Published in the February 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
I don’t think any of us could avoid being horrified by the mind-blowing death and destruction caused by the tsunami in Asia. Casualties will continue to climb as lingering effects from flooding, structural damage, and sickness claim more victims. Disease, hunger and the need for clean water, food, medicine, and facility repairs will continue to be urgent concerns for that part of the world long after the manicured reporters and satellite trucks shift their short attention spans to the next titillating celebrity tryst or political scandal.
Every time I learn of a disaster (man-made or natural), there’s always an added emotional chill running through me in consideration of the men and women who do what we do; it always has some kind of personal affect. Like soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters, facilities people are often first in, last out in times of crisis. These kinds of emergencies tend to end the slumber of brave individuals who often serve in the shadows of some very prominent companies, buildings, and corporate personalities, urging them to don the red cape and capital letter “S” on their chests. As a member of the facilities profession, as an occupant of our planet, and as a citizen of this great country, I can only hope this kind of shocking natural disaster will be a humbling wakeup call to each of us.
News Flash 1: Humans are not the masters of the universe, contrary to what our political, theological, and scientific leaders would like us to believe.
Even if we silly, arrogant humans wanted to control, alter, or otherwise change the awesome global forces that produce earthquakes, floods, fires, tornadoes, volcanoes, mud slides, hurricanes, and blizzards, there are some minor complications that would stop us. With the sun, the moon, and centrifugal forces stirring our atmosphere and oceans as we rotate on a tilted axis, it’s a miracle that our planet sustains life at all-let alone allows modern skyscrapers to soar over 1,000′ into the heavens. When I consider the enormity of the earth, the celestial dance of the planets in our solar system, the beauty of the atmospheric blanket keeping us warm at night and cool during the day, and the often violent imbalance between man and nature, I am constantly infused with awe.
News Flash 2: Design and construction quality play a critical role in protecting lives during a disaster.
As participants in the building construction, maintenance, and management fields, we should urge careful consideration of where we build facilities. We should urge caution and conservative approaches for the way we design buildings. We should always insist on responsible construction methods and quality building materials. We should be unified in supporting strong, reasonable building codes that are not just cheap or convenient. We should collaborate with-and support-building code officials and inspectors, architects and engineers, contractors, insurance companies, security officers, utility workers, maintenance people, and all those responsible for designing, building, and maintaining safe places to live, play, learn, and work. Value should be our guiding principle in decisions related to our facilities, not just low bid.
News Flash 3: The United States of America is the most prosperous and generous nation on the planet. Everyone has the opportunity to live in freedom and peace and in a place where a huge majority are willing to help their neighbors, and it doesn’t even matter if they’re half way around the globe.
As we contemplate the marvels of the world in which we live, this disaster offers a peek into the window of people that are often easy to ignore. They live in places where people don’t have the freedoms and prosperity that we too often take for granted. I am concerned about this country’s homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill, and child welfare. But when compared to truly impoverished nations-where there is little opportunity, less freedom, and more corrupt government-I bet we would be embarrassed to demand an audit of the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars spent on America’s 50 year old “War on Poverty” without producing a declaration of victory.
We seem to allocate countless dollars and people power on social programs with too few tangible results. We throw money and good intentions at symptoms rather than applying logic and education to minimize and eliminate problems.
But I must confess, I’m a mechanical engineer who manages people, budgets, systems, and buildings. Like you and most other facilities professionals, I am biased toward logic. We in the facilities species have a strange inner determination to break down complex problems and solve them one step at a time-unlike politicians and activists who make careers from simply whining about problems and asking for more money.
We humans may not be able to prevent the earth’s geological plates from violently colliding and causing a tsunami. We can’t stop or reverse the rotation of a major hurricane. But we can design and maintain facilities using current technologies and best practices to defend them and our occupants from natural and man-made harm.
As facilities professionals with special insight into building safety and operations, we should respectfully request a seat at the decision making table. From site selection through continuing maintenance, our collective experience is worth its weight in gold.
Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.