In it from the start: The role of Facilities Managers in building design

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Duncan J. White, Managing Editor, IFSJ, explores why the involvement of Facilities Managers in the building design process is essential for enhancing fire and life safety.

Professional facilities managers (FMs) possess unique insights and expertise in the operational aspects of buildings, which are crucial for creating safe and efficient environments.

Integrating their knowledge from the outset ensures that safety measures are not only effective but also practical and sustainable over the building’s lifetime.

Expertise in operational realities

Facilities managers have an in-depth understanding of how buildings function daily.

They are familiar with the flow of people, maintenance routines, and the operation of safety systems.

This practical knowledge allows them to provide valuable input on the placement and functionality of fire safety systems, such as fire alarms, sprinklers, and evacuation routes.

Their involvement ensures that these systems are designed with real-world usage in mind, leading to more efficient and user-friendly safety protocols.

Sustainability and maintenance

One of the critical roles of facilities managers is the upkeep of building systems, including fire and life safety equipment.

By being involved in the design phase, they can advocate for systems that are easier to maintain and more durable.

This foresight helps prevent future issues related to system failures or maintenance difficulties.

For example, they might suggest accessible locations for fire extinguishers or control panels, ensuring that these crucial elements can be inspected and serviced regularly without hindrance.

Enhanced emergency preparedness

Facilities managers are typically the first responders during emergencies, possessing a comprehensive understanding of the building’s layout and safety systems.

Their participation in the design process can lead to the creation of buildings that are more intuitive and safer to navigate in crises.

For instance, they can advise on optimal placements for emergency exits, signage, and safe areas, ensuring that these elements are strategically positioned to facilitate quick and efficient evacuations.

This collaboration can significantly improve response times and overall safety during emergencies.

Beyond regulatory compliance

While adhering to fire codes and safety regulations is mandatory, facilities managers can help design buildings that go beyond these minimum standards.

Their hands-on experience allows them to identify potential hazards that might not be evident to architects or engineers.

By incorporating their suggestions, buildings can achieve a higher level of safety and resilience.

This proactive approach not only enhances occupant safety but can also reduce insurance costs and liability risks.

Integration of advanced technologies

The role of technology in fire and life safety is growing, with innovations such as smart sensors, automated fire suppression systems, and advanced communication tools becoming increasingly common.

Facilities managers are often at the forefront of implementing and managing these technologies.

Their involvement in the design phase ensures these technologies are seamlessly integrated into the building’s infrastructure, enhancing their effectiveness, and ensuring they are user-friendly and maintainable.

Collaborative design process

The design of a building benefits greatly from a collaborative approach that includes diverse perspectives.

Facilities managers bridge the gap between theoretical design and practical application.

Their insights lead to more informed decision-making, resulting in buildings that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also safe and functional.

Effective communication and collaboration between architects, engineers, and facilities managers ensure that safety considerations are integral to the design process, from initial concepts to final construction.

Involving facilities managers in the building design process is crucial for enhancing fire and life safety.

Their operational expertise, focus on sustainable solutions, and practical insights into emergency preparedness contribute to creating safer, more resilient buildings.

This collaborative approach ensures that safety measures are effective, maintainable, and integrated into the building’s overall design, providing long-term benefits and peace of mind for occupants and stakeholders alike.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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