What Keeps Me Up at Night: Sustainability and Security


The definition of sustainable design may keep some of you up at night. We constantly hear the term in the design and construction process, and it begs the question: What does it mean?

One definition or description of sustainable design could be a building design that incorporates principles of energy and resource efficiency, practical applications of waste reduction and pollution prevention, and good indoor air quality and natural light to promote security, occupant health and safety.

That’s a mouthful and quite a bit of “stuff” to consider before pen hits paper. The role of the facility manager in the planning process is vital to the connectivity between design and construction and how the building will function and be maintained after occupancy.

Sustainability has as much to do with operations and maintenance as it does with the design. Without participation of the facility manager in the process, the risk increases of overmatching sustainable design concepts with the ability of facility managers to operate the systems after they are installed.

Security Vs. Sustainability

In order to maintain a secure environment, planners need to make some tough decisions.

Evaluation of environmental and security tradeoffs is an important component of the design of sustainable secure buildings. When the goals of a secure, sustainable building are contradictory, the trade-offs must be evaluated in a holistic framework that looks at entire system and all the factors to achieve long-term benefits for the environment.

However, at no time can the safety or security of the staff, prisoners, or public at large be compromised in order to achieve sustainable design goals. An optimal balance of security and sustainability should be considered. There may not always be single answers to sustainable building issues in a secure setting.

The project team must develop a consistent approach to evaluating building locations, energy consumption, use of renewable and recycled materials, water efficiency, a healthy environment and the use of maintainable equipment with a measurable performance for sustainable design.


Re-commissioning is a vital part of connectivity between the built environment and sustainable practices. Commissioning is not a one-time process. The roles and responsibilities for facility managers are evolving, and re-commissioning is becoming a necessary part of ongoing facility maintenance and operations.
Re-commissioning is getting out of the maintenance office and into the belts, motors, nuts and bolts of the facility. Buildings operate most efficiently when staff become effective operations and maintenance engineers instead of reactive repair and replacement technicians.

Unless there are adequate funds in your operations and maintenance budget for proactive care of a facility’s infrastructure, you will have a repair-and-replace program rather than a service-and-maintain program. The operating budget should also be lower once you re-commission.

Re-commissioning should start on the outside of the building. In addition to the roof, which usually receives more attention than any other component of a building exterior, the skin (walls, doors and windows) should operate in harmony with interior operations. Re-commissioning the building skin consists of examining the cover, from the big pieces down to the caulking and sealants.

Exterior caulking and sealants developed after 1980 will usually maintain their elasticity and water resistance for 20 years. If your perimeter caulking is approaching that age, you may be losing some efficiency. There is also a security concern in that poorly adhered caulking can camouflage a hiding place for contraband.

Window and door weather tightness is a critical success factor to maintaining a building lifecycle. Many prisons and jails constructed after 1990 have high-performance, thermal-break, security-grade window systems integrated with the building envelope.

Operable windows should be checked for air leakage, and weather stripping should be checked to make certain it is functioning as intended. Doors and operable windows have similar characteristics. Doors with closers should be adjusted to make certain they latch fully to create a seal. Curtain wall systems should be examined as a system, and integral openings for louvers should be inspected inside and out for proper function and performance.

I have used infrared thermal scans to determine areas of heat loss. It’s a valuable, time-saving approach you can use in identifying the air breaches in your facility.

Inside the building, re-commissioning includes making sure equipment is functioning as designed. Re-commission energy management system programming to ensure operations are optimized.

Periodically walk through the building and compare the thermostat setting with a hand-held digital thermometer to make sure the thermostat setting equals actual space temperature.

Adjust dampers to bring in the least amount of outside air necessary to maintain proper air quality. Reduce the outside air requirements by adjusting dampers to minimize the need to condition outside air, but be sure to stay within the code requirements for fresh air exchanges.

Sustainability, maintainability, re-commissioning and operations and maintenance discussions will continue in our industry for years to come. As long as they continue, I believe the best way a facility manager can get a good night’s sleep is with a properly funded and adequately staffed preventative maintenance program in place.

Gregory J. Offner, CCM, is vice president of AECOM Design in Arlington, Va. He is a member of the Correctional News Editorial Advisory Board.


%d bloggers like this: