FM Frequency: Disaster Cometh…Or Not!

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By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP

Published in the February 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

It’s February, and facility managers (fms) around the northern hemisphere are dealing with snow and ice challenges associated with the season. But look at the bright side. If experts are correct this time, the globe is warming at an alarming rate, and some of us will soon be auctioning snow plows, shovels, and boilers to fms of northern Canada and Russia! Before you break out the Speedo and open an EBay store, keep reading. Since facility management usually includes risk management, threat assessment, business continuity, and emergency response planning, those of us in the profession are painfully aware that experts have a major influence on our industry, even if they’re routinely unreliable. Unreliable? Why would I say such a thing?

Does anyone remember the mid to late 1970s when experts predicted that global cooling and overpopulation would result in food shortages and a potential ice age? If you don’t remember it (or don’t believe me), enter the phrase “+ice age +1975 +Newsweek” in your favorite Internet search engine for a step back in history. If you lived in Western New York (and walked to school in the ice and snow like I did), you might recall those prognosticators feeling validated by above average snow and the infamous “Blizzard of ‘77”—the first time in U.S. history that a federal disaster was declared in the wake of a snow storm. Global cooling seemed feasible at the time.

Now fast forward 30 years. Global warming dominates headlines today. A variety of motives for doom and gloom scenarios probably include politics, marketing, taxation ploys, funding for questionable science, or simply adding lubrication to the frivolous lawsuit machinery.

Need more contemporary examples involving exaggerations related to the facility management (FM) profession? Consider these examples:

  • How much time, energy, and money did your organization spend preparing for a Y2K meltdown that never happened?
  • What about the SARS or West Nile virus epidemics that weren’t?
  • Have you seen the cost to remove perfectly intact asbestos jacketing from a steam line?
  • Have you replaced R-11 or R-502 HVAC equipment with more environmentally friendly models that consume more electricity per ton?
  • Do you know how the airborne emissions from one completely natural volcano compare to a million idling automobiles, 1,000 coal-fired power plants, or your building?
  • Do you remember how long it was supposed to take to clean up Prince William Sound after an oil tanker spilled 250,000+ barrels of oil in 1989?
  • How many of your occupants realize mold is a normal ingredient in the air and their exposure is usually several times higher outside your facility than inside? Do they even know your building probably has better indoor air quality than their homes?
  • Do you use green cleaning chemicals that are twice as expensive but half as effective?
  • Do you purchase recycled products that require four times the energy to transport and produce compared to first generation items?
  • Did you notice the end of an extremely quiet 2006 hurricane season that didn’t deliver the mega-destruction sequel predicted to follow Hurricane Katrina?
  • Do you have rubber gloves, respirators, and 55 gallon drums of disinfectant in preparation for bird flu?
  • Have you been through airport security lately? (Sorry, that’s not exactly an FM topic, but I couldn’t resist!)

Since it represents one of our largest operating expenses, let’s consider energy and what the pundits are saying. Are you convinced that the earth will soon run out of oil and/or natural gas? Have you ever stopped to ponder the fact that oil and natural gas are renewable energy resources like trees?

Speaking of trees, do you remember the days before recycling became fashionable, when we were asked to stop using trees as raw materials? Today’s specialists recognize that forestry management is a legitimate science practiced by people who know that unmanaged forests manage themselves, albeit more violently in the form of periodic wild fires rather than harvesting/controlled burns.

But let’s get back to energy. Have you ever seen a photo of Earth from space? This planet is estimated to have a diameter of almost 8,000 miles and almost 200 million square miles of surface area. It’s enormous! So isn’t it difficult to believe there are only oil and natural gas deposits under a few patches of dirt in Canada, Russia, and the Middle East?

Brilliant entrepreneurs are accelerating time and creating a flawless three carat diamond by pressure cooking a cocktail of coal, nitrogen, and silica. Doesn’t it seem logical that we could create an abundant supply of fuel from existing landfills?

What about the promise of alternative energy technologies? I’m a big fan of solar power–primarily because I appreciate simplicity and dislike utility monopolies. But I haven’t heard anyone question the wisdom of trapping more of the sun’s energy in the atmosphere, converting it to heat instead of reflecting and radiating it back to space. Could that affect climate?

What about wind energy and windmill farms? Another neat idea, but has anyone considered the impact of stripping kinetic energy from air currents over several square miles? Could that influence the atmosphere, ocean temperatures, or storms? These are interesting things to consider.

According to one expert—me!—spring begins March 21, and it’s never a bad season for fms to review threat mitigation, risk assessment, business continuity, and emergency response planning. For what it’s worth, here’s my free advice: always keep an eye on the big picture; be a shrewd student of history; and maintain a very critical view of so-called experts. Unless they’re overtly pitching products or services (or writing articles in excellent trade magazines), it’s not always easy to separate fact from speculation.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes to everyone still digging out and cleaning up after a messy winter.

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.

Please note: The views stated in this month’s FM Frequency do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TFM or the other entities represented in the magazine.

 

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