What Keeps Me Up at Night: 10 Things Correctional Facility Operators Expect

By Greg Offner

In September 2017, I was fortunate to spend time with industry leaders at the Corrections Summit in Pinehurst, N.C. This three-day gathering was as much a learning experience as it was a sharing platform for what we’ve learned about staff and inmate safety and security. Naturally, much of the discussions revolved around design and construction. One thing that was reinforced was the importance of the physical integrity of a facility — that is, making sure everything works and understanding how disruptive it can be inside the walls when things don’t work. From my notes taken during the conference, I constructed a list of 10 things that keep correctional facility operators up at night. Here they are, based on nothing other than how I recorded them in my notebook and my thoughts on each.

The No. 1 “what keeps me up at night” issue seemed to be roofs that don’t leak. The discussion on leaks also included windows, shower drains, plumbing and fuel tanks. So what can we do better? We can recognize that leaks are not just caused by defective design, shoddy construction or inadequate preventative maintenance. Instead, we can acknowledge that leaks are inevitable, that prevention and treatment need to be arrows in our design, and that construction and maintenance quiver. Even with a robust preventative maintenance plan, leaks will occur. Roof leaks are common, but the big challenge is finding the leak.

Your first sleepless nights begin when water stains the ceiling or walls. But unless you have obvious roof damage, shingles missing or tears in your roofing material, finding the leak may be difficult because water can enter the roof in one place and run down to another before it starts soaking in. You may be able to spot the leak if you have an attic area and go up there on a rainy day. Then, you can mark the area and, on a nice day, go up and fix it. After you pinpoint the leak, roofing cement or new shingles can usually remedy the problem. Don’t forget to inspect the rubber seals, called boots, around the electric service entries, plumbing vent pipes, air vents and exhaust fan flashing. Many times you will find that they are the culprit.

Speaking of culprits, there will usually be more than one cause for a water leak. When I tell my clients that even simple leaks can have three separate causes, and complex water leaks can have five causes, they tend to look horrified. But it’s true. In my experience, leaks tend to congregate. If you can positively identify a water path, don’t stop looking for other causes that might bring water to the same point of water entry that you investigated or tested.

Another item on the list is concrete that doesn’t crack. Cracks happen in floors, walls, sidewalks and most anywhere else concrete is poured or concrete masonry is used. Concrete doesn’t like to move, yet temperature variations, sub-surface issues and eccentric loads can cause these cracks. The No. 1 reason concrete cracks, though, is shrinkage.

Shrinkage cracks are caused by excess water in the concrete mix. As concrete hardens and dries, it shrinks. This is due to the evaporation of excess mixing water. The wetter or soupier the concrete mix, the greater the shrinkage will be. Concrete slabs can shrink as much as half an inch per 100 feet. This shrinkage causes forces in the concrete that literally pull the slab apart, creating cracks. Therefore, we use control joints on concrete assemblies.

Concrete does not require much water to achieve maximum strength, but the vast majority of concrete used in commercial work has too much water added to it on the job site. This water is added to make the concrete easier to install. This excess water also greatly reduces the strength of the concrete, and weaker-than-specified concrete will keep you up at night. The best way to prevent this from occurring is to take samples from every truck that rolls on the property. A simple slump test can tell you if the mix being delivered is per design. The bottom line is that a low water-to-cement ratio is the No. 1 issue affecting concrete quality — and excess water reduces this ratio.

Gone are the old incandescent lamps and fluorescent tubes of the 20th century. Today, lamps that contain light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are being used wherever possible. What I hear from wardens and superintendents is that they want LED lighting that doesn’t gray out.

Solid-state devices such as LEDs are subject to very limited wear and tear when operated at low voltages and low ambient temperatures. Typical lifetimes quoted for LEDs are 25,000 to 100,000 hours, but excess heat or voltage settings can shorten this time significantly and cause the illumination to reduce dramatically.

The most common symptom of LED (and diode laser) failure is the gradual lowering of light output and loss of efficiency. Sudden failures, although rare, can also occur. Early red LEDs were notable for their short service life. With the development of high-power LEDs, the devices are subjected to higher junction temperatures and higher current densities than traditional devices. This causes stress on the material and may cause early light-output degradation, or Gray Out. Where previous sources of light (incandescent lamps, discharge lamps and those that burn combustible fuel such as candles and oil lamps) resulted from heat, LEDs only operate if they are kept cool enough. The manufacturer commonly specifies a maximum junction temperature of 125 or 150 degrees Celsius, and lower temperatures are advisable in the interest of long life. At these temperatures, relatively little heat is lost by radiation, which means that the light beam generated by an LED is cool in more ways than one.

To read the entire article, check out the November/December issue of Correctional News.

Gregory Offner, CCM, is a project executive and design and pre-construction services manager at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Moss & Associates.