutinize any requests for blueprints or other schematics.

The best way to manage the risks of terrorism is similar to planning for natural disasters. It demands practicing common sense and planning ahead to make a facility a less desirable target. While the death of al-Qaida’s leader will hopefully destroy the terror network, threats remain that require attention.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

How to Winterize Your Commercial Property

Monday, December 20th, 2010
Snowy road with snowflake hazard sign

Prepare your commercial or residential property for winter hazards.

For businesses located in northern climes, the chill of winter brings snow, ice and sleet. The winter storm season got off to an early start with an enormous Midwest blizzard. The popular video of the Metrodome collapsing in Minneapolis is a vivid reminder of the potential hazards of winter weather.

You likely know some tips about winterizing your home. Many of those same ideas apply to business. But commercial properties present some unique winterization challenges of their own.

Heating and ventilation winterizing tips

  • Schedule an annual cleaning of your HVAC system. Neglecting regular maintenance can wear out the equipment and lead to high fuel bills.
  • Check the caulking around your windows and doors, to make sure warm air is not escaping.
  • Use a door blower to judge whether or not your building is airtight. A blower door uses a calibrated fan with a pressure-sensitive device to measure air pressure and identify leaks.
  • Hire a HVAC professional to check for duct leakage. This is commonly done with a duct-blaster and blower-door together.

Avoid the winter “slip and slide”

  • Install a programmable thermostat. Keeping the temperature at 64 degrees at night instead of turning it completely off does not save energy. Modern HVAC systems work quickly and can quickly bring room temperature to comfortable levels.
  • Make sure sidewalks and building entryways are free of ice. While salt is the most commonly used method for melting ice, there are new environmentally-friendly alternatives including sugar beet formulas. Remember that traction is the key. So be sure to use traction mats or even sand to cover slippery spots.
  • Is snow blocking the fire lane? Consider safety first. And clear snow to allow emergency access to hydrants and emergency exits.
  • Watch out for falling icicles. Although it might look like a scene from a cartoon or movie, a 20-pound block of ice from 30 stories up can be dangerous. Consider heating the building’s exterior or using glycol-based de-icing agents.

Preventing “popsicle pipes”

  • Frozen pipes are best prevented by proper insulation of pipes and fittings.
  • In cases of extreme cold, consider letting faucets drip slightly since moving water takes longer to freeze than standing water.
  • Pay attention to wet pipe sprinkler systems for freezing. Review codes which often mandate dry pipe sprinkler systems (water is not in the pipes until system operation) for temperatures under 40F.
  • Do not use a blowtorch or other open flame on frozen pipes. This causes rapid expansion which can easily crack your pipes.

Stop the thermostat wars

  • Squabbles among office workers about the temperature can cause tensions and lead to decreased productivity.
  • Consider setting a standard office temperature and name one person whose job it is to adjust the thermostat. Be sure to communicate this standard with your employees. To make your case, relay studies on temperature’s effect on worker efficiency!
  • Set policies on usage of space heaters. If they are allowed, make sure employees follow strict safety rules including proper storage of paper. (Don’t store near space heaters.) Make sure employees and tenants unplug space heaters before they leave their home or office.

In addition to protecting the physical systems in your building, take a look at your emergency supplies. Can your building accommodate every tenant overnight or for multiple days in case of a blizzard? Make sure you have plenty of warm blankets, portable heat sources and extra food in case you get snowed in.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Hack! Shiver! Sneeze! Cough!

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

There are steps you can take to ward off the flu.

While winter often brings to mind holiday parties and gift exchanges, it’s also a miserable time for those unfortunate souls who get sick. The typical air inside an office building is circulated less than 12 times an hour, compared to 15 times per hour on a plane. Think about that the next time you worry about getting sick from “stale” cabin air. With flu vaccines resulting in employees taking 45% fewer sick days, more companies are taking notice and getting involved in prevention.

When most people think about winter diseases, the first thing that comes to mind is influenza. It’s estimated that 5 to 20 percent of U.S. adults come down with seasonal flu every year. According to the CDC, 119 million doses of flu vaccine had been distributed this year as of September 24. That amount is a substantial increase of 30 million doses, compared to the amounts which were sent the same time last year. Although analysts at the CDC are predicting a milder flu season this winter, they are still stressing that everyone gets vaccinated.

You may ask, “What about H1N1, the “swine flu?” It’s still out there, although research estimates that 59% of the U.S. population is now immune.

Respiratory Synctial Virus, commonly known as RSV, is another very common lung and respiratory tract infection. It’s so prevalent that researchers state almost all children age two and under have had the disease. While it is the biggest threat to smaller children, and especially premature infants, RSV can also cause problems for adults, sending individuals who have heart or lung disease to the hospital. As a building owner or manager, you can take steps to educate RSV-infected individuals about the benefits of staying at home, away from tenants and employees who are parents of small children.

