3 steps to take before adopting technology that could make facilities ‘healthier’

Smart and autonomous building solutions can help make buildings safer for occupancy. But higher ed leaders should first discuss the possibilities, perform audits and identify health risks of ‘unhealthy’ buildings

Higher ed leaders who want healthy buildings before reopening their campuses during the pandemic have a wealth of technologies to choose from. Many solution providers offer smart building technology that can automatically control the building’s operations to improve air quality, which can lower the chance of infected people transmitting COVID-19. A select few have also created autonomous building solutions that use machine learning to identify whether facilities are ready for occupancy and provide recommendations on how to make them healthier to help drive decision-making.

But before implementing any type of college building technology in any facility, decision-makers first need to follow these three steps.

1. Discuss the technology early on. As schools create their policies and procedures for reopening campuses, officials should have a comprehensive discussion about technology, including how implementation could engage stakeholders. “We encourage that schools consider this discussion as an integral part of the whole business process rather than an afterthought,” says Himanshu Khurana, vice president of engineering and chief technology officer at Honeywell Building Solutions, a Fortune 500 technology company.

2. Perform audits. Checking areas in buildings that could potentially increase the risk of coronavirus transmission will help identify the usefulness of new technologies. “School leaders should audit their spaces where there might be a higher flow of students, for example, and therefore could use cameras to help with contact tracing or extra stations to screen people for temperatures,” says Khurana. “If there are students spending a lot of time in a hallway, it might make sense to improve air quality in that area to reduce the chance of transmission.”

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3. Identify health risks. Realizing the areas that can affect whether a facility is ready for occupancy can expedite the tech adoption process. For example, low air quality could make a building unsafe for students, faculty and staff. “Humidity can significantly reduce the time that droplets infected with pathogens stay in the air,” says Khurana. “Schools already have a control system that pushes heat and cool air into buildings, and there are ways to enhance those solutions by adding filters for example.”

Creating UV light can also remove pathogens in the air and help create healthy buildings, as per ASHRAE, an American professional association seeking to advance HVAC design. “You can have air units that push the air out into a building, for example, and if that air is exposed to UV light, that can essentially kill pathogens depending on how much time the air was exposed to the UV light,” says Khurana. Surgeons also use UV light for sanitation purposes between operations. “Some hospitals put equipment in packages and emit UV light into the container to help sanitize the equipment,” says Khurana.

He adds, “Implementing an autonomous building solution will help schools prioritize what’s happening in spaces, from air quality and social distance monitoring to PP mask enforcement, all in an effort to create healthier environments for students, faculty and staff.”

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