Promoting Resilience in Maintenance Planning

By Stephen Carter 

More than a decade ago, the popular phrase in the design community was sustainable communities through resilient choices. Schools of planning and design (I was on the advisory committee of one at the time) modified curriculum to make certain that students understood the responsibility of examining the basic elements of sustainable practices and how to ensure that the choices in building design were resilient.

Decades prior when I was one of those students, we were taught that form follows function (still should at least try to) and that space, commodity, and delight were achievable goals. But sustainable and resilience were not yet a part of the conversation; implied perhaps, but not overt.

What brought to mind and started me thinking about the topic during my increasingly regular walks with my aging small dog was the “return of the building cranes” in the new urban complex that is my relatively recent home after 45 years in the same house across the river. Phase Three of the complex was being completed when we moved in and the final Phase Four began about a year after our move.

I watched with considerable interest (even wrote a Correctional News article about it) and admiration as the dedicated workers would mount their equipment, strap on their safety harnesses, and begin a 12-hour workday at 6am. While I observed that some of the materials tended towards “faux”, the quality of the work was good.

Less than six months after the Certificate of Occupancy, the cranes and crews are back, much to the dismay of the residents who finally had some quiet as we rose to greet the day and more important, had parking places again.

Seems the “artificial wood” facias around the balconies were taking on water like a holey canoe. No kidding, as I had to chart new dog walking routes to avoid the equipment and workers, I began to think a lot about sustainability and resilience in our design and construction choices. This issue of Correctional News is dedicated to the topic of maintenance and is most influenced by early design decisions about sustainable practices.

Before going too far with this, let me say without reserve that I am punching well above my weight class discussing this which would be better done by Greg Westbrook, President of CGL Maintenance Division, or Joe Lee, the godfather of total cost of ownership. But knowing just enough to be dangerous, I want to take a few paragraphs to say why I think sustainability and resilience are two of the most important concepts to be considered in the development of a maintenance plan for correctional facilities.

Sustainability is a goal; some would say aspirational in correctional practice. This applies to staff retention and attitude as well as to every aspect of daily operations. Sustainable policies and practices are paramount in the operation of a correctional environment that will have to remain relevant through decades of changes in leadership and management philosophy. So too must the building and equipment literally absorb use (and sadly ofttimes, abuse) under 24/7 operations.

If sustainability is a goal, then resilience is a characteristic or measurable quality. Resilience is often defined as the ability to respond to and absorb change and return to original qualities and use; to “bounce back”. As with sustainability, resilience is to be sought in people, systems, products, services, and buildings. We know that few other building types are as dependent on resilience as those that incarcerate people.

A 40-year-old report by the UN Commission on Environment and Development in 1983 advised that “it is not possible to sustain everything, everywhere, forever”. So, the question becomes, if not forever, then for how long? I’m going to leave to others how to address sustainable design practices for corrections (not to mention sustainable strategic planning), and just stay with the influence of maintenance choices and practices on the ability to meet sustainability goals.

A lot of good research exists on this topic and while on walks for my boy dog to explore new territory to “declare his”, I used “Google” to access several sources. A very, very unscientific summary suggests:

  • The report, Our Common Future, defines sustainability as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”; a statement specifically applicable to defining maintenance protocols in real time but translatable for future applications (think Artificial Intelligence applications in corrections).
  • In the fields of engineering and construction, resilienceis the ability to absorb or avoid damage without suffering complete failure and is an objective of design, maintenance and restoration for buildings and infrastructure.
  • Resilience in correctional infrastructure should be characterized by four Rs: robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity. The first two of the 4-R’s are easy to apply in a maintenance plan, but resourcefulness is almost cultural (prevailing trade skills) and rapidity requires constant training adjustments. Again, what about locking choices?
  • As the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) (2009), states: “Infrastructure resilience is the ability to reduce the magnitude and/or duration of disruptive events. Maintenance routines in correctional buildings depend on the ability to recover quickly and efficiently when essential systems fail since the users are inclined towards impatience.
  • Incorporating resilience into new building designs, existing building retrofits, and ongoing building operations can carry significant costs. To justify investments in resilience it is imperative to evaluate the cost/benefit relationship of the investments over the full life cycle of the facility.
  • According to a report from the journal Reliability Engineering & System Safety, the Knapsack method uses relative weights to define the risk reduction of each maintenance task and pick the optimum ones within the allocated maintenance budget. In other words, you have a budget to achieve sustainability and resilience in the maintenance plan, so choose carefully what you put in the knapsack.
  • Establishing the tradeoffs between performance and cost requires evaluating the relationships between the cost of providing building systems, their performance over the life of the facility (including response to undesirable events), and the interrelationships between systems and performances.
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is an effective way to analyze all the cost factors identified in the Knapsack and to calculate the capital cost for the building or improvement by including the discounted costs of future expenses (operations, maintenance, recovery).

This could (and should) go into a great deal more depth but I have limited the brief article to matters associated with the preparation of a maintenance plan. In a correctional environment that must be resilient to sustain successful outcomes, criteria for promoting good correctional practice is better defined by informed discussions on how to incorporate resilience in our thinking about the future of corrections.

The workers are back, and I need to stop here since my dog needs a walk.

Stephen Carter, AICP

Stephen Carter, AICP is the executive vice president and global strategic development officer at Miami-based CGL Companies.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Correctional News.