Building-Automation Advice from Stadiums

July 1, 2007
Utilize building-automation systems like a pro when it comes to controlling and managing HVAC, lighting, and security

As a building that can go from being virtually empty to holding tens of thousands of sports fans in just a few hours, a stadium has to be ready to respond and adapt to changing conditions in a matter of seconds. As William Squires, president of the Des Moines, IA-based Stadium Managers Association and former Meadowlands Sports Complex manager, explains, "We're not just a building. On game day, we become the 10th-largest city in New Jersey. The day before a game, there might be 300 people in the building. The next day, there are 80,000 people inside. The day after, we become a ghost town again." Because of a stadium's unique nature, everything that happens behind the scenes is the result of a building-automation system (BAS).

Even though your building may not have to react to numbers and events quite this drastic, there are still a few things you can learn from the operation of a stadium to keep your building automation systems running well.

1. Take advantage of every option your BAS provides.
Due to lack of training, says Thomas Corona, vice president, operations manager at Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle (and former Meadowlands Sports Complex foreman), BASs are used mostly as sophisticated time clocks, starting and stopping equipment on a daily schedule and not really being used to their full potential. Jim Greer, director of operations and engineering at the Nashville, TN, office of HOK Sport, advises that you keep systems updated and keep staff trained in all aspects of operation, a practice that many stadiums follow. "Use trending graphs and charts to understand how your facility is being used and continually look for ways to improve operations." Trending elements, energy-usage features, and runtime logs are rarely used, but offer valuable information. "A well-trained staff uses these features to operate the facility more effectively. Full utilization is necessary to get the desired energy savings and increased productivity that these systems offer." Greer also stresses that you shouldn't become complacent with your system: Always be looking for better ways to monitor or schedule.

2. Don't focus on just HVAC and lighting - integrate with other systems, too.
In a stadium, integration with security systems will make the security team more effective. The same holds true for your own building type. "Fire and smoke alarms may also be tied to computerized mapping, allowing faster response times to problem areas," says Greer. Occupancy sensors may be tied to building automation, assisting in security efforts to locate intruders. Chemical and carbon-monoxide sensors may be installed and alarmed to security, assisting in event monitoring. There's a whole host of unique things you can do to make all building systems work together.

As Squires points out, using your building-automation system to shut down HVAC intakes (if you had plumes of gas coming your way as the result of an industrial accident, you'd be able to shut down your intakes so that nothing gets inside). "It's pretty impressive what they have out there."

3. Use a BAS to make your life easier and save energy.
In a stadium, a facilities professional wants all aspects of the lighting systems to be controlled with the building-automation system - from the exterior lights to the field lights. "You want your field lights to come off as quickly as possible and turn them out as late as possible; building automation makes a big difference," says Squires. "In a stadium, utilities are a big number; if they're not controlled properly, it can be very expensive. Building automation is one of the few ways we can really control our costs and watch and manage utilities." The same holds true for an office, a hotel, a hospital, or any other building type: Building controls can play a significant role in the slashing of energy costs.

Being able to turn all TV monitors on and to a selected channel at one time vs. driving around in a golf cart with a remote control and turning everything on individually is a huge time-saver at a sports complex. With a BAS, you can realize these types of productivity savings in any building. Let your building-automation system greet occupants and tenants in the morning by turning on lights and the HVAC system - don't make someone walk around on foot to do it (or rely on tenants/occupants to make it happen). Just make sure that your BAS allows the equipment to be turned on according to a schedule (in an ordered, sequenced method) before the building is occupied so that setpoints can be reached prior to occupancy (called "optimal start"). Your BAS should also feature "adaptive learning" capabilities so that the system can compare space temperature, outside air conditions, and equipment capabilities and turn on equipment at an appropriate time.

4. Use a BAS to prepare your building for any situation.
In a stadium, conditions are constantly changing. As an event gets under way, systems are stressed to the max. When an almost-empty facility is swarmed by 80,000 people in a matter of 1.5 hours, monitoring and reacting to building conditions are both critical to delivering the best experience possible. "Staying on top of changing conditions such as security, lighting, and HVAC ensures that all parties will have a positive experience," says Greer. The same holds true whether you are responsible for a hospital, a school, or a hotel. Always be aware of the conditions within your building. A user-friendly BAS that is quick to respond to ever-changing conditions is necessary. "During events, these systems [are] programmed to respond and notify based on the parameters of the event, such as sudden changing weather conditions. A system that responds quickly allows you to maintain a safe, pleasant environment for fans and guests," says Greer.

Take a cue from the sporting world and think about situations that could possibly occur in your facility which would demand your BAS to respond quickly (a tornado warning, a blackout, etc.). Is your system up to the challenge?

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.

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