What can property-owners and managers do to mitigate the effects of winter illness?

  • Set up a flu vaccine clinic at your building. Many private companies will provide qualified nurses, consent forms and the latest vaccine.
  • Distribute information about recognizing the symptoms of flu and other winter diseases.
  • Consider new HVAC systems that better circulate and clean the air.
  • Encourage tenants to adopt policies regarding sick employees, including work-from-home arrangements for vital staff.

A real focus on workplace health can pay immediate and long-term benefits. Healthier employees mean more productive and profitable tenants whose success might necessitate additional office or industrial space.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

It’s an Electronic World After All

Monday, April 19th, 2010
Be careful how you dispose of e-waste.

Be careful how you dispose of e-waste.

Part 5 in a 5-part series

We have come to the fifth and final blog topic for our series about green initiatives for office buildings. Previously, we have discussed green roofs and living walls, implementing tenant recycling, enhancing energy efficiency of HVAC systems and the importance of water conservation.

Today we are going to explore environmentally-sound electronics practices in the workplace. We’ll cover the problems associated with discarded electronic waste and ways that you and your tenants can employ smart electronics usage practices to save energy time and money.

The problem with e-waste

  • According to the EPA, more than 2.25 million tons of televisions, computers, monitors, keyboards, and peripherals were tossed into landfills.
  • Electronics use precious materials such as copper, aluminum and even gold.
  • Millions of electronics are shipped to developing countries where they are dissembled, often in a crude manner, which exposes workers and the environment to contaminants such as mercury, sulfur, and lead.

The solution for handling e-waste

  • Team up with a reputable electronics recycling company and educate tenants on the environmental impacts of proper recycling practices.
  • Purchase products that do not have “planned obsolescence.”
  • Simplify. Making due with less is something our ancestors did out of necessity. Try to remember that the more you have, the more you have to take care of, store, clean and repair. Sometimes, less is more.
  • Encourage tenants to turn off computers and printers when leaving for the day.

Electronics should be on a power strip with an on/off switch, otherwise electronics can continue to draw power when turned off as long as they are plugged into an active power supply.

PCs and monitors have a finite life relative to the number of hours they are turned on.

  • Use products that have been labeled with the Energy Star endorsement:
    • Encourage tenants to purchase energy-efficient computers and appliances.
    • Energy Star products use less energy. For even small-sized office buildings, this translates to substantial annual energy savings.
    • Note that no two products are identical. One Energy Star-certified product can use less than another Energy-Star model. Learn how to read labeling carefully so that you can select the most efficient products.
  • Cell phones:
    • Some tenants assign cell phone devices for every employee. Cell phone technology changes very rapidly and companies often end up swapping out old phones for models with the latest functionality.
    • Phones can be recycled with other electronics or they can be donated.
  • Toner cartridges:
    • Distribute information to tenants about the benefits of recycling printer cartridges. Improvements in manufacturing processes enable re-manufactured cartridges to print images equal in quality to those produced by new cartridges.
    • Most toner ink is petroleum-based, and can emit volatile compounds when used. Encourage tenants to use soy-based cartridges to cut down on indoor air pollution.

With office electronics, it’s important to remember the green slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” By observing this practice, it is entirely possible to drastically reduce the amount of items used. Encourage tenants to delay purchasing new equipment when current electronics work properly. Reusing toner cartridges and cell phones puts less of a strain on natural resources. And recycling keeps electronic waste out of our landfills!

Thanks for reading our series about strategies for maintaining green commercial and residential properties. Remember that beyond the environmental and social benefits, green initiatives can result in real cost savings for building owners and tenants.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to waste!

Monday, April 12th, 2010
Save Water. Save the Earth.

Save Water. Save the Earth.

Part 4 in a 5-Part Series

So far in our series of green initiatives for office buildings, we have discussed green roofs and living walls, implementing tenant recycling, and enhancing energy efficiency of HVAC systems. Today we are going to take a look at what is arguably our planet’s most abundant and precious resource—water.

As with other green improvements, focusing on water conservation might require considerable up-front costs. But these can easily be recouped. Simple fixes can pay immediate dividends. For example, a leaking faucet can release up to 1,000 gallons of water every week, which will add up to savings of $300 a year. A 10-story building could have 50-100 faucets. That wasted water can really add up.

For today’s discussion, we will focus on water conservation efforts for tenants in “typical” office settings, instead of businesses that use large amounts of water in manufacturing processes.

Some water conservation changes could also potentially provide the added benefit of tax advantages. Be sure to check with your accounting firm for information about possible state or federal credits.

