The cold truth about weather for facilities managers -- and how IoT can help
So far this year, the U.S. has experienced a polar vortex bringing wind chills of -55 degrees Fahrenheit, record snowfall and nor’easters that portend high winds and even more precipitation — and it’s only February. Disruptions from bad weather cost brick-and-mortar businesses billions each year. Businesses in Massachusetts alone lost up to $1 billion in last year’s storms. And bouts of extreme weather have slowed growth of the entire U.S. gross domestic product by 1% or more. There will always be bad weather, but businesses can take steps to mitigate the damage and reduce losses. Data from IoT devices now makes it easy to monitor and predict severe weather and automate processes that help keep your facilities up and running.
The modern facilities manager (FM) is already used to dealing with a steady stream of data from their buildings, machinery and other equipment. Collecting and analyzing real-time weather data adds another opportunity to increase efficiency, cost savings and uptime. Insights from weather services and monitoring equipment allow FMs to take action before problems arise, keeping stores, banks, hospitals and restaurants open longer.
Weather as a key data source
As FMs dealing with storms in the Northeast United States know, bad weather can cause facilities operations to grind to a halt. Stores may shut down due to inaccessibility or failures of equipment such as heating systems. Major parts of the facilities themselves, like the roof, may be compromised or significantly damaged.
The most data-driven facilities managers don’t just track the weather, they make contingency plans based on its predicted impact. Historical data reveals how much damage or downstream expense was caused by bad weather in the past, allowing managers to prepare better for the future. During weather events, real-time data shows businesses what is happening at other locations, allowing them to prepare for heavier traffic at their own facility, for instance.
With enough advance notice, facilities managers can order preventative maintenance services for HVACs and other business-critical systems. They can plan budgets accordingly, order critical parts that may need replacing and even notify service contractors to be on standby in the run-up to a big weather event.
The technology factor
The good news is that businesses now have technologies to help them keep ahead of weather-related issues. Radar-based weather tracking has been mainstream since the 1970s. Today, tracking is even more granular through IoT systems, such as those from AerisWeather, that aggregate local knowledge through a network of measurement devices that upload real-time weather conditions — like a Waze for weather.
Sensors can directly aid FMs. For example, a few well-placed sensors can mitigate the impact of snow on rooftops, alerting you if too much weight is piling up. AI and machine learning also allow analysis of video surveillance feeds to detect anomalies around the facility. With a network of inexpensive, internet-enabled cameras mounted to key points on a building, we can monitor snow accumulation and drift, estimate the stress from its weight, see when important choke points are blocked and even see if contractors or employees are clearing snow in a timely fashion.
All these data sources can be fed into a service automation platform to develop a comprehensive weather events plan. The plan informs FMs on the best courses of action and triggers specific actions and workflows as necessary, saving last-minutes costs and scrambles that might not have budgeted for otherwise. For extreme weather, like hurricanes and tornadoes, this type of prep can help mitigate damage and allow facilities to reopen sooner.
In the aftermath, similar checklists and processes can guide FMs and employees through safety checks, clean up, repairs and reporting on what can be fixed or improved before the next storm arrives.
Accumulating, analyzing and generating the proper insights from a broad range of data sources — such as, but not limited to, weather reports — should be an important part of best practices for facilities management. Whether these insights are based on historic or real-time data, operationalizing them properly can minimize the impact of severe weather, reduce overall costs and lessen downtime. Even more importantly, the insights can help facilities managers generate contingency action plans and ensure they are supported with the proper resources to achieve a state of programmed execution.
Consider it the most effective umbrella an FM professional can carry.
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