Since most large buildings use thousands of gallons of water every day, let’s explore some of the ways that you can ensure you use those gallons wisely:

  • Piping and Water Systems:
    • Ensure hot water pipes are properly insulated for increased efficiency.
    • Perform an inspection of all water pipes to uncover leaks which not only waste water but can also cause problems such as rot or mold growth.
    • Check water pressure to make sure is the gauge is not set higher than necessary. Install water pressure regulators, if needed.
  • Bathroom Water Conservation:
    • Installation of low-flow toilets, which can reduce water requirements from about 4.5 gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons.
    • Faucets should be continuously monitored for leaks. And tenants should be asked to report problems to their facility management team. Faucets can be replaced with lower-flow models which can save water without inconveniencing tenants.
    • Urinals can be converted to automatic flush models.
  • Landscaping:
    • Choosing the right plants for your climate zone can reduce irrigation needs substantially.
    • Consider xeriscaping some landscape areas. This is particularly important for offices located in the Southwest, where large expanses of green lawn are water wasters!
    • Install rain sensors so sprinklers are turned off when they are not needed.
    • Adjust the irrigation schedule for seasonal sun and rain patterns.
  • Graywater Treatment Systems:
    • Systems collect untreated wastewater from bathroom and kitchen sinks and, in some instances, clothes washers.
    • Collected water is integrated into landscaping irrigation.
    • Proper signage is important to keep people (especially splashing children) away from recycled water.
  • Train tenants and their employees to follow sound water usage practices:
    • Limit dishwasher usage by running only full loads.
    • If the offices have shower facilities, encourage employees to limit shower times.
  • Cleaning and Maintenance:
    • Instruct your maintenance staff to use sweeping or other methods to clean sidewalks or patios, instead of spraying water.
    • Cleaning crews should manage water usage properly.

Water conservation can be achieved through changes to physical processes and materials as well as changes to tenant and maintenance personnel behaviors. An important step in the process is to keep track of your water usage before and after changes are implemented, so you and your facilities’ team can see the long-term savings in actual dollars.

Visit us next week for the final entry in our 5-part series about strategies for maintaining green commercial and residential properties.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Greenscaping Office Buildings

Sunday, March 21st, 2010
There are lots of ways to improve your building by going green.

There are lots of ways to improve your building by going green.

It’s time to get “green!” This is the first in a series of blogs about how building owners and tenants can embrace green policies in a variety of areas.

This week we will examine trends including green roofs and “living walls,” which are becoming popular for aesthetic and economic reasons.

Green roofs for commercial buildings have substantial vegetation and a growing medium planted over some type of waterproof membrane. For the purposes of today’s blog, we will only talk about green roofs or living walls that have vegetation, not those with other  “green” feature such as solar panels. Green roofs are low maintenance as well as attractive, whether the green space covers the entire roof or just a portion of a rooftop garden area. Through proper planning, a green roof can become a place for tenants to enjoy the natural environment in a private atmosphere. Some green walls also feature edible plants, which give tenants a free source of snacks and great conversation starters.

Your facility management team should work closely with the green-roofing installation team to ensure that the building—

  • Plantings receive adequate yearly sunlight
  • Roof system has enough structural integrity to handle the increased weight of plants, soil, and patio or structural garden elements. The company you select to install the plants should also account for the dramatic weight differences between wet and dry soil.
  • Provides the best for the climate zone and amount of sunlight for the varieties you want to plant.

Benefits abound if you choose to plant vegetation on roofs and walls:

  • Increased air quality of the surrounding area. Some living wall structures can be integrated into a building’s air circulation system, effectively “scrubbing” the air.
  • Provides a natural habitat for birds and other animal life
  • Selling point for tenants who appreciate ecologically-friendly buildings
  • Storm water control, including a reduction in contaminants in rainwater runoff
  • “Greywater” can be used in some building-designs to water plants
  • Energy savings provide a buffer between the ambient temperature and the roof’s insulation. Living walls can also provide shade.
  • Life of the roof materials benefit from ultraviolet protection, allowing vegetative roof membranes to last longer than conventional materials
  • Wellness and aesthetic appeal – tenants will benefit from exposure to more natural surroundings

Admittedly, potential disadvantages to green roofs and living walls should be considered prior to installation

  • Maintenance issues, such as pruning of vegetation and ensuring HVAC systems still function properly. Living walls require frequent attention to support structures and plant life.
  • Increased short-term costs, compared to traditional roofs
  • Nature might intrude too much. Vegetation could attract birds or harmful insects to the area.

Green roofs and living walls can provide tangible benefits for building owners and tenants. In this tight leasing market, offering green features could be what sets your building apart from property owners and managers who offer more traditional office space.

Visit us next week for part 2 in our series about green property strategies.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Allied Universal, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.